A Digital Front Door: Robin Wiener’s Big Idea that Might Change the World
An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
It turns out that large corporations are very competitive with smaller companies, and they do not want to share information. My first instinct is to want to partner with clients to make things happen. But we’ve had to fight for a long time to get cooperation from big companies.
As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Robin Wiener.
Robin Wiener is the dynamic leader of an international health IT company, with a 25-year track record of pioneering digital healthcare solutions. She grew Rockville, Maryland-based Get Real Health from a three-person consultancy to a global team that has changed how healthcare is delivered for thousands of patients in dozens of health systems around the world. In 2021, the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business recruited Ms. Wiener to join its Center for Global Business advisory board, helping to provide strategic guidance and outreach with UMD’s business, government, and thought-leadership communities.
Her success in positioning her company at the leading edge of health IT attracted the attention of CPSI, which tendered an offer to buy Get Real Health in 2019. Ms. Wiener negotiated and managed the sale to and merger with CPSI while maintaining her focus on management, hiring, product strategy and business development. She simultaneously ran the company, closed on major new business, and spearheaded a culture-shifting organizational restructuring and a productivity-boosting goal-setting framework.
With her innate knack for identifying the skill sets integral to a successful team, Ms. Wiener achieved an impressive employee retention rate throughout this period of major change, and secured the Get Real Health staff’s unwavering commitment to the company’s success.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you please tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I was a student in the fourth grade, school district authorities in my hometown of Willimantic, Connecticut, told me that I shouldn’t expect to achieve much in life. They dismissed my chances of success after concluding I was too slow to learn anything.But my mom knew better and fought the school system, forcing the authorities to send me for tests. The testing showed that I wasn’t slow, rather I was learning disabled due to both dyslexia and a speech problem.
Mom did a lot of research and reading, and got me into a program at the University of Connecticut that helped kids with learning disabilities communicate better. I couldn’t pronounce three-syllable words, so they got me into music, which helped me pronounce words better. Regular teachers didn’t know how to educate me, but my family helped me all along the way, and I ended up being class president in high school.
Things weren’t any easier in college. My GPA wasn’t very good because I still had trouble with reading and writing. I ended up in dead-end retail jobs for a long time. Fast forward: I eventually got into sales and human resources management roles at a variety of companies, and was able to use my life experiences as a moral compass about how to treat other people.
In 2000, I was finally happy in my work and my life. I got married, but during our honeymoon I got a call telling me that the tech company I worked for had been sold and half our workforce was being laid off. So, here was yet another challenge I had to overcome — and I decided right then that I never again wanted my career or my life to be subject to someone else’s decisions.
I teamed up with two of my co-workers from the failed company, who felt the same way I did, and we formed our own business — Get Real Consulting, Inc. — so we could determine our own destiny. With my new business partners, Mark Heaney and Jason Harmon, we started the business in our homes, then got accepted into Montgomery County, Maryland’s incubator program and moved into a small office in one of the county’s Innovation Centers.
We got by on the revenue we generated from providing professional services to clients. Coincidentally, one of our clients was a health and wellness company that needed us to handle the development work involved as they joined Microsoft’s proprietary health record storage platform called HealthVault®. And that led to Mark Heaney attending Microsoft’s HealthVault® launch in October 2007 — which turned into a transformative moment for us.
Heaney got so excited about what he was hearing that he put his phone on speaker and called me so I could listen in on the event. The reason we were so excited was because we recognized HealthVault’s potential to help people store and access their personal health records securely from anywhere.
Get Real Consulting turned into Get Real Health, and we created apps that evolved into our then-flagship product: InstantPHR™ — PHR stands for personal health record which is a health platform that using our content management system can build any health application in multiple languages — which enabled consumers and healthcare providers to collaborate in managing medications and treatment. In 2010, the state of Maryland named us its “Incubator Company of the Year.”
We’ve grown the company over this past two decades to 50+ employees, with clients around the globe, and recently merged with a larger company called CPSI (see details on that in my answer to question #2). We continue to be focused on leveraging the intersection of evolving Health IT with the consumerization of healthcare.
Can you please share with us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I feel honored to have had a career with some really exciting moments. It’s hard for me to pick just one story, but these are the top three that come to mind.
