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February 04, 2021 | Tom Ballard

Rhinogram experiences silver lining as a result of COVID-19 impact

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

“For Rhinogram, there was a silver lining to this crisis situation,” says Kathy Ford, President and Chief Product Officer at the Chattanooga-based company that we first spotlighted in late May 2019 in this article.

The challenge that she was referencing was COVID-19 that has impacted so many individuals and businesses; the silver lining was the explosive growth that the virtual care platform has seen as physician practices increasingly turn to Rhinogram to facilitate communication with their patients.

“We added two million patients between January and May,” Ford told us, explaining that the number of individuals is now five and one-half million. “We have 460 unique clients using our system. For example, we processed 200,715 messages for a pediatrician practice outside Charleston, SC between February and August.”

Those numbers propelled the company to be recognized twice at the late October “Chattanooga Startup Awards” celebration. CO.LAB presented Rhinogram with the “High Growth Business of the Year” award, and the company was also named as the community’s “Startup of the Year.”

For Ford, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Keith Dressler, and the other team members, the dual recognitions validate the importance of the work they are undertaking and the manner in which they responded to the COVID-19 challenges.

“People have told us we literally saved their practices,” Ford says, adding, “It’s not just a business to us, it’s a passion.”

When we first interviewed her for the May 2019 article, Ford described her own telephone tag experience with her Primary Care Physician when she experienced a severe case of flu. At the time, Rhinogram had developed and was marketing a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act-compliant texting option to enable secure, confidential communication between physicians and their patients.

Then, COVID-19 changed everything. Patients were afraid to go to see doctors. Many physician practices stopped doing in-person visits; hospitals canceled elective surgeries; orthodontists, orthopedic surgeons, and other non-critical groups had to shut down; and the Centers for Disease Control recommended that anyone experiencing symptoms associated with the novel coronavirus remain home and call their physician.

Those issues only exacerbated an already burgeoning problem: many practices were already struggling with handling their phones, and the situation only got worse almost overnight.

“Before COVID, only one percent of all outpatient visits were performed virtually,” Ford said. “By March, the number of virtual visits rose to 80 percent, and it is now between 25 and 30 percent of all outpatient appointments.”

So, how did Rhinogram handle the sudden increase in business as it helped practices and patients enhance their communications?

“We had been planning for something like this,” Ford says, explaining that the company had been fine-tuning its Standard Operating Procedures for maturity and repeatability of processes in preparation for what it hoped would be solid and ever-increasing growth, not a pandemic.

When COVID-19 exploded, Rhinogram responded quickly. It helped that the technology had been developed as an enterprise-grade platform, but with a single provider in mind.

“We came-up with a quick-start configuration to get people up and running quickly,” Ford says. “That allowed us to stand-up practices within hours. We did not staff-up; we did not have the time to do so.”

The company also created what it calls Rhinogram University that Ford says is a “tremendous library of resources (that) we use to empower our customers.” The company offers weekly online courses.

Today, Rhinogram’s platform integrates with more than 50 medical and 30 oral health electronic health records and practice management systems.

Noting that “the genie is out of the bottle and the toothpaste is out of the tube,” she says there is no pulling back from more and more virtual visits and greater use of technology like Rhinogram’s platform. Two forces – consumerism and convenience – are driving the train.

Next up for the company is home health, but other opportunities exist. “We are very focused on meeting the entire healthcare spectrum except acute,” Ford says. “We have every intention to grow-out our capabilities to serve that full spectrum.”

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