Q&A: Analytical Informatics co-founder and CEO Christopher Meenan on starting a successful health IT company

Christopher Meenan is the co-founder and CEO of Analytical Informatics, a Baltimore-based health IT startup.

Meenan spoke with RadiologyBusiness.com about the healthcare industry, the future of peer review software, and how his career path changed forever thanks to becoming good friends with a radiologist.

RadiologyBusiness.com: Can you touch on your experiences being a part of a health IT startup?

Christopher Meenan: It’s been a great experience. My personal background was really in engineering and I had worked in the early part of my career in a number of different industries. In the early 2000s, I got into healthcare. I actually got very lucky, because my neighbor was a radiologist, and I started listening to him talk about all of these challenges in healthcare, and then I spent over ten years working in the healthcare field.

For me, it is incredibly rewarding, because it’s an opportunity to take what I know how to do— which is information systems and technology—and apply that to what I think are super important problems in healthcare.

I started out in a more academic capacity at the University of Maryland, and one of the things we would do as academics is go to different conferences and talk about our experiences working at one particular facility. We had created these software tools that helped our practice, and the challenging part of that was people get very excited and come up to us and say, “how do I get my hands on this stuff? It’s awesome, we have that same problem.” We never could do anything, though. We would give people software and say, “you can make it work, but we’re on to the next thing.”

For us, my co-founders and I, that was really the opportunity. If we create a startup, maybe we can have a bigger impact, and maybe have some of our software that has proven to solve problems in one place help with problems in other places. That was the purpose, and it’s been a rewarding, although challenging, journey.

What is a challenge those in health IT are dealing with on a daily basis?

One of the challenges, in general, for health IT folks is that you’re incredibly busy. There are not enough hours in the day to get all the different parts of your job done, and there’s always these competing priorities for any healthcare organization about what they can do and what they can implement. I think that’s one of the main challenges for healthcare IT professionals. They’ve been really caught up with electronic medical record implementation and some of the consolidation pressures, and I think finding the bandwidth to work on next-generation things is always kind of difficult.

You recently spoke at the AHRA Spring Conference in Chicago. Can you share a little about what you presented?

It was really about the future of business analytics. It seems like the next thing in healthcare right now, and people are just now starting to see what the possibilities are.

I started by asking the audience what they were going to do when self-driving cars are were part of their daily lives. Then I did the same thing with drone package delivery—both technologies at first glance seem a long way away. But then I presented the audience with some examples where both of these technologies already exist and how its only reasonable to expect that they will become more important over time.

The reason I challenged them with that is I then asked them about business analytics in radiology and what that was going to be like for them. From our experience at Analytical Informatics, what we’ve already seen is that our customers are already excited about this next-generation software and about what it can do for their operations. We know that all of healthcare is facing a number of disruptive challenges, so how do you thrive and succeed in that environment? How do you identify the best opportunity to improve your operations? How do you know what the benchmark is, and how can you provide that information in an easy-to-understand way to clinical leaders? That’s essentially what we do as a company.

Part of the Analytical Informatics website is dedicated to the importance of community, and there is even a “developer’s portal” that allows individuals to develop their own IT solutions. Can you talk about that portal and how it works?

That’s one of the things about our company that I’m the most proud of. Basically, we have applications that provide radiology departments with information about productivity, quality, the patient experience, those types of things. Really important metrics.

We realized that, as you go from hospital to hospital, different people are struggling with different challenges. Not everyone is doing the same stuff. Sometimes, they might say, “we care about image quality” or, “we care about peer review.” One of the things we wanted to do when we first started the company was to open up our systems so our hospital partners can build their own solutions right off of our platform.

What we have is a software development kit, documentation, and community support where you can essentially talk to our developers and build your own applications right on top of our platforms. A couple of our customers have done just that. They’ve built really cool tools that provide some innovative solutions with our software feeding to their software. If you were writing an application on your own, it may be harder to implement.

Can you share some information about the different peer review tools Analytical Informatics has helped develop?

Most people view peer review as more of a compliance-driven sort of thing. Let’s say you and I are radiologists—you would review my reports from a couple months ago and you would agree or disagree. The problem with that approach is, you may give me feedback for next time, but you’re not making an impact on the patient today.

What I think is a little bit different about what we’ve done—and we’ve worked with Johns Hopkins Medicine on this—is a new tool called Advanced Peer Review. They’re essentially reading a case within 24 hours at Hopkins, using our system. Using this software tool, the folks at Hopkins have been able to have a meaningful impact on patient care and use peer review to say, “we caught this within 24 hours.” Looking at peer review in that way, which is more of a real-time quality control process that impacts patient care, I think it’s pretty exciting from a peer review perspective.

What we also do is provide different types of peer review. How do you provide feedback back to residents about their education experience and give them constructive guidance? We have tools that focus on resident training. And we’ve done some different things with technologist peer review, things with image quality. 

This text was edited for space and clarity.