Badass Women in Health Tech: Elaine Warren, Founder of SurvivorPlan
August 16, 2017
Elaine Warren is a decorated technologist with a resume that includes leadership roles at Accenture, the Veterans Health Administration, and Emory University. Having spent the last two decades managing and building technology for the healthcare environment, Elaine now leads the charge as president of SurvivorPlan—a company she launched three years ago to provide personalized solutions for cancer survivors, their clinicians, and their loved ones.
Read our interview with Elaine on why this technology matters and how interoperability is helping survivors get the custom care they need.
Let’s talk about your computer science and engineering background and how you got into the healthcare tech space.
My first programming class was in high school and I remember thinking how cool it was that I could create things using programming language. I loved the creativity along with the structure, and I realized that software development was both a science and an art form. I went on to study computer science in college and was hooked. I love developing solutions, creating applications that help people do their jobs more efficiently, and solving complex problems.
When I was in my 30s, I went on to study software engineering as a discipline and eventually earned my Masters of Computer Science degree from the University of Illinois Champaign Urbana College of Engineering. I knew from that point on that I was going to use technology, and specifically, software, to make a difference in healthcare. Solving problems in healthcare and building solutions that help patients and benefit clinicians is my passion, and I hope to be doing this for the rest of my life.
You built your startup while working full time. When did you decide to make the leap into full-time entrepreneurship? How were you able to juggle two separate lives?
I was working full-time as an independent consultant when I decided to take the leap into full-time entrepreneurship and go all-in with the SurvivorPlan solution. I have a dear friend who is a two-time cancer survivor herself and is now a pediatric nurse at a local survivorship clinic here in Chicago. She told me about the complex care needs of her patients and how difficult it was to continuously track and manage the needs of each patient without having a software solution to support the process. I brainstormed a bit with her about the problem and in short order, I sketched out a solution on paper. Soon we had a working prototype and I was able to show it to other clinicians working with the adult cancer patient population. Soon, we realized that this was a growing need and an emerging area of focus in cancer care delivery.
Now, three years in, we're up and running and supporting multiple live health system customers who are using the software every day in the clinic with patients. We've gotten amazing feedback on the positive impact this has made on patient care and clinical operations.
Who is the SurvivorPlan for? What type of clients do you serve and has this changed over time with the growth of your company?
SurvivorPlan is a solution that empowers clinicians to address the comprehensive needs of cancer patients from the time of diagnosis, through treatment, and into the survivorship period. Using SurvivorPlan, providers can easily address the physical, practical, emotional, and preventive care needs of each patient. Our software uses each patient’s individual diagnosis along with electronic patient reported outcomes to give personalized recommendations for care, based on evidence-based guidelines.
We serve health system cancer programs and independent cancer clinics by providing them the tools they need to evaluate each patient’s needs, easily provide personalized, evidence-based care plans, and then track and manage each patient’s outcomes over time. SurvivorPlan supports each of our health system customers in implementing their standard treatment protocols and continuously caring for the needs of their patients across the continuum of care. SurvivorPlan helps cancer programs improve quality, meet accreditation requirements, track and improve patient outcomes, increase patient engagement and satisfaction, and drive utilization of in-system services for all ongoing care.
Why a focus on cancer care and survivor planning? Why is this space significant?
This space is very significant because of the growing body of research and evidence that supports the need in our health care system to provide whole-person care for cancer patients. In the past, patients were not given all the information they needed to make treatment decisions—there was no shared decision making, no documented plan of care, and very little information given about long-term effects of various cancer treatments. In addition, once treatment was complete, patients were feeling lost, with no information or guidance on what to do going forward. If information was given, it was canned and generic, with a one-size-fits-all approach.
We're here to change all that—we're working with cancer programs that want to provide whole-person care, and are passionate about shared decision making, care coordination, improved quality of care across the care continuum. We're helping providers give each patient the guidance and personalized recommendations he/she needs to manage their diagnosis and treatment for not only the cancer itself, but for all the downstream effects that will be a part of life going forward.
What were the earlier barriers for SurvivorPlan and how did you overcome them?
[When we first began three years ago] I knew that integrating into electronic medical records (EMRs) in particular was going to be very critical to the success of our software. We were going to need to answer really hard questions about whether we could integrate with a hospital’s existing system. There were a lot of entrepreneurs in the space who told me we’d never be successful in integrating with EMRs and we wouldn’t get anywhere. But I knew, based on my past research on interoperability as part of my master’s thesis in graduate school, we could definitely do this.
When I found Redox, they helped us get our first client and helped do it with health care systems around the country and helped us do ours.
I think there has been a mindset shift where once [integration] was really hard and expensive to now more people are getting it that integration doesn’t have to be the kiss of death for a startup. That’s one thing that has really changed the most in the hearts and minds of people that we’re talking to and that we’re selling to. For example, at every single conference I’ve been to, your average clinician only knows what they’ve heard. They’ll say that you’ll never be able to integrate with their EMR and so they’re skeptical that this is something we can do.
How does improved personalization through technology affect the experience and outcomes for patients?
As I mentioned before, most plans provided a one-size-fits-all information. Or, patient-specific information was done manually in a Word document. Nurses, like my friend managing a whole patient population, used a series of spreadsheets taking her anywhere from an hour and a half worth of time. We’ve taken that down to 20-30 minutes of time by using the data that is already there, and then using clinical support through our engine to guide personalized recommendations.
There are two aspects of monitoring compliance among patients: The first is adherence to the personalized recommendations so that they’re more likely to do things like taking their meds. The second part is looking at outcomes. So as we see that we increase adherence then we can actually measure outcomes and see how we improved outcomes with patients who experience problems with pain, fertility, incontinence, and quality of life are things that affect cancer patients for the rest of their lives that no one really wants to talk about.
Do you have anything else to add about how these technologies for patients might evolve in the future?
We’ll soon be able to garner more feedback on how patients respond to recommendations and referrals for treatments specifically related to side effects like fertility, pain, lymphedema, sexual dysfunction, or cognitive issues. When patients discuss these issues with their healthcare provider, that information will be sent back into the patient's chart discreetly and tied to a service code. Then we’ll be able to track when patients schedule consults as a result of those recommendations which will help us better track adherence and eventual outcomes.
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