Pharmacist Starts Health IT Company

Samm Anderegg blends pharmacy, technology, and entrepreneurship to leave traditional pharmacy, and start his own business.

Matt: Hi everyone, Matt Paterini here with The Nontraditional Pharmacist joined today by Sam Anderegg (am I pronouncing that right?) Sam is the CEO of DocStation. Wait till you guys hear about DocStation, it sounds super cool to me. Basically what it is, is a patient care platform for health care teams, enabling pharmacists, and other clinicians to provide value-based care. We're excited to hear more about that and Samm's path through nontraditional pharmacy. So welcome Sam, thanks for joining.

Samm: Absolutely, thanks for having me.

Matt: No problem at all. So let's start there. If you could, just describe your path through pharmacy, where you are today, and kind of how you got there.

Samm: I grew up in small town Iowa, and went to University of Iowa for undergrad. I spent a couple of years trying to decide what I wanted to do. And pharmacy seemed like an interesting route. I had a family member who was graduating at the time and was debating between the different sciences. You know pharmacy seemed interesting to me because I felt like there is a lot to gain, a lot for the profession to grow which interested me, and I kind of wanted to be a part of that. So I got into pharmacy school, and then immediately started asking questions like, you know, 'how do I position myself to be a patient care provider after I graduate?'

I had a lot of really great mentors recommend looking into residencies, but make sure you get a wide variety of experiences. And so I really took that to heart and made sure I got involved in things like research during school, doing things like leadership positions, and organizations and I just was really empowered by some of the work that we were doing, and all of the great mentorship and advice I got. And so I decided to do a residency that kind of fit all of my interests, which was administration.

I did a first and second year at the University of Kansas Hospital, with a Master's Degree and learned a ton during those 2 years. Specifically, how to be a clinician, how to practice, how the health care system really works on an operational level, and then learned about all the different facets of leadership from the management team. So, clinical operations, information technology (IT), inpatient, outpatient, reimbursement, etc. I learned a ton, and really enjoyed that, and decided to get an entry level management position.

I wanted to get out to the Midwest, and have some more diverse experiences. So I went down to Georgia in managed ambulatory care oncology, and started some specialty pharmacy bedside delivery. And again just kind of cultivating those interests, but not necessarily specializing in any 1 area, and throughout that time actually I was still in school, I got involved with the Pharmacy HIT Collaborative, and they were just starting when I was doing my rotation at ASHP, and just, you know, volunteered to do some work, and stayed with it, and eventually made it into a little bit of a contract job. I got paid for it, and learned a ton, and realized that that was really where my true interests lie. It took me a while to get there, but I finally figured it out, and about 2 and a half years into my job down in Georgia, I decided I kind of wanted to take a little bit of a career path change, and went all in to the IT side of things, the tech side of things, and had an idea in my head for a while to build a software system that actually works like it should in health care, and that's how DocStation came about.

Matt: Very cool. So, you went through residency, and all of those diverse experiences kind of led to you finding out where your real interests lie, which is in health information technology, IT, informatics, developing software. It's super cool to me, I'm in informatics in the IT world myself now, so it's particularly interesting to me, but it sounds like the experiences that you had in residency led you to that, and you wouldn't have necessarily gotten there had you not done a residency? Is that true?

Samm: Yeah, I would agree with that completely. When I was graduating from school, I had a lot of ideas in my head what I wanted to do, but I didn't really know what the real world was like and how to practice as a provider. You know, so I learned a ton, and residency exposed me to a lot of different opportunities, a lot of possibilities. It really gave me the confidence that I needed to really go after anything. And I think that's a lot of what led me to making the leap and doing this whole entrepreneurship thing. So I'm really glad that I did it.

Matt: So you would recommend residency to everyone, or not necessary?

Samm: Well, I think it depends on each individual person. Everyone has their own circumstances. Some people want to get out and practice, and start working right away, and if you find an opportunity that fits you, there's nothing wrong with that. But if you're still kind of trying to figure stuff out, and you want to make yourself the best possible candidate for the job market, not only now but into the future, I think it's definitely something to consider. And I encourage it to the people who are interested, and it's a good fit for them.

Matt: Okay great. Okay, so DocStation. Let's talk about DocStation. What is it? What is it all about?

