As part of my series about the “How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face of Disruptive Technologies,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Russ Graney.
Russell Graney is the CEO and founder of Aidin, a marketplace that streamlines how a patient’s care is coordinated and selected after their hospital stay, making care transitions more efficient and effective. He works directly with some of the largest hospital systems in the country to reimagine the way care is accessed and democratized. Prior to Aidin, Russ was a consultant at Bain & Company, and the Director of Operations at Leadership Prep Bedford-Stuyvesant. He earned his A.B. in social studies from Harvard University.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. 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?
I always knew I wanted to build a software company so early on I focused my career on rounding out my skill set, especially coming out of a liberal arts school. The first chapter of my career wasn’t in healthcare — it was in consulting and later private equity. My introduction to healthcare came via one of the firm’s biggest investments in a healthcare case management services company. As a consultant, I made a career in quickly wrapping my head around new industries — but learning healthcare was a brand new challenge.
I learned that hospital case managers play an integral but overlooked role in healthcare. They work with payers, providers and physicians on assessment, planning, care coordination, and advocacy. Given the hodgepodge nature of healthcare systems, their jobs are filled with a lot of manual tasks and outdated technology.
During this time, my uncle was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. I started helping my aunt and uncle navigate the patient and caregiver side of the healthcare system. While we were at the hospital, I could see the incredible amount of effort it took to find qualified post-acute providers to care for my uncle following his discharge. The system was extremely complex and getting a clear understanding of which in-network providers fit our care requirements was labor-intensive for everyone involved. The confluence of my work and personal experiences helped me see the challenge from all angles and inspired the vision for Aidin: re-structure day-to-day communications among patients, payers and local providers to make care transitions easier for everyone. Our unique online referral and authorization workflows match patients with the most clinically appropriate providers, resulting in streamlined workflows for hospital staff and reduced readmissions and redundancies for patients.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
One of the most important days early in our formation was a Demo Day where we introduced Aidin to over 500 potential investors and customers. In the middle of my presentation, the computer running the slides froze. Through some miracle, I played it cool, kept us moving and in a few minutes we had the slides back up. A lot of attendees were impressed by our presentation. Even more told me they wanted to get involved just by the way we kept our ‘cool’ in the face of crisis.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
One of the first people who recognized Aidin’s potential was Dr. Arun Mohan. He was at the time the medical director of care coordination at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. We briefed Dr. Mohan on our mission and vision, and he was so generous to offer us the opportunity to pilot our solution with his team of case managers.
One of the big assumptions in post-acute care is that patients want to go to a facility close to home. Our hypothesis was that patients were choosing the providers closest to home because it was the only information on providers that they had. We felt that if patients had more information about the quality of care they would receive, quality would win over the location. We created a platform that incorporated several quality metrics and found that 83% of patients chose the best-quality provider over ones that were closer to home. Innovation is often a million small ideas bundled into one cohesive vision. Our first, most essential hypotheses were validated thanks to Dr. Mohan and his team of case managers who provided the foundation and inspiration we needed to build out our platform.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
We started Aidin almost nine years ago and our vision and purpose have not changed since. We’ve been focused on the exact same thing since day one: structuring, optimizing and incentivizing everyday case management and administration tasks to reduce costs and improve outcomes.
Did you know that spending on post-acute care is about $60 billion a year in Medicare alone? And yet, only about 12% of Medicare recipients choose the best provider that’s available to them? That’s because today’s “best practices” for managing referrals nearly guarantee patients won’t get all the right information they need to make a responsible decision. In the U.S., we have a free-market healthcare system, and yet we don’t seem to benefit from any of the usual things that make a free market valuable — like transparency, quality, choice and price. We’ve set out to change that by making the most critical information accessible and easy to navigate for patients, case managers, providers and payers.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you tell our readers a bit about what your business does? How do you help people?
Aidin connects hospitals and health systems with all of the healthcare providers and payers in their community, running the gamut from home health providers to skilled nursing facilities, dialysis to durable medical equipment. Hospital staff uses Aidin to match their patients with the services and providers that best suit the patient’s needs and best meet the discharging provider’s quality and partnership expectations. The result is that patients are able to leave the hospital more quickly, and their readmission rates go down, too, because they’re placed with the best care provider possible.
Technology solutions like Aidin are critical to improving the infrastructure and effectiveness of our nation’s healthcare system. By enabling patients to review detailed outcomes and partnership data about their available options, health systems using Aidin align their partner providers’ incentives to earn more referrals with patients’ desires to find the best quality care.
Which technological innovation has encroached or disrupted your industry? Can you explain why this has been disruptive?
Hear me out — it’s the fax machine. Today, our healthcare system is bogged down by countless manual data processes. Hospital employees — both clinical and non-clinical — are often tasked with processing mountains of patient information, without a clear central resource to house and organize that data. EHR’s were an initial first step in digitizing healthcare, but siloed systems have in some cases made the problem even worse.
