How She Funded It: SBIR Funding Jumpstarts PatientsVoices™ to Improve Patient Satisfaction

How She Funded It: SBIR Funding Jumpstarts PatientsVoices™ to Improve Patient Satisfaction

Sometimes ideas come from knowing a market really well. Sometimes they come from serendipity—a happenstance encounter with an undeniable opportunity. Mary Kay O’Connor founded PatientsVoices™ from both experience and instinct.

But regardless of the source of inspiration, good ideas can’t get off the ground without funding. Mary Kay O’Connor, founder of PatientsVoices™ and recent recipient of $270,000 in grants, knows this reality well.

In 2009, she was preparing to restart her consulting practice when she came across some “light” reading about HCAHPS scores—Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems—and how hospitals that did not continuously improve their patient satisfaction scores would lose Medicare reimbursements.

As experience would have it, Mary Kay had spent the better part of her career helping corporations collect and translate customers’ stories into meaningful and actionable feedback that improved financial returns. Why not use a similar approach to help improve health care?

Mary Kay established PatientsVoices to convert patient feedback into insight that hospitals could use to improve patient experiences and increase Medicare reimbursements. She knew how to find out what mattered to patients, but needed help developing software to cost-effectively analyze and prioritize improvement opportunities from the patient’s perspective.

Mary Kay recruited area experts to help build the platform. The application automatically identifies patterns in patient feedback—the problems and opportunities that patients repeatedly mention in the stories they tell. It provides hospital administrators with clarity on how to improve patient satisfaction.

In the fall of 2014, Mary Kay had taken PatientsVoices as far as she could. With help from the UMKC Small Business and Technology Development Center, Mary Kay landed a coveted SBIR Phase I grant (Small Business Innovation Research award) for $150,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF).   The company used the NSF funds to develop a prototype application for mining patient data.

Once the initial grant was received, the company was better positioned to receive follow on funding.  The company did in fact receive an additional $20,000 in support from Digital Sandbox KC to build a customized dashboard.

With help from the KU Bioscience and Technology Business Center (BTBC), PatientsVoices received a $100,000 investment from Google to build the company’s cloud-based infrastructure.  The development team can test different software configurations without having to worry about processing costs and storage capacity.

 “Mary Kay’s unique business model improves patient satisfaction through a process that actually lowers costs and improves information capture and flow,” says Frank Kruse, BTBC vice president. “The company’s technology dramatically and measurably improves a hospital’s ability to improve operations and patient outcomes on the fly. This is unheard of in the current environment.”

Currently, PatientsVoices technical team is refining the prototype and will apply for SBIR Phase II funding, which could bring up to $750,000 to continue development of the company’s technology.

Hospitals that improve patient satisfaction and market their patient-centered care to consumers have the opportunity to become what Mary Kay calls ‘destination hospitals.’ As hospitals build a reputation for providing value—high-quality services and great patient care, patients will seek out those hospitals, rather than going to one that’s ‘close to home’. Mary Kay noted that by improving patient loyalty and attracting more consumers, hospital administrators can increase market share. Even a 1 percent increase in market share can result in millions more dollars in annual revenue for the typical hospital.  

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