If you want to know about the future of mobile healthcare software, talk to Ken Kern.
He and co-founder, Brad Nelson, launched the MediMatrix platform in 2002 to serve mobile radiology and imaging clients. When early clients pushed them to deliver a product via a one-time sale, they refused to give in to the dominant software model of the time, and insisted on a SaaS model because they knew it was the right way to serve the industry.
As early as 2006, Ken was predicting that the mobile healthcare software industry would be moving towards mobile — a statement that was met with laughter at the time, but came to be the norm within five years.
With a track record like that, we have a pretty good feeling about anything Ken has to say about the future of this corner of the software world. We recently got to chat with him and MediMatrix CEO, Marvel Myrtile, about the company’s story, where the platform is today, and what they see for the future of the mobile healthcare software industry and healthcare at large.
An interview with MediMatrix Co-Founder and CTO, Ken Kern, and CEO, Marvel Myrtile.
Tell us a bit about your background and the founding story behind MediMatrix?
Ken: Our company (it was originally named WebInterstate) was founded about 20 years ago. Myself and Brad Nelson — the partner I started it with — both had extensive backgrounds in IT and software development and originally we were just doing a lot of contract work together.
Then we saw an opportunity back in 2002 to build out this MediMatrix platform for mobile radiology providers. And really the company has been focused on that ever since. It’s really exciting to see where it was in the beginning to where it is now.
And you were really entrepreneurs looking for a problem to solve when you launched MediMatrix, right — neither of you came from the mobile healthcare field?
Ken: That’s right. We knew about the mobile X-ray industry from some of the contract help Brad was giving a mobile provider. We took a hard look at that and realized that really that industry is the perfect application for the type of software business we wanted to build.
Back in those days, you didn't hear a lot about software as a service. So, a lot of times you would develop something and then sell it via a one-time sale. We didn’t want to do that. We were looking for an opportunity where we could host the software, manage it, and support it on a long-term basis.
Mobile radiology seemed perfect for it because you have about 12 or 13 different entities who all need to log in and see information in different ways. A technician might need to see a patient’s details, and the billing person needs to see that same patient, but maybe not the medical side, and so on.
Wow, so you've been SaaS from the very early days. Salesforce is usually listed as the first in 1999, but you were not far behind and it was certainly not a common thing in the software world back then.
Ken: Yeah. We were always SaaS, and it was a challenge in those early days. But we just refused the model of selling the software outright. We had a lot of interested providers early on that wanted a quote for a one-time buy, but we recognized that model wouldn’t do much for them.
And we knew it wouldn’t do much for us either because the one-time sale model means you’re always just chasing that next sale vs. investing in the business and budgeting for technology, servers, updates, new features and all of that. Having the ability to do those things was really important for us, so we fought the old-fashioned model as we grew.
It seems like you were ahead of the curve on both the industry you served and SaaS as a model. Was there an inflection point where it felt like you weren’t fighting against old ways of doing things anymore?
Ken: Ahead of the curve is a great statement, because we were always about two years ahead of our time. I remember in 2006 we were showing people that you could see information on your cell phone, and I was pretty much laughed out of conference rooms by people saying, “it'll never happen.” Fast forward five years from that moment, and that’s exactly what was happening in the industry.
But I would say the true inflection point was when mobile X-ray providers really needed to manage this information electronically. And the legacy systems that were out there — all the one-time purchase software that we had refused to become — just failed to do what they needed to do. All of a sudden our platform fit very nicely into the business model of our clients.
So was that always something you were predicting, and you were just kind of waiting for the moment to finally come about?
Ken: Yes. As a founder, you either believe in what you're doing, or you don't. It’s just one of those things. We definitely believed in it. But there were some dark years financially to keep it running while we waited for what we believed would happen.
We took contract jobs just to pay some bills and support our families. I think both Brad and I made a lot of sacrifices in those early years to make it happen. But then we reached a certain point where we could commit 100% and really try to grow the business.
Marvel, tell us more about yourself. You were motivated by belief too, moving from the investing side of things to the operating side. Why did you join ASG, and what especially excited you about the leadership opportunity with MediMatrix?