Samm: So DocStation. Think about it as electronic health record specifically for pharmacists. So throughout the experiences that I had in practice and research, and a lot of different areas, all of the tools that we use for record of patients served the purpose but didn't necessarily work exactly how they should work, especially when you're exposed to all the new technologies today. There were just countless times, over and over again, where we wanted to implement a new program or we wanted to change the way that we practice in some way to provide the best possible care to patients, and get the best outcomes, and reduce cost, and most times we were prevented in some way, shape, or form by the information systems that we were working with. Whether they didn't collect right data or they didn't fit into our workflow, or we didn't have the appropriate resources to make the changes we needed to or current systems. It was just really frustrating, and I felt like the biggest impact that I could really make as a pharmacist was to take that experience from practice, use my background and skills in technology to kind of blend the two together, and do something great for patients, and do something great for our providers. That's really what fueled my passion to get into this.

Matt: Okay. How did it start? Walk me through how the idea came to mind, and then obviously, I've no doubt, it was a tough process to make the decision to go all in, and pursue this path. Walk us through that story.

Samm: Yeah absolutely. So my first 2 and a half years in a real job in Georgia as a manager. Great experience. I loved every little bit of it. I worked my butt off, we did some great things for patients. But after about that 2 and a half your time period, I was kind of feeling unfulfilled in some way, shape, or form. I didn't know what that meant, but I wanted to explore it. So an interview opportunity came up, and I talked to my boss about it, and she encouraged me to just go ahead, and there's nothing wrong with that of course. And so I did, and after probably within 30 minutes of that interview, a similar job, larger scale, different institution, I knew that I didn't want to do it, and I didn't know why. And so I noodled on it a little bit, and woke up the next day actually and said, 'I don't want to do anything like this at all, I want to do something on my own. I want to be something entrepreneurial.'

So, I went through, you know, a few ideas in my head, and just started really sorting them out to see if they are viable or not. Could I support myself with with the salary to make it legitimate? And is the idea worth pursuing, as well? Could I make it viable? I went through a couple of things and I just started looking up, 'how to start technology companies?' And it was simple, iTunes University had this free lecture course from Stanford that showed how folks start with an idea, and take it, validate the business, maybe raise some money, and get a product up and running. What I realized from those videos is that these people aren't any different than you or I, you know? They're passionate people, they're talented, and they're willing to work really hard. And I felt like the idea that I had my head for DocStation fit right into that. It really, you know, gave me the confidence to go and do it. Now, looking back on that time, I really knew nothing for what it takes to get a business off the ground, but, you know, it's just about making that commitment, and knowing in your heart it's the right thing to do. Once you do, you just figure it out along the way.

Matt: So lightning strikes and you make the plunge, right? How how long have you guys been operational now?

Samm: It's been about 18 months since I left my job. For the longest time, the hardest part was finding the right partner to work with. I don't have any friends that were computer science majors or anybody I grew up with, I arrived in Austin and just got looking, started networking, and talking to people, and finally found our co-founder Josh Matz. We've been working together for the past almost a year now. We started with some prototyping and designing, and then actually got a prototype developed and that's when everything kind of changed. We had something real to go out, and show people, and market. Now we're in this stage of things where we're really focused on the product, making sure that it's great, and it's going to be different than anything anyone has ever seen. And cultivating that interest in developing the business side of things so we can have funding to keep it going.

Matt: Yes. So how do you guys work together? What are your roles?

Samm: Yeah, so I serve as CEO. I'm pretty much in charge of designing the product as a subject matter expert, as the pharmacist, and having the tech experience in the healthcare industry as well. It's really important to know how the healthcare system functions, how payment is transacted, who's incentivized by what, to make a product work I believe. So that's my main role and then developing the business as well. Josh comes in with all of the technical experience that complements all of mine. I can talk about what we're looking for or mock something up on a white board, and he'll come in and say, 'okay yeah we can do that' or 'we can't do that' or 'this is hard because of X, Y, Z.' We just work together to create a plan. It's really great because Josh doesn't have any experience in the healthcare industry, he doesn't have all these predefined notions about how things should work. So, bringing that outside expertise, and having him as a real great designer, just, you know, it's a special kind of relationship and working environment, and so it's really neat.