I’ve traveled all around the world for Get Real Health, from India to Guam to New Zealand to the UAE and more (including a 24-hour dash through three countries — France, Sweden and The Netherlands).
Secondly, I had the unexpected experience of meeting with the chief growth officer of CPSI to try to get them as a client, only to get a phone call from him four days later asking me if we’d ever think of selling Get Real Health to them — and saying “Yes!”
Finally, a memorable experience was the feeling I got while standing on the other side of the fence at the White House. I grew up in Connecticut, which to a kid seemed like a million miles away from the magical place you saw on TV where the President had famous meetings with famous people. It’s a place I never thought I’d be asked to go. So, I was blown away when they asked me to come and be on a panel there to talk about how the U.S. could export Health IT. The feeling of looking out at the world from inside that fence is so different than when you’re looking in at the White House from the outside.
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
My mom continually inspired me to never give up. She convinced me to not give in to the limitations imposed on me by my dyslexia and speech problems. And my father used to tell me that people are people, and they all put their pants on the same way.
So, my personal philosophy has always been to be honest, kind, understanding, and confident. I learned the hard way that we should never hold anyone back, because you can achieve anything through hard work.
I’ve also learned the importance of surrounding myself with great people who are smart, driven, and who I respect. They bring me to another level. If you want to be a strong organization, it’s all about the people you work with and interact with.
Another lesson from my upbringing in New England was to always drive forward and not get hung up on whatever challenges we face. It’s what they call New England grit: Get over it, get after it, get it done. When obstacles arise, figure out how to go around, go under, go over, but figure it out. Find a way to fix it and then don’t look back, don’t dwell on the negative, keep moving forward. Everything will be okay.
Ok thank you for that. Let’s now move to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?
In every major health and hospital system today, patients and providers are faced with a confusing and time-consuming array of disparate platforms, portals and communication tools. The experience is inefficient, chaotic and unproductive for patients, providers and organizations alike.
We wanted to transform that experience for all involved. So, we created a “digital front door” that offers a seamless solution. Our digital front door connects multiple systems, giving patients and providers easy, seamless, one-stop access to all of their health information in one place, as well as helping patients find and arrange needed care, which improves health outcomes while resolving a range of business problems facing hospital systems.
Our digital front door is an ideal alternative to EMR consolidation for large healthcare provider organizations seeking a single patient digital front door. It’s a comprehensive, EMR-agnostic, architecturally aligned, extensible platform that combines patient data from professional and personal sources, and provides a single entry point for all patient web and mobile engagement.
Our digital front door is also both international and localizable: We can tailor it to suit the needs and language requirements of any health system in the world.
How do you think this will change the world?
Trying to manage all the details and decisions and documentation involved in one’s care these days is not only intensely frustrating but also potentially dangerous, because of the fragmented way healthcare is delivered.
Now, imagine the power of a digital front door that gives patients on-demand access to their data anytime, anywhere, on any device.
Imagine how much better care providers can offer when they have a holistic, 360° view of each patient, allowing them to engage patients meaningfully and effectively.
And imagine how entire health networks can operate more efficiently as a business and more compassionately as a source of healthcare, by creating a seamless system their patients and their providers can access through a unifying digital front door that connects all the disparate portals and platforms in use throughout that network.
Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?
- Not drawbacks exactly, but two lessons. One involves businesses and government, while the other pertains to consumers.
Our Digital Front Door solution is meant to help healthcare systems, providers, and consumers benefit from the efficiencies and better health outcomes that can be achieved by leveraging data and technology in a transformative way. But we have to surmount a lot of business and government barriers to achieve that. Some companies don’t want to share their data, so we have to address integration and interoperability problems. And in the U.S., all 50 states have their own rules, which complicates our task.
- The consumer lesson is a bit of an irony. The unexpected can happen at any time. So, people should always be prepared. As hard as we work to ensure data is secure and seamlessly available, a power or internet outage caused by a natural or manmade disaster can knock digital systems offline. Every individual and family has to take charge of their own health information and straddle the analog and digital worlds simultaneously. Consumers should print their most important pieces of health information and keep that paper record in a safe place where they can quickly grab it if Murphy’s Law strikes. Our Digital Front Door solution actually enables users to PDF their information and provider contacts, which they can then print to a hard copy so it’s there if they need it.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?
