It was through frustration that gastroenterologist Dr. Mukul Mehra came up with the concept for one of Birmingham’s most tech companies, Illumicare.
One of his patients was a 36-year-old nurse battling Chron’s disease. In the span of one year, she had 18 computer tomography (CT) scans, amounting to 600 X-rays. It was the radiation equivalent of standing one mile from Hiroshima more than twice in one’s lifetime. This patient had fallen victim to a common problem in health care, overutilization, and because of the amount of radiation she was exposed to, she had an increased cancer risk.
This patient’s experience got the wheels turning in Mehra’s head. Was there a way to use technology to condense information so physicians could make more informed decisions? From there, Illumicare, named because of its illumination of the cost of care and effect of care, was born. The company’s patented SmartRibbon of information floats over patients’ electronic medical record and gives health care providers real-time data within the physician workflow. With this data, providers order fewer and less expensive tests and medications.
Since its launch two years ago, the company has grown revenue at more than 500 percent and is in expansion mode. Last year, it landed on the Birmingham Business Alliance’s New and Expanding Industry List for adding 12 jobs and committing to investing $3.4 million. Since the beginning of the year it has added seven more employees.
“We all work really hard because we believe what we are doing makes a real difference to patients around the country,” said Mehra’s co-founder and Illumicare CEO G.T. LaBorde. “The challenge in health care isn’t that we do too little. It’s a problem of excess. We tend to overdo it. The U.S. spends more per capita than any other country taking care of the same illness.”
Illumicare is now in health systems and hospitals from Hawaii to Florida to Maryland. Its technology has shown a 14 percent average reduction of customers’ inpatient costs, and the average hospital customer saves about $150 per inpatient admission.
LaBorde was already a successful entrepreneur in the health care technology business in Birmingham when he sat down at his daughter’s kindergarten parent orientation next to Mehra. Mehra knew of LaBorde’s history as co-founder of MedMined, a company that helped hospitals track and prevent hospital-acquired infections, which was acquired by Cardinal Health Inc. in 2006. Illumicare soon became a reality.
Entrepreneurs like LaBorde who have created more than one business in Birmingham continue to push the needle forward for the city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, said Jon Nugent, Vice President of Innovation and Technology for the Birmingham Business Alliance.
“Illumicare is an example of the next generation of smart companies growing in Birmingham,” he said. “We are fortunate to have companies like that and serial entrepreneurs like G.T. who are incredibly valuable to the fabric of our business community. His contribution and the presence of Illumicare and companies like it continue to make Birmingham an exciting and vibrant community on the rise.”
The Illumicare team measures success by the number of hospitals it is in – now over 100 – and its ability to cut costs for those hospitals not just in economic terms, but in human terms. For example, Illumicare looks not just as the cost of lab tests that have been done – the economic terms – but also how much blood has been taken from the patient and if the patient is at risk of getting anemia and needing a blood transfusion from it – the human terms.
“When doctors take care of patients as efficiently as they can, it saves money,” LaBorde said. “When you empower them with information, they’ll use it, and when you care about patients you become more thoughtful and judicious about what you order.”
At only two years old, Illumicare has ample room to continue growing. Its growth was perpetuated by unlocking the previously impenetrable electronic medical record, giving providers ample information so they don’t fall into overutilization. LaBorde sees the company adding additional hospitals and health systems to its roll and taking the technology to the next level.
“It could be really big,” he said.
LaBorde used his deep connections in Birmingham from his first entrepreneurial venture to build the Illumicare team, he said. After his prior successful stint in health care technology entrepreneurship, he already knew a number of people skilled in areas like sales, customer service and technology. This network formed the basis for the team he has built so far at Illumicare.
“If I’d have gone somewhere else, I wouldn’t have had the key talented people to help make [Illumicare] a success,” he said.