You May Be an Accidental Exporter

Do you know who your customers are? Prompt Alert sold their product to whoever picked up the phone until they realized that almost all their sales were made outside Canada

Written by John Lorinc

Tech entrepreneur Jeremy Greven’s best selling software tool is based on a simple idea. When he founded his company, Prompt Alert, back in 2007, Geven wanted to roll out a communications tool that would make it easier for doctors to ensure that their patients showed up for appointments.

Typically, that task was relegated to the office administrator, who slogged through schedules and personally called patients a day or two prior to their appointment. But Greven, a former Chubb Insurance Group IT executive, believed that the rapidly changing communications technology environment, the near ubiquity of mobile devices and the growing use of computers in doctors’ offices, added up to a game-changing set of conditions.

His hunch proved correct, but the take-up for the upstart firm’s automated appointment reminder software came from a direction that Greven and his partners didn’t initially expect. Even though their product could be used anywhere, their customers were primarily doctors and dentists in the Greater Toronto Area—or so it seemed. “We were just selling to whomever picked up the phone.”

The aha! moment

One day, the group started tallying up the source of those calls and realized that the lion’s share of the inquiries came not from the GTA, but from U.S.-based private health firms. And so an export-focused business was born.

Five years later, $2.7 million of the company’s $2.8 million in revenues (2012 figures) come from U.S. customers (Prompt Alert is ranked 55 on the PROFIT 500). It’s not difficult to understand the interest: they estimate that about a fifth of U.S. patients forget or skip appointments with their health care providers. Unlike in Canada, where physician billings are capped, those missed sessions represent a significant loss of revenue for private health organizations.

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The company’s patented solution, known as Patient Prompt, is a software service that pushes out reminder notices, plus a growing array of relevant information, to patients through a variety of channels, such as email, text or a dedicated messaging service. Increasingly, says Greven, health care providers such as private hospitals are weaving Prompt Alert’s technology into larger electronic medical record (EMR) databases, thereby providing these organizations with a means of communicating with patients in highly practical ways that improve the bottom line at the same time.

In the sprawling U.S. health care field, any kind of information technology that holds out the promise of improved productivity and better customer retention is likely to find interested buyers. “In the U.S.,” says Prompt Alert’s chief sales and marketing officer Daniel Kube, “they’re all competing for business.” He says the return-on-investment on Patient Prompt, which is offered as a cloud-based subscription service, is 2,000 to 3,000%. “That’s huge.”

New rules related to U.S. health care reforms are also creating demand for this kind of innovation. For example, health care providers now face financial penalties if patients are re-admitted to hospital within 30 days of discharge. That means there is a financial incentive to monitor follow-up appointments and other medical directions in an effort to prevent the need for emergency room, or reactive, medical attention.

In the coming year, Prompt Alert plans to set up a base in Washington D.C. as a means of staying close to politicians, health care regulators and lobbyists. Greven points out that when Kube’s last company, Performance Software, took the same step, 150 government agencies signed on to their services over the course of three years.

Partnerships key to growth

Strategic alliances represent another key driver in the company’s U.S. expansion plans. Earlier this fall, Prompt Alert and Nightingale Informatix Corp., a publicly-traded Canadian firm, announced a joint venture that will see Patient Prompt integrated into Nightingale’s cloud-based EMR technology. The Markham, Ont.-based company, which generated almost $21 million in revenues for fiscal 2013, says it has amassed 12,000 U.S. health-care clients that, collectively, are responsible for booking more than 100 million patient visits per year.

While such deals create new inroads into a massive market, Greven points out that he’s starting to see interest from domestic hospitals and medical clinics. Essentially, local health care providers can use a productivity tool that has been thoroughly test-driven in the roiling U.S. health care industry. “The idea is new in Canada, but we can bring years of experiences and best practices to the Canadian market.”

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