Health IT Thought Leader Highlight: Brent Lang, CEO, Vocera

Brant Lang
Brent Lang

Brent D. Lang has served as the president and chief executive officer, and a board member, of Vocera since June 2013. Since joining the company in 2001, Lang has played a role in transforming Vocera from a startup to a publicly traded corporation with more than 380 employees and revenues exceeding $100 million.

Prior to being named CEO, he was the company’s president and chief operating officer and a member of the team that led Vocera’s successful IPO in March 2012. During his tenure with Vocera, he also has served as the company’s vice president of marketing and business development for more than five years, spearheading the initial business plan and the development of product and go-to market strategies.

Before joining Vocera, Lang was the senior director of marketing at 3Com Corporation, and was a strategy consultant for Monitor Company, advising Fortune 500 companies. He graduated summa cum laude from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in industrial and operational engineering before earning an MBA from Stanford University Graduate School of Business. While at the University of Michigan, he was a member of the 1988 U.S. Olympic Swimming Team and won a Gold Medal in the 4×100 freestyle relay at the summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.

Here, he discusses Vocera’s mission; how the company serves the healthcare market; how health reforms are impacting businesses; making healthcare communications more efficient; and his vision for the future.

Describe how your background gave you the tools to start/run a communications technology company like Vocera.

In retrospect, my background is a perfect fit for Vocera. First, my industrial engineering degree helped me understand process workflows and how to apply the right technologies to human collaboration and communication challenges, which was a natural link to the problems Vocera looks to address. My technology background helps me understand what we’d need to do with the Vocera products, and the workflow aspect helps me understand our customers’ challenges.

I (worked) at Monitor Company, a strategy consulting firm, which provided me with formal training in understanding customer requirements and defining markets and product strategy.  After that, I attended Stanford University to get my MBA, which was focused on entrepreneurship and strategy. I then worked at 3Com, which provided solid knowledge of the networking and wireless space – all of which has proved immensely valuable in helping to grow Vocera.

My athletic background as an Olympic swimmer has also played a big role in my development. Growing and running a company takes hard work and determination – most startups are not primed for immediate success – and as a competitive athlete you learn that there are no shortcuts to the top; you have to put in time and effort over many years to reach your peak. Many professionals focus on the end point of where they will take their business, but the thousands of hours you put in are what drive you to that point – so there is a strong correlation between competing in sports and succeeding in business.

Tell me about Vocera. What does it do and who does it serve, specifically?

Vocera delivers integrated, intelligent, secure communication solutions that enable the flow of information from one care provider to another in real-time, and allows them to act on that information at the point of care, throughout their entire healthcare experience. Our range of solutions allows care professionals to instantly connect patients with the care and resources they need, helping prevent treatment delays and increasing operational efficiency throughout the hospital.

Our solutions are scalable enterprise-class products, offering options for teams of various sizes, and enable collaboration for mobile teams on the devices of their choice. Our solutions are currently installed in more than 1,200 organizations worldwide to improve efficiency and help improve patient experiences.

Any major disruptions to the market that you’re particularly proud of?

There are three I would point to – the first is our wearable hands-free device that remains very disruptive 15 years after its invention. Many technologists told us what we were trying to do, combining Wi-Fi, Voice Over IP and speech recognition in one device would be nearly impossible – but we overcame the complexities to make it an enjoyable and truly hands-free experience.

Second, our user-centric communication with role-based calling. Prior to Vocera most communication systems were device-centric, using a four or seven-digit number to identify each device – we really turned that upside down and made the communication very user-centric with their groups, preferences and workflows all part of their profile that travels with them from device to device.

Finally, our Wi-Fi voice application was breakthrough at the time it was announced, as it addressed challenges like latency and continued connectivity that had not been an issue with Wi-Fi applications on laptops. When you have a momentary lapse in network connectivity on a computer you rarely notice, but gaps in real-time voice communications present obvious interruptions, so we needed it to work seamlessly.

The lessons learned in pioneering these technologies have been instrumental in helping us prepare to further expand our offerings and take on the next set of challenges, such as the introduction of our secure text messaging solution and other mobile offerings.

How has Vocera transformed since the company was started?  What is your vision for the future of the company?

The biggest transformation was realizing that we were a healthcare company. The shift toward this vertical market was very central to the company’s success. As we were trying to raise money early in the process, the venture community wasn’t hot on healthcare IT investments or businesses that were vertically oriented. But now, healthcare IT is an area that attracts the largest investments as the landscape has shifted. Luckily we had enough foresight to see in the market opportunity at the time and stick with our company vision.

