Winner Interview: OpenBeds Digitizes Outdated Transfer Processes
Most entrepreneurs could call themselves “busy,” but OpenBeds Founder Nishi Rawat might take the cake.
Rawat is a 1776 member, and when she’s not working as a critical care physician and faculty member at Johns Hopkins, she can be found building her startup.
Somehow she still managed to find time to make it New York City to compete in Challenge Cup last month, where she won the health category and earned a chance to compete at Challenge Festival next May. Following the competition, we caught up with Rawat on campus at 1776 to learn about OpenBeds and hear about her Challenge Cup experience.
First of all, congratulations. Can you tell me about OpenBeds, and how you got the idea?
OpenBeds digitizes the inter-hospital, patient-transfer process. I got the idea while working at a small hospital between Baltimore and D.C following my fellowship. I found myself transferring out a significant number of patients because this hospital had an intensive care unit, but not all of the diagnostic and therapeutic services it needed to support the ICU. The transfer process was rather involved—the bed and provider-finding logistics—and it came to me that there had to be a more efficient way such that my time wasn’t taken away from caring for patients.
If you’re digitizing the process, what is the patient-transfer process currently like?
Right now, we end up shopping around—calling the big academic care centers, and checking provider availability, unit availability and consultant availability. The logistics are facilitated by a transfer coordinator in a transfer center. The coordinator typically pages a physician and who then calls you back.
So coordinating patient transfers is actually someone’s job?
Most of the big (health care) centers in the DMV region have what’s called transfer centers that are staffed by coordinators who take calls from outside physicians. They can’t even say, ‘Yes, we have a bed available’; they just mediate communication between the sending and the receiving providers. They’re facilitators.
Does OpenBeds replace that facilitation role or simply streamline it?
We don’t replace the facilitators, and we’re still tweaking the model. We essentially digitize the process.
OpenBeds provides three features. First is transparency—you can see unit and provider availability across a system or network of hospitals. Then, we facilitate communication between sending providers, coordinators and receiving providers. Finally, we provide analytics to better track bed and provider demand and use.
You’re a 1776 member and based in Washington, D.C., but you competed in the New York City competition. Why?
I worked overnight the day of the competition, and I missed all of the preparation; and the day-of, I was asleep. It just didn’t work out because of my clinical schedule, so it was suggested to me that I should go to New York.
You still split time between being a physician and building a company. How do you manage your time?
I’m fortunate—my father is a retired systems engineer, and he takes care of product development. He is working on this full time. We are also bringing on board a seasoned 1776 entrepreneur who just had a successful exit. His expertise and wisdom are proving to be invaluable.
Otherwise…sure, I work a lot. But I really enjoy it, so it doesn’t bother me. I’ve really benefitted from all of the support at 1776—the mentorship, the advisers, the ecosystem of other entrepreneurs who are exceedingly generous with both their time and expertise. That has made it so much easier on me. I’m not figuring this out on my own.
How are things different now than when you first started?
I have no business or startup expertise. I started out by reading The Lean Startup, and then executing, mucking up, taking (many) steps back, and then moving forward—but I don’t have to do that anymore. Now I have such a vast network that I can tap into to ask questions and also learn from others’ mistakes.
I can’t even point to a single person; it’s everyone here, from within the staff at 1776—David Zipper facilitated the GW pilot—to the members who are so generous. For example, when I decided to go to New York for Challenge Cup, Mrim Boutla (founder of More Than Money Careers and a 1776 member) said, “Do you have a pitch? Do you want to practice? How about in an hour?” I didn’t ask her. She just overheard and said, “We’ve got to do this.”
What advice would you offer to other doctors or people in the medical profession who see problems and want to solve them?
As physicians and nurses, we’re not routinely empowered to develop solutions to problems we see on a day-to-day basis while we’re delivering health care. The resources aren’t there in terms of time and money to help us see the light. We’re so used to developing elaborate workarounds just to do what we need to do, to get by, as opposed to fixing things. I think now that attitudes among the powers-that-be at hospitals are shifting, such that providers are starting to get those resources. That movement has really taken root in the past year or so.
My goal is to improve the quality of care for patients and families here in the U.S. and if you keep that goal foremost in your mind, you’ll persevere through the ups and down. There are lots of highs and lows and you have to work with that end goal in mind.
Plus, for me, I’m learning so much. It’s the process. I’m really, really enjoying the process.