Although healthcare is a state-of-the art industry, HIPAA policies have relegated the profession to the Stone Age in terms of communications, says Fred Zolla, who in 1996 served on the White House advisory committee for educational technology. “Doctors and other healthcare officials cannot use the Internet the way you and I do. Imagine if you could not use the Internet to send out documents or contracts. Healthcare is really restricted because of all the privacy laws. We believed that fixing the communication system for doctors represented a niche market for us. In 2007 we decided to put our efforts into that.”
Opportunist: What is your background?
Zolla: I spent the first 20 years of my career in magazine and newspaper advertising and sales. By the time I reached my mid-40s, I decided to make a career change and ended up spending the past 20 years in education and technology, distributing and producing educational programs—first on filmstrips, then on 16 mm films, then videotapes and, finally, interactive laser discs. During my time as national sales manager and vice president of sales for Prentice Hall Media, I got involved with distance education. PH Media was one of the founders of the United States Distance Learning Association [USDLA], which is the largest learning group in the world and the trade organization for distance educators. That experience helped me to ultimately start my own company, which became one the first aggregators of K-12 and higher education distance learning resources and eventually made its way into the workplace. I eventually merged into a public company called Educational Video Conferencing, or EVCI, and took over as chief operating officer there.
Opportunist: What was EVCI’s business model?
Zolla: Basically, to deliver programs to corporations using videoconferencing systems. They focused on tuition reimbursement funds. While I was there we developed a broadband desktop video conferencing system that served as the first electronic classroom back when broadband became available in the late 1990s and early 2000s. When the tech bubble burst, I negotiated a deal to leave, taking the technology team with me, and started a company called Vemics, Inc.
Opportunist: What was your focus at Vemics?
Zolla: Vemics would deliver college level courses to corporations and install them in a conference room or on desktop computers. Through our association and strategic alliances, we started delivering financial certification courses like Series 6 to brokers and bankers; and then we made another strategic alliance to provide certified continuing medical education (CME). There were big flaws in the medical communication field, we soon realized, and we believed that we could offer a lot more to the industry through our technical capabilities.
Opportunist: How so?
Zolla: The Bush Administration initiated the electronic migration of the medical records system by 2014. This was a positive move but it had no real teeth to it. The Obama Administration picked up where their predecessor left off and funded the program under TARP. This had nothing to do with healthcare reform; it focused on the concept of expanding electronic record keeping while recognizing efficiency and cost reduction and eventually eliminating, through the transition from paper to digital, the duplication of tests, errors in billing and diagnostics, all of which would eventually reduce cost through Medicare and Medicaid. The system would allow access to records at any time and any place. We were thrilled about this because we were building a network to handle electronic records when it seemed like no one else was even thinking about it. There are about 400 entities that create electronic records, but they still don’t talk to each other. We created a system that enabled one electronic medical record system to communicate with another within a secure environment.
Opportunist: Was it well received?
Zolla: We launched our first site in October of 2007 and almost immediately got over 70,000 registrations. Unfortunately, though, we built the system that was meant for movement of electronic health records at a time when less than 8 percent of the market had electronic records. We were way ahead of the market. We ended up with a small group of a couple thousand users who helped teach us about what happens on the day-to-day clinical level. We used that knowledge to integrate our system into the day-to-day workflow and create an effective tool that would work in an industry that was technically challenged.
Zolla: iMedicor is a social network for healthcare professionals coupled with a Health Information Exchange. We developed the site not only as a secure communication tool, but also to function as a social network. It’s like LinkedIn but similar to Facebook. We call ourselves the iMedicor SocialHIE, or Social Health Information Exchange. iMedicor’s SocialHIE is the first information exchange platform to offer NHIN [nationwide health information network] Direct secure messaging services within a social/professional networking architecture. A flexible communication and health information transport system features interoperability between disparate systems. SocialHIE provides tools within a HIPAA-compliant environment to enhance the use of EHRs [electronic health records] with a focus on the day-to-day clinical workflow at all levels of the healthcare spectrum.
Our goal is to provide a secure communication system for the benefit of the entire healthcare community. We are involved in two business models: our primary mission and model is the network that I have just explained to you. Because of our closeness to the clinical day-to-day workflow and the medical practices themselves, we also secured a contract with the New Jersey HITEC Association. Our assignment, and that of the other 64 funded HITEC programs throughout the country, is to act as a consultant to the healthcare community.
Opportunist: What is HITEC?
Zolla: The mission of HITEC is to work with individual physicians and their practices to help them move from registration and selecting the appropriate electronics healthcare service to adopt a digital records system that meets all criteria for receiving federal incentive funds. iMedicor has already moved thousands of providers—including dental practices—through this process. In fact, we were just named the top agent in our HITEC project and NJ-HITEC has been recognized as No. 1 in the country. So iMedicor enjoys being the number 1 consultant to the most successful program nationwide.
Our work has given us insight into regulations on an almost minute-by-minute basis. Part of our job is to consult with and recommend electronic records systems to providers on a nonbiased basis. As providers get toward the end of the integration process, they realize that one of the missing components is a communications network. So, we are now working diligently with primary care physicians and specialists and, just recently, with the dental community as well to make the entire transition from a paper based system to an electronic records system relevant to the day-to-day clinical workflow.
Opportunist: How is iMedicor’s SocialHIE similar to Facebook?
Zolla: We identified a niche market, in this case healthcare; we created an easy way to access and understand a set of features and benefits that would be important to a physician and their practice. We then provided the tools to make the actual use of the system easy, lightweight and immediately functional and beneficial to the entire medical practice, hospital or ancillary care facility.
Opportunist: How does it work?
