While many medical technology startups aim to automate the more mundane parts of a doctor or administrator’s job, Durham startup iScribes has a unique twist: it automates those tasks with people.
That’s not to say there’s no technology involved in a business that pairs doctors with real-time virtual medical scribes. But after an initial launch in 2014 using Google Glass to help doctors transcribe notes, the team realized only people could provide the accuracy and trust required for doctors, patients and the insurance companies footing the bills.
Now with more than 200 scribes in 25 states and 2.5 times the sales of a year ago, iScribes has a tech-enabled services model it’s ready to expand. A $410,000 bridge round led by The Launch Place in Danville, Va. will fund the business either to profitability or to a series A round later this year.
“If we can build a story that investors believe is credible, then we’ll raise money,” says co-founder Jared Pelo. “If we can’t build that story, then we’ll just keep doing it on our own.”
Building that story has been tricky at times for Pelo, who is trained as an ER doctor and still works part-time at a clinic in Lynchburg, Va. He doesn’t have a technology background and has never started his own company. And instead of a pure software solution, he’s got a network of stay-at-home parents, medical students and other virtual workers supplementing iScribes technology (which syncs with electronic medical records).
In his favor is knowing his problem first-hand—writing charts and inputting them in medical records is time-consuming and takes doctors away from their patients.
He’s also got the motivation to surround himself with people, education and resources to find a solution.
Since Pelo moved his business to Durham nearly three years ago, he’s taken advantage of every opportunity, from mentors at Groundwork Labs to co-working at American Underground to funding from and an early partnership with local physicians at Triangle Orthopaedic Associates to a growing relationship with Duke Orthopaedics. He’s hired more than 20 local staffers. The new round even includes funding from the local angel group, Triangle Angel Partners.
The Launch Place relationship is another way iScribes is capitalizing on the region’s resources. Part of the commitment to the nonprofit fund is for iScribes to bring $250,000 in annual income to the Danville region over the next five years. Pelo expects to hire as many scribes as he can from the region to reach that goal. He also hopes to sell into more local practices—The Launch Place is already providing intros to make that happen, says its president Eva Doss.
“We’re not just a fund, but we try to make sure our startup companies get wrap-around services that they need,” she says.
According to Pelo, “iScribes is the best example of what can happen to a company if they use all the resources that are here.”
But now it’s time for iScribes to really grow. And both technology and the remote team are a part of that.
“We’ve got to figure out how to manage a giant remote workforce, to keep them engaged and make them more productive,” Pelo says. “We’re figuring out what technology pieces we need so one scribe can scale more and more. Margins go up when you can figure that out.”
To date, iScribes involves a mobile app with a big button that lets a doctor start recording, along with a smartwatch that they use to start and stop. On the back end, scribes listen to the recordings and make the proper documentation for an electronic medical record. According to Pelo, iScribes saves doctors two hours a day—well worth the fee they pay per patient visit.
There’s one scribe for every two doctors today, but Pelo’s goal is to help the scribes become even more efficient through training and additional technology. Eventually, their job could be fact-checking rather than dictating and documenting.
For now, the secret is around education, both for scribes and full-time staffers in Durham. Pelo says that’s iScribes competitive advantage. Every employee spends at least three months learning to scribe and practicing the skill.
“We feel like you have to know how the company works, and the scribes really get to know that,” Pelo says. “When issues come up, you can look at it from all perspectives.”
A head of education handles training, and medical scribes advance over time to train each other. For now, they’ve mastered the language and practice of orthopedics, but eventually they’ll expand to other medical fields.
Pelo believes he’s over the hurdle of convincing investors they won’t lose money—more than $1 million in total funding proves that. But 2017 will be all about growing a profitable business and building a story that convinces institutional investors they can earn a nice return.