The event that led us to the idea was Hurricane Katrina. But the tipping point for broader acceptance of our idea was COVID-19.
We had all just watched Hurricane Katrina devastate the people of New Orleans, wiping out not only their homes but also their vital documents and health records. Plus, my own father was going through a health crisis because doctors weren’t properly monitoring his medications. These were all “aha” moments spotlighting the need to harness technology to empower both healthcare consumers and providers.
So, for more than a dozen years, we’ve been iterating different variations of what we now call our Digital Front Door solution. But not everyone was ready for it. We were pushing the idea up the proverbial mountain. Suddenly, after all that time, along came a virus that caused a global pandemic in 2020 that generated instant demand for what we’ve been developing and advocating. The pandemic overcame the resistance we’d faced and demonstrated the immediate use case for healthcare consumers and providers having all their information at their fingertips. Our Eureka moment took a long time to coincide with the healthcare market’s Eureka moment. It’s been quite a journey, and we’re finally at a place in history where people realized they needed a digital way to make appointments, to see a doctor virtually, to share medical records, to pay health bills — all through one seamless portal without logging into multiple different platforms.
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
We need the industry to understand that this is truly happening, that our Digital Front Door solution is making a difference for hospital systems and patients. And we need health systems to understand that adopting this solution is easy and quick compared to behemoth electronic medical record (EMR) platforms that take years to implement. Our solution consolidates all those platforms, and we do it in six months.
Hospital systems already know they have financial and customer service drivers pushing them to adopt a Digital Front Door. But companies are made up of human beings, and humans resist change, even when they know it’s in their best interest.
So, our biggest task is communication and demonstration: Not just explaining, but showing that our Digital Front Door solution works, that we have clients already adopting it, that we’re demonstrating success. And it’s not just us delivering the message. It’s our clients who will talk about it. It’s healthcare industry leaders — and eventually patient advocacy groups — who will spotlight the benefits.
Of course, part of our job is making sure we’re constantly improving the solution, continually upgrading data security, and steadily lowering the perceived risk hospitals, providers and consumers may have of embracing and adopting change.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.
First, I wish I’d known how tough it would be and how long it would take to change minds, to get people to do something new and exciting.
Second, it turns out that large corporations are very competitive with smaller companies, and they do not want to share information. My first instinct is to want to partner with clients to make things happen. But we’ve had to fight for a long time to get cooperation from big companies.
Third, realizing that the government will put out rules, but then roll those rules back when they get pushback. It’s been very frustrating to have constantly changing rules.
Fourth, it took me a while to learn that you have to find people that are like you, who want to be a part of your journey, who share your excitement about the progress you’re working to achieve. These people inspire you to do better and go farther.
The fifth and maybe hardest thing I wish I’d known was the importance of humility. Your technology will not be the thing that ends all problems. You don’t have every skill, every capability, every functionality needed. You have to work with best-of-breed partners who excel at things you don’t, who bring strengths to the table that complement yours. Thanks to these partnerships, you can build something together that combines the best of the best, which can lead to a superior outcome.
Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?
These sound so basic, but I have found them to be true from my own life’s challenges.
- Never let anyone tell you that you’re not capable, that you’re not good enough, or that you’ll never succeed.
- Tune out negative messages (including the ones in your own head) and look for solutions to problems. Problems exist to be solved. You have two eyes. Use one of them to look at the problem, and other one to look around it. You have to clearly perceive and define and understand the problem. But you also have to intentionally seek different perspectives, new information, and new directions.
- Always be willing to be surprised.
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
- The advent of Get Real Health’s digital front door means the future of healthcare has arrived. As our solution expands, we will continue to touch and help more and more people around the world, leading to healthier populations and more resilient health systems. And as part of the CPSI family of companies, we are squarely focused on providing technology solutions to empower change agents in communities around the world as they work to disrupt and improve old ways of organizing and delivering health. We’re always looking for forward-thinking partners who can help us transform barriers into opportunities.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
- LinkedIn: Get Real Health
- Facebook: Get Real Health
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.