Zolla: It is so intuitive that you don’t need to have 10,000 people sitting in a call center. Understanding physicians and their day-to-day work flow enabled us to build a site that is intuitive, talks their language and is easy to operate. A physician registers and we authenticate the registration through several touch points, such as license number and NPI [National Provider Identifier] number. Once authenticated, users get an account in iMedicor and can leave the lobby, which is open to the public, and enter the secure site. The lobby has lots of information that anybody can access. To get into the actual functional site you need to log in with an account number. It’s typically not the doctor who will create the account but someone they assign, like the practice administrator, office manager or another administrative worker who creates sub accounts for the staff to use. Each one is given a varied amount of permission to use the site based on their responsibility within the medical practice. For example, the administrator can use anything on the site—the same as the doctor—whereas the records person may be restricted to records and billing.
The next step is to create your community. Let’s say I am a general practitioner. I can invite some of the specialists I work with, such as neurologists, oncologists or any other professional that I might send my patients to. I can invite them into my community, which also includes hospitals, medical centers, insurance companies, blood labs or other testing centers with whom I need to exchange patient-specific data in a secure environment. Once you are invited into my community, you then have the ability to create your own community. Our site was not built with the idea of one doctor calling another. It is meant to be a social network where doctors can actually do transactions, exchange patient information, send and receive referrals, collaborate online about patients, and so forth.
Opportunist: How many users do you have?
Zolla: Our forecast is that we will have somewhere in the area of approximately 60 to 65 percent of the entire healthcare community using our network by the middle of next year.
Opportunist: How many people do you have on staff?
Zolla: Right now we only have 12 people. Our plan over the next year is to double the size of the company. It will include the expansion of sales and marketing but focus primarily on development. We do not need a large staff to accomplish our goals. We have created alliances with companies who already have access to our target market and see us as a value added service that they can bring to their constituents.
Opportunist: In creating the company, what accomplishment made you the most proud?
Zolla: What makes me most proud is how our staff has weathered some extremely difficult times and stayed with the company. Most have been here eight years or more. The key people have been with me since day one. There were several challenging periods when we had to call upon our major investors to help get us through. We were fortunate to attract two major investors in particular who have really hung in there with us. Candidly, there have been times when it was difficult to make payroll or meet other obligations. What has been most gratifying for me is knowing that the people who work here see the iMedicor vision as clearly as our key investors and I do. We are there for each other, like a team in a foxhole fighting a war for the last 10 years and finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel. We have raised $24 million to date, most of which was raised between 2006 and 2011. That says a lot about our staff, our vision and our position in the marketplace—and our determination to service a market that finally has begun to realize how much it needs a system like ours.
Revenues are coming in. The right kind of strategic alliances are being formed. We are upgrading the entire site and iMedicor version 3.0 is scheduled to launch within the next few weeks.
Opportunist: What’s a typical day for you?
Zolla: My phone starts ringing at 7:15 a.m. and things do not slow down until about 9:30 at night when my wife drags me out of my home office. As CEO, I deal with all of our clients, our head of sales, our operations people, developers and all investors all the time. That is my day.
Opportunist: Where do you see the company in the coming years?
Zolla: I see us becoming a major player in the social network that will be attached to healthcare. Our first goal is to connect doctors and other healthcare professionals with other practices and hospitals and service providers, labs, imaging centers, insurance companies and so forth. That represents Phase I for at least the next 12 months. Into the fall of next year, we will launch our patient portal, which has already been built. The patient portal will basically let the patients receive or send their own electronic health records and take control of their own healthcare. That will create a secure link between the patient and the healthcare provider. To oversee your own healthcare and visit other specialists and healthcare facilities that require you to have your own healthcare records, our patient portal will be a valuable tool. The social network among nurses and staff and physicians is a potential community of about 4 or 5 million people. In the world of social networking, that’s not considered that much. But the patient portal is much bigger. How many of us are patients? About 300 million in the United States alone! Now that’s a social network!
We’ve put ourselves in the right place at the right time with the right product and we have the right government behind us—whether you’re a Republican or Democrat doesn’t matter, this was started under a Republican administration and funded under a Democratic one—and the whole healthcare industry is moving to electronic records. We expect our user base to grow to as many as 400,000 physicians and staff members over the next 6-to-12 months. We are currently aligning ourselves with several major health associations, and those strategic partnerships will be announced soon.
I would bet the farm on this company; and, in a way, I guess you could say that I already have. My entire life and finances are committed to its success. I am 62 and still have the energy of a 40 year old. [Laughs] The company has been around since 2001. It has taken 11 years for iMedicor to grow up and become a social network that can address the needs of both patients and providers. We are a sizeable force to be reckoned with in terms of a healthcare social network. We have a comprehensive service that almost everyone needs, though admittedly, we were ahead of the market. The fact that we raised about $24 million during the worst financial market of the world speaks volumes. A little over one year ago, in June 2011, about eight percent of the entire healthcare market utilized electronic records. We built our site to address that market. Then Federal funds began to flow into the space with the incentive of encouraging physicians to make the transition from paper to digital. Now 52 percent of the market is on board with electronic records—a major move for a market like healthcare. As a result, iMedicor is in the right place at the right time with the best possible service and government support. We are looking forward to expanding our organization and creating a National Health Information Exchange that completes the cycle of life within secure healthcare communications. Personally, I believe that as time goes on, many companies and organizations out there could be very interested in the secure access to this hard-to-reach and yet highly desirable demographic. We believe we are positioned to provide a very nice return on investment to our shareholders either as a successful business on its own or through other exit strategy options that will develop as our business executes on its plans.
Visit iMedicor Online - http://www.imedicor.com/
OTC Bulletin Board: VMCI
Leslie Stone is an award-winning writer/editor with more than two decades of experience covering business, finance and lifestyle issues for newspapers, magazines and online publications. Originally from Virginia, she currently resides in the Orlando area.