Moving forward, we see Vocera being a key provider of care coordination solutions across the entire healthcare ecosystem to support population health.

How has the healthcare reforms impacted business? What areas are your glad for, which do you wish had not changed?

From my perspective, the changing healthcare IT landscape has made it challenging for some hospital decision makers. With uncertainty about reimbursement models and regulations, many hospitals have taken a “wait-and-see” approach before spending on new technologies. I would also say that reforms have put a large amount of focus on increasing use of EHRs. And while EHRs are critically important, in some cases not enough time and effort is being put in to evaluate the impacts that other technology aside from EHRs can make in the hospital.

That said, we recognize that the healthcare reforms are aligned directly with our company goals to increase the focus on patient satisfaction and improving operational efficiency. Today’s healthcare reforms are changes that needed to happen – the U.S. currently has the highest cost of care, but not the highest quality, and we support making the transitions to fix that. For us, efforts to increase focus on patient satisfaction are a great thing, because that is one of the core issues we hope to solve with our technology.

How is it being used by health systems? What are some case examples you’re proud of?

I would like to start with the operational efficiency example from OR throughput.

Hospitals and health systems are looking to create market differentiation, attract new patients, and generate loyalty. Therefore, organizations are integrating traditional approaches to efficiency and quality with cultures that focus on relationships and patient-centered care. Many of our customers are implementing Vocera products to allow team members to become more responsive to patient needs and dramatically improve patient satisfaction.

For example, Genesis Healthcare System was not conducting rounds on a consistent basis and lacked a structured means for gathering information and taking action. Less than a handful of nurse managers were rounding on their own units, leading to an inability to observe trends. Faced with this infrequency of patient-provider interaction, Genesis recognized a need for a new methodology of connecting with patients and their families. A critical piece of the Vocera Care Rounds solution is the capability to gather real-time feedback on what is transpiring with the patient and their family. By using this communication solution during leader rounding, nurses have been able to record direct insights from patients in real-time and proactively take advantage of improvement opportunities. As a result, Genesis experienced a 35 percent increase in its overall HCAHPS rating, with 90 percent of comments from patients now positive and more than 40 positive comments from staff per week.

Another example is Emerus, whose pioneering new model for community medical care is built on acute micro hospitals specializing in emergency care delivered fast and efficiently. Patients arriving at their affiliated micro hospitals are usually seen within 15 minutes. Excellent communication among all staff members is key to this model of medical care. Emerus decided to implement the Vocera Communication System, not only for its hands-free wireless communication capabilities, but also to integrate with its telemetry system. As a result, Emerus hospitals have some of the highest customer satisfaction and lowest number of complaints in the industry.

How do you see Vocera further integrated into the healthcare system as it continues to reform?

The lack of communication and coordination in health systems causes fragmented and inefficient care that can impact patient safety and patient experience. For example, the Joint Commission states that roughly 70 percent of accidental deaths and serious injuries in hospitals are linked to communication failures.

Enabling better communication and collaboration across the entire continuum of care is critically important in making the transition to value-based care. Vocera will continue to provide and enhance healthcare communications systems to provide secure means of keeping care teams in sync across sites and helping them improve care coordination, safety, and ultimately, patient experience.

What is the value proposition for systems and practices?

We see our role as being the communications layer that ties all of the systems in the hospital together and provide a seamless experience for both patients and care teams. We believe our solutions can bring humans back into the continuum of care by reducing the breakdowns in communication that occur far too often in clinical workflows. We want to help care teams reach the right person, at the right time, on the right device, with the right information, in the right place.

Can you describe how Vocera’s cloud-based secure text messaging solution will impact both patients and healthcare professionals?

Vocera Secure Texting is an important part of our care coordination solution, because it addresses some of the major frustrations that care providers feel on a day-to-day basis. They need solutions that connect them to each other instantly, and they can’t be held up by communication issues that take time away from doing their job to the best of their abilities. From a patient perspective, enhancing care coordination with secure texting saves valuable time in providing them the care they need as quickly and efficiently as possible.

We have provided our secure text messaging solution to all of our U.S. hospital customers at no additional cost because we realize the importance of protecting patient information and we want to believe this solution will make a big impact across the entire patient journey.

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