Marvel: Sure. Before joining MediMatrix, I was on the other side of the table as a private equity investor. In my work as an investor I’d spent a lot of time with founding teams, founders, and management teams. I developed a great admiration for them and what they did on a day-to-day basis. I developed the itch to “get in the game” myself and saw myself in their shoes. Ultimately, I made the decision to make the transition from investor to operator.
Specifically, I wanted to get into tech and software. After business school, the opportunity came up for me to join ASG and when MediMatrix came up as the potential business and team I would work with, I was very interested. Healthcare was a super attractive industry to me, as I’ve always envisioned working in an industry that helped people. In addition to the industry, the team was the a major reason I made the decision to join MediMatrix.
I had an intro call with Ken, and we connected really well. So I really looked forward to working with him, and then I met the broader team. The more people I met, the more I could see that this was a small, but scrappy and mighty team.
That’s an environment I thrive in, and working with this team has turned out to be the most rewarding part of the job for me so far. Motivating folks to achieve a shared vision — I love that, and I’m having a blast so far.
The other part of the job that I love is thinking through and executing on strategy. That’s a lot of work, but it’s also very fun. Ultimately, I feel like I made the right decision coming over to the operator side. My days feel much more dynamic than they did when I was on the “sidelines”, interacting with businesses tangentially.
Ken, talk to us about the decision to sell the business — what was on your mind leading up to the sale?
Ken: We were either going on 20 years, or we’d just hit the 20-year mark, and that milestone had me taking a look at where we were and where we wanted to go. We just recognized we needed help.
I still love the company and what we do. I had always felt like we could grow the business and take it to the next level. But that deep into running it, you do look back and say, “Well, why didn't we do it?”
So we were just at a moment where we wanted help getting to the scale we thought we could achieve. And honestly, we fell in love with ASG from day one hearing about the focus on people.
As Marvel said, we have a very scrappy, very high-functioning team. We didn't want to disrupt that, because it was working and our customers were happy.
We were looking for a way to keep what was working, but still add on things like better sales, better marketing, legal help, and all the infrastructure that we would need to take it to that next level. That's really what we were looking for in a partner. And I can say today that we’re very happy with ASG and what they're providing to support the company.
Well, we love to hear that! Tell us a bit more about the transition period — it’s not an easy thing to bring in a CEO to your business and have someone take over roles you might have been filling in the past. What has that been like for both of you?
Ken: I think it's been pretty smooth. The hard part from my perspective is that it’s tempting to think that things will or should happen overnight. But after a while you realize, all right, it's gonna take some time.
Marvel's great. He's really stepped into the role and engaged with the customers and the team, but of course there's also a learning curve, and I know how much it takes to learn about any particular industry. He’s done a wonderful job at trying to get up to speed quickly on what our customers are like, and who they are, and the things that will really make him effective as a leader.
And of course as I look further down the road to what’s later on, I want to be making sure there’s a smooth transition for the next person who’s going to fill my role as CTO. I’m committed to making that happen, and that's really why I wanted to stay on in the business — because we’re a software company of course, which is kind of generic, but this industry is very unique.
My goal now is to make sure that the team and Marvel — and anybody new who comes in — is well acquainted and trained, and that they’re going to be able to effectively run and grow the business.
Marvel: A lot of the things Ken said resonated with me. When I stepped into the role, I knew that this business had been here for a some time before I joined. So there was a culture, a product that they had built, and processes that I wanted to respect. I didn’t want to move too fast and disrupt too much, too early.
Ken has also been an incredible partner throughout the last year, and has very much stepped up to the plate to make the transition to ASG successful. He’s just done an awesome job of supporting me while continuing to support the team and the product. I’m very fortunate to be working with a founder like him.
Ken: I think one thing that’s helped us have such a smooth transition is that the role of CTO is a lot different than CEO. So, we stay in our own little buckets, but we definitely keep each other informed of what's happening and where things need to go moving forward.
You were filling the role of CEO before the sale though, right? It sounds like that was something you wanted to hand over so you could focus on the tech leadership side of the business.
