From the Hospital to Building a Company: How Did I Get Here?

January 23, 2017 | Sean O'Neill

After almost 12 years, I am officially leaving The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) to focus on building a company, Bainbridge Health. If you would have told me, even as recently as 2 years ago, that I would be making this leap I would have quickly responded: “are you insane?” After all, I have had a fulfilling professional life at CHOP, it is an organization I respect immensely, and I even met my amazing wife there.

As I progressed in my career at CHOP, however, I began to see a glaring challenge that existed in the hospital setting: There are incredibly talented and committed clinicians genuinely trying to improve the care and safety of patients; however, these clinicians are operating at a disadvantage. They do not always have the appropriate tools nor resources to tackle the challenging barriers that exist in eliminating harm from patient care. This forces them to operate below their license every day.

So how did I make the decision to turn in my CHOP badge and leap into the world of entrepreneurship? In 2012, frustrated with the status quo, myself and key members of our medication safety team—Jamie Irizarry and Sarah Erush—began to ask ourselves the same questions many of our peers ask when faced with the above challenges in the workplace. It went something like this:

  • “Why am I spending time reviewing countless lines of data and learning how to build pivot tables? This is not why I became a pharmacist.”
  • “Wouldn’t it be great if we could develop a software that would ingest all of our key data points and output the relevant clinical recommendations?”
  • “I wish someone would create a way for independent technologies such as the electronic health record, automated dispensing cabinets, and infusion pumps to talk to each other”
  • “There should really be a clinical resource or standard that could help us populated the clinical content of this technology”
  This is the type of blue sky thinking that is extremely prevalent and consistent in the medication safety space. Often, however, these thoughts are fleeting and busy clinicians return to piecing together the tools they have at their disposal to fight the good fight.

At CHOP, this story now has the opportunity to take a different path: The ability to pursue the blue sky solution actually exists. In 2015, CHOP’s Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation (OEI) was created. It has a laser focused mission to scour the organization and identify pain points that clinicians or other hospital personnel are experiencing and to determine if there is an innovative solution. In the end, the goal is to make these solutions impactful in the most efficient and effective means possible via one of four modes: the spin out of a stand alone company, the creation of a licensable asset, a new patient care experience, or a research initiative. After much market validation, OEI, myself and my new partners—Sam Wilson and Joseph Kaupp—landed on the spin out option, and Bainbridge Health was officially born. I now use words like “Lean Startup” and “SaaS” daily. Go figure.

The decision to leave a secure job at CHOP to join a startup was not easy. I think individuals who choose healthcare choose it for a reason. We see the opportunity to help other people and provide services that contribute to the betterment of society. In return, we are compensated with a stable and secure lifestyle. On the contrary, we read and hear about the startup world on shows like Shark Tank. They tell us how you have to risk everything in your life to focus on your business and eat Ramen noodles three times a day, 365 days a year. All of this is done in search of the almighty dollar as the reward.

This is how I initially viewed the two worlds I was deciding between. In reality, the two worlds are more alike than I ever imagined. In my current role as Chief Clinical Officer at Bainbridge Health, the motivation is to provide a solution that impacts patient safety in every hospital in this country. This feels very similar to my prior life at CHOP. Additionally, our team at Bainbridge Health maintains the same passion, obsession and commitment I witnessed on a daily basis at CHOP.

In the end, there were 3 major reasons why I decided to make this monumental leap:

Impact patient safety on a larger scale – As any patient safety professional will tell you, walking into to your job every day and putting out fires can be exhausting and draining. The ability to focus all of my efforts in one area, improving the use of medication related technologies, was very appealing.

Independence and autonomy – One of the “startup” themes that always comes up is the ability to craft a vision and align all your activities to be in service of that vision . This has been the most rewarding aspect of my journey so far. As a co-founder, I have the ability to greatly influence the direction and path our company is taking.

Worry about regret – This explanation is not what you think. I am not worrying about the regret of making the wrong decision. I am worried about the regret I would feel if I didn’t make the leap. I am not sure I could deal with knowing that I passed on an opportunity to improve patient safety on a larger scale.

The major lesson this journey has taught me is to never close the door on an opportunity just because it seems risky or foreign. These opportunities may have the ability to be even more impactful and rewarding, as well expose you to more experiences.

I am truly grateful for the opportunities provided to me by The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and I look forward to our new relationship as partners with Bainbridge Health.

“A ship is safer at shore… but that is not what it is built for”
– Albert Einstein

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