Matt: It sounds like it complements perfectly. I mean if you're looking at where DocStation is today, where would you say it is today, if you were to assess it, and where would you like to go?

Samm: Right now, we have a prototype developed. We actually have about 70 users on the platform. And the point of this is to do some user testing, so it's all test patients, nothing's quite functional yet. But people can go and log in, and access test-patient profiles, and play around with it so they know the information being collected, the way things are organized, and the way it looks and feels is appropriate. It's all about that iterative process, that kind of lean methodology, design, test, and then implement. And so having that service validation up front makes us very confident that we're going to put out a great product. Now we're in the stage where we're developing the larger interest, so looking at payers, looking at major pharmacy chains, looking at pharma, and anyone who's interested in the data related to health care, and driving up quality while driving down costs. That's something that we know pharmacists can do and they can do very well, we just have to give them an opportunity to do so. We're hoping to do that through our platform.

Matt: Yeah. Perfect. What advice would you give to people who would want to follow a similar path, maybe make the plunge themselves, do something entrepreneurial? What advice would you give people looking to do something like that?

Samm: Yeah great question. I think that the number 1 thing is to look inside yourself and figure out what it is that you truly want to do. What is the impact or the mark you want to leave on pharmacy, inside pharmacy or outside pharmacy. And you know, it doesn't have to be anything specific. It can be ieven general to start with. Just let that idea kind of sit in your head, and keep thinking about it, and if something comes out that you decide that 'I want to do something different, different than what I'm doing currently,' figure out what your very next step is and how to progress that. It doesn't mean quitting your job. It doesn't mean tossing everything aside. It means just do one thing to move the needle a little bit forward. And eventually you start taking steps, and making progress, and you learn whether it's something that you truly want to do. I think a lot of people, especially pharmacists, can be pretty conservative sometimes and scared. And it's okay to be scared, but once you realize that you really can do anything, you just have to take it 1 step at a time. You've got to give yourself permission to do that. And so that's my number 1 piece of advice, 'Don't be scared. Do something that makes you uncomfortable. It's fun.'

Matt: I love that. One step at a time, and if you do that over enough amount of time, you add that up and actually probably accomplish something pretty cool.

Samm: Exactly what we're trying to do.

Matt: Last question I want to ask about, I want to get your take because you've done something different. You've made the leap. Where do you see the field of pharmacy going in the future, just in general? Where do you see it going in the next few years?

Samm: I wrote a little about this in our blog, but I really think that pharmacists are an incredibly underused resource. The amount of knowledge, and skills, and talents that we have. To have a majority of our profession be employed to dispense prescriptions is unacceptable, and it's something that we have the ability to change. So what I really see is a lot of legislation right now, on the federal level, about increasing access to patient care. And who better to do that than pharmacists? Our locations are ubiquitous. We have the skills and talents. We can replace dispensing with technicians and automation. Let's put ourselves in front of the patient. So I really think that we could be what what most people see as a mid-level provider today, and really be a dominating force in patient care, on the primary care level in particular. What it's going to be about is the data. So if we have a data to show that we provide a high level of care to patients, we drive the cost of care down, the payers will come to us. And we just have to cultivate that infrastructure and make sure that we're doing a good job. We want to provide the tools, so the pharmacists can focus on the patients, and make all that happen. So I really think that we're going to be in front of the patient more, we're going to be trusted providers and not dispensers.

Matt: It's headed in the right direction, and Samm you're a big part of that direction in helping the profession get there. Where do people go to learn more, connect with you, and learn more about DocStation?

Samm: Yeah absolutely. First place to start is our website. On the website you'll find information about the platform. You can also follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. We have a newsletter as well. So just go to any one of those resources and just keep in touch with us. You can always reach out to me (Samm@DocStation.co) and I'd be happy to have a conversation with you guys.

Matt: Great. Thanks Samm, and thanks for your time today, we really appreciate it. Samm Anderegg and Josh Matz are doing some incredible things for the pharmacy profession. Stay up to date with DocStation and look for new opportunities to develop your career as a pharmacist through their platform. Make sure to create a profile on The Pharmacy Network and connect with Samm Anderegg. He is very willing to talk with anyone who is interested in learning more!