As a part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrew Altorfer.
Andrew is the Co-founder and CEO of CirrusMD, a text-based telemedicine company. Andrew has led CirrusMD since its founding, helping to grow the business into the leading solution for barrier-free virtual care access.
Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
We built CirrusMD off a number of observations that my cofounder Dr. Blake McKinney made while practicing medicine as an emergency physician. Blake found that throughout the day (and night), he was texted by friends and family about any medical concerns they had. If needed, he could switch over to a video chat or the patient could send him photos, and during these encounters, Blake realized he was actually practicing a text-driven version of telemedicine. Meanwhile at the Emergency Department (ED) where he worked, he’d look out over the crowded ED and realize that people were waiting for hours to see a physician, and studies have shown that 70% of them didn’t actually need emergency care. It’s really a failure of our legacy approach to healthcare delivery that an ED is often the only efficient means of access.
Blake began to wonder — how do we scale and extend the type of service I give to friends and family to everyone? That’s really where the business came from.
When I decided to join Blake in starting CirrusMD, a big driver was the desire to create better alignment of economic interests in healthcare that would allow everyone to have access to personalized virtual care, wherever and whenever they needed it.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I read constantly and wouldn’t say that only one book influenced me, I look for a lot of diverse input. One business book I enjoyed was “The Hard Thing About Hard Things,” by Ben Horowitz. I appreciated the real-world examples of the struggles he experienced building and running companies. He shares some great stories, practical advice, pretty humbling experiences, and lessons he learned as he and his colleagues eventually surmounted their challenges.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
From the very beginning of CirrusMD, Blake and I created a clearly defined vision — that “everyone has instant access to personalized healthcare,” and we’ve never wavered. We’re here to create access to care and the personalized experience that people who are either a friend or relative of a physician receive.
We focus on transforming how care is delivered. Consistently, throughout the company, we are purpose-driven, working to democratize healthcare delivery. Even telemedicine as a whole hasn’t yet delivered on this goal, but we believe we really are. We see and hear proof every day, from our patient testimonials, to the satisfaction of the physicians practicing on the platform, who can now manage care in a way they’ve never experienced before.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
The lens we use to evaluate all strategies and key decisions is: by taking this action, will we improve, or worsen, the patient and physician experience on our platform, and more broadly, the experience across healthcare.
Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
The biggest challenge has been trying to maintain a sense of family normalcy. My wife and I both have demanding career responsibilities, and we’ve got young kids at home. During this time, we’ve looked for new ways to find balance. What’s worked for us is that we’ve tried to be very thoughtful in how we strike balance between our personal and professional lives, trading off so we each have enough time with our kids and to focus on the work we’re doing. We’re doing a lot more work at night, to ensure the hours during the day and before bedtime includes time to focus on the kids. Probably like most families right now, we’re having family dinner together every night.
Can you share a few of the biggest work-related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Organizationally, we went to have our entire workforce redistributed to home offices, which isn’t something we’ve historically practiced. Our team did a great job making this shift. We increased the level of communication from the management team through weekly stand-up meetings that include the whole company. Then each functional area does a weekly (or more frequent) stand-up. We’ve done some things to keep people connected, like virtually matching people for lunch dates and hosting company happy hours with trivia contests. We’ve kept the company as socially connected as possible, while we’re not physically proximate to one another.
We’ve seen such great returns on these efforts. Teamwork from remote workers has been exceptionally good, and collaboration and productivity haven’t wavered for even a moment. And while some people may be getting a little stir crazy, we’re encouraging people to take time and get outside and do things they need for focus and health.
We’re in a unique and fortunate position — as a telemedicine company, this crisis has provided an opportunity to demonstrate the value of our model. And it’s been incredibly positive for the leadership team to watch our team thrive under increased pressure, as we’ve seen things including a 400% increase in patient volume.
Many people have become anxious about the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
As a company directly in the middle of delivering care, our team has shared an incredible amount of resources, coping mechanisms, and behavioral health resources, which we’ve all been able to lean on. Additionally, we’ve encouraged everyone to try to focus on balancing their lives, which naturally aids in decreasing things like anxiety.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-COVID economy will look like. But we can, of course, try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-COVID economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-COVID growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-COVID economy?
As a front line provider helping address the COVID-19 pandemic, our business is uniquely positioned. Awareness of the availability of telemedicine services — and utilization of those services — has skyrocketed over the past few weeks. Broad-based awareness of virtual care is climbing, along with a new understanding of the need for different modalities (text first, followed by phone, video, photos when needed) to provide scale. We see a new baseline for our entire industry going forward, as a result of what’s occurred during this transition from physical to virtual care across the board.
Looking broadly, I believe we’ll see a significant shift in how health systems and insurance companies will manage patient care journeys following this crisis. This will create business model implications, changes to the healthcare industry’s economic structure, and likely, a redistribution of resources and decreased reliance on the legacy brick and mortar footprint where patients have historically gone to seek care.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act, or live?
I think people will go through a period of reassessment of what personal freedom means.
The entire healthcare delivery system is likely to see the significant change that can ultimately increase efficiency. As a result, the way people manage their health and the way the system interacts with patients will likely forever be altered.
Outside of healthcare, I think we’ll see companies rethinking the way they assess commercial real estate needs. With what’s likely to be a lasting and noticeable uptick in the number of people working from home, we’ll see fewer people working out of offices on a daily basis. This will drive the continued explosion in virtual collaboration tools, which have proven valuable in keeping people connected.
At the individual consumer level, it’s likely people will think differently about how they shop, how they interact with crowds, and how often they travel for non-essential reasons. We’ll see more selling of products and services occurring virtually.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
We’ve continued to hire new employees, in fact, the pandemic has driven a period of rapid growth for our company. We see evidence this growth will continue, based on the expectations of our current customers. We’ve not necessarily had any major changes in our plans, but we are focused on managing continued growth for our business.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
From my personal experience, I’d say spend more time with family and friends. Find new ways to look at work-life balance. Help your employees do the same. Anticipate ways to work together with colleagues that are outside of previous boundaries to keep creating more flexible, collaborative relationships.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite “Life Lesson Quote” comes from Henry Ford, who said “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” This is so relevant to how we started CirrusMD. The entire telemedicine industry was designed around the question “How do we create an office visit online.” Instead, we started with an assumption about the right way for doctors and patients to communicate and designed the platform and service offering to align with that. Even though it doesn’t fit the broken economic model of healthcare, we want to lead the way to a more seamless, effective care experience for all.
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can follow CirrusMD on social media (Twitter and LinkedIn) and bookmark our blog. We’re talking a lot about the ways telemedicine is evolving, what CirrusMD is doing to support new patient experiences, and new facets of care that can be offered virtually.