Ken: That’s right. I had been running things for about 18 months as CEO. It was definitely my vision to bring someone like Marvel in to fit that role so I could utilize some of the technology skill sets and understanding of the product that I have to help transition that part of it.
Marvel knows how to engage with customers. He knows how to price things. He knows how to do much of what I had to do prior. So I was very, very excited to have him come on board and do those things that were important, but meant time taken away from the operational and technology stuff I like to do.
That clarity around your strengths and what you really want to spend your time on always makes for a better transition.
Speaking of transitions — let’s segue out of the present. We’d love to hear more about what you both see for the future of MediMatrix, the mobile healthcare software industry, and healthcare software at large.
Ken, you’ve been in the industry for more than 20 years and ahead of the curve for huge chunks of that time. Can you set the stage for us on where the mobile healthcare industry has been and where you see things heading in the future?
Ken: Well, I could name a lot of first things that we’ve done from a product development perspective to keep pace with our customers and make sure they had the tools we needed. But I think one of the things that’s most interesting that’s stayed true the entire time I’ve been in this industry is that X-ray technology hasn't changed.
What’s changed is how fast you need to process that X-ray, who needs to see it, and how to better serve the patient. That’s always been our goal — serve the patient better.
I think in the future we’ll continue to see X-ray technology staying the same with more new technologies coming out that will let us use an X-ray more efficiently.
There could be some AI engines that could replace some of the work doctors do and certainly change how doctors do their work. There could be ways to move imaging that are much easier than what we have now. For MediMatrix, staying on top of those technologies as we move forward will be an important aspect of the business.
Tell us more about moving imaging — that feels like something that's probably already evolved quite a bit from when you started and probably has more evolution to do.
Ken: Originally, when we started, many of the X-rays were being captured on old-fashioned film, and then someone had to take it to the back office, process it, and hang it on a light board. So a radiologist at a hospital was the person who could really tell you what was wrong with the patient.
Then we moved to capturing images on a CD. And that could be processed and viewed somewhere in the office, so things got a little more efficient.
Fast forward to today, and we're sending thousands of X-rays a month over wireless to the different partners we have to assess patients and make sure that they’re getting taken care of. The end result is a report that comes back so the ‘referring doctor’ can deliver patient care.
All of that is possible because of how we’re moving the X-ray today compared to how we moved it 20 years ago. So it’s definitely on my radar to be thinking about what the next evolution of high speed internet looks like. I don't know for sure, but I can envision satellite internet and some of the other things that will allow us to move this information much faster than what we currently have.
You mentioned AI too, and this industry definitely feels ripe for some applications there. What are you already seeing or anticipating?
Ken: The opportunity is definitely there. Whenever you say AI though, the traditional assumption is that technology will replace people. I don’t see AI replacing radiologists in any near-term future. But I can definitely envision a future where preliminary results could be interpreted much faster with an AI engine.
So you’d see a flow where the AI engine decides, ‘this is a fracture,’ and that’s sent as high priority to a doctor who can do a full scale workup vs. that doctor looking at every potential fracture without any kind of prioritization because he or she is just sent images based on when they’re done. That’s how I see AI engines fitting into our world.
And that will impact speed as well, which we were just talking about. Over the years we’ve brought the time window for an X-ray read down to about 30 minutes, sometimes even quicker. With an AI engine we could start talking about two minutes. Imagine having that immediate satisfaction — basically as soon as an X-ray is taken, the referring doctor has a treatment plan. That would be pretty incredible to see.
What about the mobile healthcare industry specifically? What do you see coming up in that space?
Ken: Quite honestly I think the biggest thing coming up is the size of the space. If we were having this discussion 10 years ago, most people had no idea that mobile X-ray even existed. And even today I’d say there are still a lot of healthcare professionals that don't know that you can take an X-ray machine out to a patient's bedside instead of making the patient go to you or another provider.
It's always been a challenge to explain that, actually. But what we’re seeing right now is that hospitals are starting to ask themselves, ‘hey, how do we serve a patient that we have at their home?’ So our industry is becoming much more recognized as a viable healthcare solution.
And that goes hand-in-hand with lab companies going out to patient homes and doing sample collections, and other home healthcare industries that have started to come into fruition. Mobile X-ray fits perfectly into that home healthcare model that’s taking off, but we've actually been doing it for 20+ years.