People who use fax machines like them — well, as much as any person could “like” a fax machine. After all, fax machines get the job done and don’t give you error screens (usually). The fact that the fax machine was the last major technological innovation that massively disrupted healthcare should tell you all you need to know. Our healthcare industry lags far behind others with regard to digital transformation.
The technological innovation around Aidin is the hypothesis that you need a central platform that doesn’t require anybody to be “on” it. A lot of technologists in healthcare build systems that “will work great if we all agree on this standard” — and that is never going to happen because we live in such an open and competitive healthcare marketplace. Most US patients and healthcare admins like to exercise choice and expertise to find care. We rebel against narrow networks and strict tech rules. Thus the challenge is to build a platform-less platform that enables your partners to work exactly as they like — by fax, phone, email or computer — while allowing your team to centralize and digitize all their communications. Our goal is to enable you to communicate with everyone else in the healthcare ecosystem by staying exactly where you are.
What did you do to pivot as a result of this disruption?
The real question here is how we pivoted as a result of a lack of disruption. We honed in on post-acute care transitions because hospital discharges are highly sensitive clinically and financially. We partnered with some of the nation’s best health systems to develop a platform to serve the simple and the most complex post-acute care needs, and now we’re looking beyond this space.
We’re living through another disruption. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended healthcare delivery and collaboration. Tightly managing bed capacity in the middle of surges, many of our clients were managing even more complex care transitions. In addition to evaluating whether a post-acute care provider was in-network, we also needed to move quickly to evaluate which were accepting new patients and also had a low risk of infection. Many hospitals and health systems began referring patients to home health providers as cases spiked because infection risk was so high. We were able to pivot quickly to add another layer of qualifications into our database to enable care transitions amid the pandemic.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during a disruptive period?
During disruptive periods, I think a leader’s role in the midst of panic is often (not always!) to standstill. The more hectic the situation is, the more important it is for leaders to be the ballast for their teams. When the pandemic hit, we needed to move quickly to help hospitals and health systems find care providers with the lowest infection risk — and, in many cases, providers that would accept COVID-positive patients. While we watched everyone spin up brand new websites and tools just for COVID, we were wise to leverage tools in our existing platform to build a truly integrated solution for managing COVID, and future pandemics, long-term. We always strive to avoid the “reaction” to disruption and lean into the “opportunity” it presents. To do that, we need to think long-term and root our actions in what’s most unique and valuable to our mission and vision.
If you get it right, moments of incredible uncertainty can also be moments of incredible innovation!
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
From our perspective, being based in New York in the middle of one of the first surges, especially in the early months of the pandemic, was scary. A lot of people felt powerless. I reminded our teams during those months that we were lucky to have a hand in supporting the essential healthcare workers treating patients first hand and alleviating capacity challenges to ensure every COVID patient who needed it had a hospital bed available.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Think big and stay focused. They may seem at odds, but staying focused on your unique perspective is the only way to build something that will big enough to make a difference.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make when faced with a disruptive technology? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
I’ve noticed that when faced with disruptive technology, people react in at least one of two ways. They react too quickly to implement it or take too long to consider its impact. There are short-term reasons to do that and maybe short-term gains to be had with quick reactions, but the deeper value comes from a reflective view of what that technology is and considering how it might enable you to better put your goals into action. Usually, your answer in three months is better than three days.
Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to pivot and stay relevant in the face of disruptive technologies? Please share a story or an example for each.
Stay focused: 1 year into Aidin Dr. Mohan, an early booster and advisor, encouraged me to investigate another adjacent area to our focus. He thought there was a big opportunity there. We didn’t actually dig into the opportunity for another 5 years! He was right — there was something we could solve! But it was still there 5 years later, and now we had the expertise and platform fully formed to take it on.
Be bold: only compare yourself to competition to find how to best highlight your unique approach. Don’t let them pull you into averageness!
Breathe: when in doubt, do nothing! Breathe, gather information, sleep on it, and seek an answer that doesn’t just solve the problem but gets you excited to solve it.
Dream: This sounds funny but a lot of important work at a startup gets done when you’re dreaming. Making sure you’re steeped in your work but also able to remove yourself from it enough to see it in a new way is a difficult balancing act but essential to generating new ideas, pushing visions forward, and marrying ‘dreams’ with reality.
Do the work: If you can avoid reacting to the day-to-day, you’ll find yourself with lots of time! Use it to do the work yourself — get as close to the reality of your users and your team. Know deeply what they are facing every day. Stay close to what matters and build from there. Always return to the starting place.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You are very special and so is everyone else.” This is one of the many lessons my mother taught me growing up, and one that I hold very dear to my heart. We’re all part of a big, beautiful tapestry, surrounded by others with similar magic.
As a leader, part of my role is to ensure that every team member’s unique voice — and magic — shines through for our customers and their patients. Especially for a company like Aidin, our team is so closely knit together. We spend a significant amount of our time thinking about what’s next, where are we headed and what we need to create to get a world where everyone’s unique magic thrives.
How can our readers further follow your work?