Dr. Ray Costantini of Bright.md

An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Dr. Ray Costantini (co-founder and CEO) of Bright.md, which was honored in our:
Tell us the origin story of Bright.md – what problem were you trying to solve and why?

The idea for Bright.md was sparked back in 2012 from a vision and unique partnership I shared with Kitty Powell, a veteran digital health innovator. At that time, we were working at one of the largest care delivery systems in the U.S. We got first-hand experience with the highs and lows of early telehealth and digital health solutions, which just weren’t delivering on the true promises of efficiency or care.

It was pretty clear, even back then, that the future of healthcare hinged on human-centered technology. That’s an approach that’s successfully transformed other industries, and we felt strongly that it made sense for healthcare too. We had experience with telehealth and digital health tools from both the provider and patient sides of the spectrum, and we saw how some solutions, like video visits, really weren’t meeting the needs of patients, providers, or health systems.

We were both passionate about improving care delivery in a way that made it better for everyone involved. The more time we spent looking at the problem, the more clear it became that many of the really big problems in healthcare came from the underlying issue that doctors spend an appalling amount of their time on administrative work (gathering basic information, documenting in chart notes, writing orders and prescriptions, slogging their way through EMR systems) rather than doing what they are good at, and enjoy. Caring for patients.

The vision for Bright.md’s solution became increasingly clear. We needed a solution that made high-quality healthcare accessible, affordable, and convenient for patients. But the platform also needed to drive greater efficiency in clinical workflows, so doctors could focus on their primary mission, practicing expert medicine, not spending their valuable time burdened with administrative tasks. Healthcare needed a “virtual medical resident” that made the care delivery process easier, more efficient, more delightful, and more valuable.

What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?

Early in our company’s founding, the unthinkable happened: Kitty lost her battle with breast cancer. Kitty’s husband Mark Swinth, a veteran technology company founder, assumed her vision and devotion to Bright.md’s mission. He stepped in and joined me as a co-founder and CFO, which was no small task, considering he was now a single dad to four young kids.

The inspiration and urgency of our shared dream for Bright.md (how it could help fix a broken care system) catalyzed everything that came next for me, Mark, our families, and the company.

Healthcare is traditionally slow to adapt to new technology. Although physicians themselves are often early adopters (the first vocational group to adopt smartphones were doctors), the industry at large is reluctant to change. There is a good reason for that, as implementing EHR systems placed enormous burden and expense on healthcare IT teams.

Convincing those within healthcare systems, who had been burned by large scale implementations, that the Bright.md platform would, in fact, streamline clinical processes and make life easier for those delivering care was a struggle. However, once people see a demonstration of our platform, it all clicks and they get very excited about the impact it could have on patient access, provider burnout, and system finances. But getting that foot in the door was a challenge.

What does the future hold for Bright.md?

COVID-19 has been a turning point for healthcare. As the pandemic progressed, it was clear the virus would have a huge impact on the healthcare industry. The early days of COVID-19 were an intense challenge as healthcare providers had to pivot, practically overnight, and adjust their practices to ensure the safety of patients and staff, and that patients continued to receive the care they needed. Telehealth became that lifeline, and the foundation for addressing the new realities of our lives. And, in some cases, it was also the only source of revenue for healthcare systems.

What’s even more interesting is that it has accelerated healthcare beyond “remote care”. We’re increasingly seeing health systems recognize that the idea of “remote care vs. in-person care” is really an anachronism. It’s an outdated way of thinking. Delivering care remotely is valuable, and we want to enable that whenever it’s appropriate and desired. But removing geography as a barrier to care only changes where healthcare happens, not how it happens. It’s changed the context of healthcare, not the construct of it.

Health systems are facing a rapidly changing set of consumer expectations: a dramatically different and expanding competitive landscape, skyrocketing provider burnout, and increasing financial pressures. All of that is layered on top of the pre-existing pains around patient access, downward pressures on the cost of care, the inexorable need to transition to value-based payment, and razor thin margins.

While it’s hard to predict what healthcare will look like in the post-COVID-19 era, one thing is for certain: the industry will be digitally transformed. Digital tools have become a critical part of how healthcare is delivered. Patients and providers have become more comfortable with virtual visits and use of technology to access care, and I believe they won’t go back to an in-person, brick-and-mortar-only model anytime soon. Leveraging telehealth, AI, and care automation to make clinical care delivery more efficient and scalable will be critical as health systems continue to recover from the financial impact of the pandemic.

What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in Portland?

Portland is a ripe market for healthcare technology. The city brings together a unique combination of multiple innovative health systems and health plans, strong and growing tech talent, and a history of solidly performing healthcare IT companies. Add to that Oregon’s strong history of progressive healthcare policy, and you have an ideal ecosystem to foster transformational innovation.

Portland has been a great place for Bright.md to grow, and I see a great opportunity for more entrepreneurs who are thinking big about healthcare to join us here in the state. It’s important that the city continues to foster ways to welcome more innovators who are interested in making a positive change in the way healthcare is delivered and consumed.

What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Successful entrepreneurship takes a complicated combination of vision and focus. You have to have a vision of something that doesn’t yet exist. Something that’s exciting, and better. And you have to be able to convey that vision to people in a way that’s impactful, and gets them excited about making that vision become reality. Once you have that vision, you need to bring a laser-like focus in terms of knowing what matters most. The bigger your vision is, the easier it is to get distracted and lose focus. And the more focused you are, the easier it is to lose track of that vision.

And if there’s something else that you’d be happy doing, do that instead. That balance of vision and focus is best done when it’s fueled by passion and dedication, and at a level that you won’t be able to sustain if it’s not something that you wake up thinking about, that you go to bed thinking about, and that you dream about in between. When I have a frustrating day at work, I end up complaining to my wife (side advice, always remember that being the spouse of an entrepreneur is a really hard job that’s more thankless than being an entrepreneur). She’s wonderful and patient, up to a point. When she’s tired of hearing me complain, she often will ask me a single question: “This sounds hard. What job would you rather be doing instead?”. There’s nothing. And that makes it much easier to maintain my passion and dedication.

 

For more exclusive interviews, see our full Profile of a Founder series

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