That’s a trend I think we’ll continue to see as hospitals and other healthcare providers are contracting things out. And it’s very exciting to me to see a potential for this industry to really scale — it’s not just good for MediMatrix and the mobile imaging clients we serve, it’s also better for patients.
It's interesting because MediMatrix is a B2B SaaS, but you both talk a lot about patients. Tell me a bit more about that mentality and how patients fit into how you think about serving your clients?
Ken: Our clients’ customers are the patients, so we do think a lot about how we get out and serve the patient. And historically a lot of our clients were serving the nursing home industry, long-term care facilities, and even prisons and ICE facilities. All of those are groups who often go overlooked in the healthcare community. So, our clients really strive to make sure that all those patients that need X-rays can get them, and it’s always been our goal to help make that happen.
Marvel: To add on to that — the main KPI we think about at MediMatrix is patients served. So, although we may not be interacting directly with patients on a day-to-day basis, when we think about growth and scaling our platform, patients are at the core.
Ken: Exactly. If we can make it easier for our customers to see patients and provide better service, then they'll be able to take more patients and grow their businesses, which is obviously tied to our growth as well. So what’s good for the patient is ultimately good for everyone.
What impact did the pandemic have on that trend towards more mobile and more home-based patient care?
Ken: The home healthcare trend had definitely started before COVID hit, but absolutely COVID shed a light on it. But just in general, people are expecting services at home. And of course population demographics play into this — we have an aging Baby Boomer generation needing a great deal of healthcare, and you can see it in the number of X-rays taken.
But the younger generations are also coming up and questioning why they would go to the ER or a lab for an X-ray because of all of the other services they can get at home.
I think we're going to start seeing a lot more of that, especially as COVID and other infectious diseases change how we function on things as basic as going into places.
The home healthcare trend is so fascinating. It’s this full circle moment. Many of us probably remember stories from our grandparents about the home doctor visit, and we moved so far away from that because technology and care evolved in provider settings, and now technology is enabling us to go back to serving patients at home.
Ken: Exactly. I mean we're already jumping on Zoom calls with our doctors for basic things and follow ups. It’s not that far of a stretch to be on that follow up and call and have a doctor say, ‘Well, I'm going to schedule an X-ray. They're going to come to your house on Tuesday and see how your fracture is healing.’ We’re very close to that I think.
Switching gears a bit, we’ve talked a lot about the speed and movement of data in this industry. How about the privacy of that data? How has that evolved over your years in this business, and what do you see on the horizon?
Ken: That’s the thing that can keep a CTO up at night in this business, and as the tech leader for MediMatrix, that’s probably the top thing I think about. We’ve been very security conscious since day one. When I talked earlier about why we wanted this business to be a SaaS vs. a one-time sale software — having the budget to do that was a huge part of that decision.
I think most IT people want to build things right and make them secure, but there was an era back in the dot com days where you really had to fight for the budget to do that. Now there’s just more awareness about it.
So, MediMatrix has been in business for 20 years already. Let’s imagine it another 20 years out. What do you each see?
Marvel: Over the last 20 years, we've established ourselves as the leading software provider in this niche industry. Looking forward to the next 20 years, we’ll be keeping an eye on all of the trends Ken has already mentioned.
One more I would add is working towards a concept that’s been gaining traction over the last several years, which is collaborative healthcare - the idea of sharing information across a patient's continuum of care to improve patient outcomes.
This is a significant obstacle in healthcare today, though meaningful progress has been made to that end. A lot of people are trying to attack and solve how to access a patient’s information across different times and different providers. This is key to getting more comprehensive solutions to patients.
But with that concept in mind, I see MediMatrix continuing to grow into other healthcare services as well. Our platform is a great foundation that has flexibility to serve other areas beyond mobile imaging.
Ken: Absolutely. We’re focused on mobile radiology today, but when you look at the model and how it flows from order entry all the way through billing, it could be used for other types of services as well. As the company grows and creates chains of products, I would envision that that would be a big part of the future.
• Press Release: ASG acquires MediMatrix
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