Turning Adversity into Opportunity: The Start of Sophrona
Thankful for a Peanut: How the Birth of My Daughter Led to the Start of Sophrona
Three months early, my daughter was born at one pound twelve ounces. She was a real peanut. Her premature arrival led to a series of tall challenges. This experience was the spark that set in motion the start of Sophrona and a 12 year adventure – an arc of innovation, thrill, hard work, relationship building, challenges, partnerships, setbacks, and success. I am thankful for the adversity from which we sprang, all we have accomplished, for our team, clients, partners, and for the adventure that lies ahead.
I was working at Target, halfway through an evening MBA program, and a first time father. My initial experience with our healthcare system came during my daughter’s prolonged stay at the hospital. After she came home there was a string of appointments we had to schedule and juggle. Holding on the phone, talking to insurance, and the enormous amount of time spent in communication with doctors’ offices was madness. As a technologist, I wondered: Why is this so difficult? Why is it so easy to book an airline ticket online, but so hard to schedule a doctor appointment without back and forth conversation and being put on hold by a scheduler?
This was the start of Sophrona. I began working with a few programmer friends who saw the big picture. My technology background suggested that there had to be a better way. Using my MBA student hat, I asked medical practices why they didn’t allow patients to schedule online. There were two lessons that I learned quickly: first, that this space had developed a resistance to rapid innovation, and second, software systems rarely spoke well to one another. I also understood that there were unique limitations to scheduling in healthcare. Still, I saw the opportunity.
Startup Days & Finding Our Niche
After finding investors and programmers, we set out to be the Expedia of medical scheduling. The vision: to let anyone make a medical appointment from anywhere online. We were ahead of our time. It was difficult to find practices interested in letting patients schedule online or who believed it could work. Once we identified our first three customers, and committed to building expensive interfaces our plans fell apart. Our planned alpha site was acquired by a hospital and unfortunately, the other two sites were unwilling to go first.
This could have been our Waterloo, but we regrouped around a simpler offering and got the break we needed. An ophthalmology practice wanted to implement Sophrona’s online prescription refill request technology so their patients could reorder contact lenses online. This would give the practice a competitive edge against 1800contacts and improve patient retention. Though not the original path we planned, Sophrona had found its niche in eye care. Eye doctors had a better understanding of patients as customers, the patient experience mattered, and patient marketing was an important component of business.
Sophrona: Where We Are Now
Development of other patient communication tools followed: online bill pay, scheduling, registration, secure messaging, etc. Until the passing of ARRA and advent of meaningful use our clients saw our technology as a way to better serve patients and differentiate their practice within their markets. Partnership with EMR vendors and meaningful use brought Sophrona more clients as having a patient portal became required and expected by patients.
Today, in many ways, Sophrona is reinventing itself beyond meaningful use as a bigger and broader player in eye care. While our team serves over 350 ophthalmology practices in 48 states with partners spread across the country, we are finding more ways to help eye doctors grow their practices, become more efficient, collaborate with referring doctors, and improve the patient experience.
Turning Adversity into Opportunity
The challenges I faced as the father of a preemie led to an unseen opportunity to innovate the patient experience. I am thankful for this event that took place over 14 years ago. It was one of the hardest periods in my life, but one which led to the start of Sophrona and so many other good things. It is a reminder to not get caught up in the perceived perils of the day and recognize the opportunity they may often bring.
Today, my daughter is healthy and strong – nothing stops her when she sets her mind to it. I guess she had an early lesson in perseverance in the face of adversity.
On behalf of our team at Sophrona, Happy Thanksgiving!