5 QUESTIONS WITH SHASHI KUSUMA, M.D. – CEO OF SYMPLAST
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Shashi Kusuma, MD is co-founder, chairman and CEO of Symplast, a Fort Lauderdale, FL-based mobile medical software startup for plastic surgeons and med spa physicians. Kusuma is also the owner and medical director of Suria Plastic Surgery (FL), which he founded in 2010 after relocating from Cleveland where he worked as an attending surgeon at Cleveland Clinic. SPS has not attested to Meaningful Use due to the burdensome nature of its requirements, and the “sheer aggravation and mental stress” it caused staff. The practice uses different IT systems for different purposes. “We currently use an outdated client/server legacy system for clinical documentation,” Kusuma explains. “I elected not to renew their support package nearly 18 months ago, as I felt I was being overcharged and underserved. We use a different system for multimedia and a different system for IT support.”
“I grew up with EHRs from my first day as a resident at Vanderbilt University, where we used a system called MARS,” Kusuma adds. “I’ve also used Vista, Epic, Cerner, Meditech, and many others. While the intent of these solutions was good, the true benefits were never realized. As most of my colleagues would attest, these EHRs took away from our abilities to be doctors, discouraged us from using common sense, and prevented us from connecting and developing a true relationship with patients. It really took the fun and fulfillment away from the original intent of being a doctor.”
What was the impetus for creating Symplast?
I was looking for a better experience as a doctor. I worked so hard to become the best doctor I could be, but I wasn’t having fun and engaging with my patients as much as I wanted to. The idea for Symplast came to me after another long night at the office finishing up notes and tedious administrative tasks. These duties wasted a lot of my time, did not help me treat my patients, and took me away from my family.
I was beyond frustrated with the deficiencies of medical software solutions: the impersonal nature; the impracticality; the poor designs; the long, frustrating hours; the fragmentation; the lack of innovation … I could go on and on. Despite searching long and hard and wide, I could not find what I thought was a great system. People became resigned to what was available and did not have the energy or time to do something about it. The conversation always seemed to emanate from businessmen, entrepreneurs, and software personnel, and not from the providers and doctors who were on the front line.
I also observed a growing trend within our practice and the practices of my colleagues: the role of smartphones in the doctor-patient relationship. Patients were introducing smartphones into the equation, sharing post-surgical photos, conducting virtual consults over their mobile devices, and taking selfies from their consultations. I knew that this was the future of healthcare IT. People today want on-demand input and consumption of their data. Multimedia is crucial, and smartphones enable communication to go from a text-oriented manner to a visual medium. Handing you a three-page printout of instructions is not as effective as sending you a 30-second instructional video that you can consume on your smartphone.
The timing for Symplast seemed perfect. Smartphones have evolved to the point where the camera quality, screen sizes, and voice-dictation accuracy are ready to be introduced into the exam room. The real mobile technology matured to the point where sophisticated applications can run seamlessly and natively on your device, eliminating the need for plugins and online portals.
The true potential for Symplast is to merge these disjointed modules into one complete solution, becoming a mobile ecosystem that integrates technology such as secure communication, telemedicine, patient engagement and big data into one complete solution. Symplast can leverage mobile tools to drive costs down, increase ROI, and improve the overall experience for both the patients and the care providers.
The idea for Symplast has evolved over the past three years. The actual development has been underway for about 26 months. We now have five full-time employees and 12 developers, as well as an advisory board consisting of surgeons and physicians, seasoned businessmen and CEOs, ancillary medical care staff, and IT professionals.
What unique challenges do plastic surgeons and med spa providers face when it comes to selecting, implementing, and using healthcare IT?
Plastic surgery is a true market-based economy in medicine. As plastic surgeons, we must rely on our reputation and our outcomes to attract new patients and customers. We deal with a highly educated audience that has done extensive research and price comparisons. Marketing is critical if you want to survive in this specialty. Our field is unique in this sense, and so the healthcare IT solution needs to placate this reality.
We need robust patient engagement tools with automated, personalized communication offerings that will help us increase practice revenue. The biggest frustrations we experience with the current software offerings for this specialty are the complexity and fragmentation of the platforms that lack true patient engagement, marketing, and multimedia features.
Symplast was founded by three practicing plastic surgeons who understand first-hand the unique challenges this field faces on a daily basis. That’s why our product is specifically targeting plastic surgeons and med spa providers to start with. Patients in these fields demand a certain level of engagement and communication that Symplast delivers.
How does Symplast’s PM and EHR tools help meet these needs?
We don’t classify Symplast as just an EMR/EHR or PM. Symplast is a complete mobile ecosystem that provides every module a plastic surgery practice or med spa needs to operate on a daily basis. While the EHR is certainly one component of Symplast, we also include PM, patient engagement, multimedia, inventory management, cosmetic quotes, financial reporting, automated marketing, and more. Symplast allows you to run your entire practice from your smartphone, tablet or PC.
We understand how important security is for SaaS cloud-based solutions, and that is why we have three layers of security that ensures your data is 100-percent safe. No data is stored on your device; it is all encrypted and stored in the cloud.
How did beta testing go? What type of feedback did you receive, and how does the final technology reflect that feedback?
Beta testing was tremendous. As expected, we learned and made enhancements to the UI/UX of our technology. We understand that there is no such thing as a “perfect” product. We will continuously push ourselves to improve and innovate, and user feedback is a critical element to that objective. This is just the beginning.
On a personal note, I find it inspiring that you have provided free care on several occasions in India. How have you seen healthcare technology impacting such patient populations?
This is actually a great example of how mobility is transforming healthcare. In the past, I wasn’t able to properly engage with patients when I traveled. Now, thanks to the penetration of smartphones and mobile devices, I can truly interact and connect with these patients. Millions of people around the world have grown up in the mobile age, completely bypassing the desktop generation. They will now be engaged with the Symplast ecosystem.
Symplast is actually in the early stages of creating a partnership with some charities that would facilitate the use of our patent-pending mobile technology in medical missions around the world in the near future. This is the mobile world we will live in very, very soon.