20 Jan 2015
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Patient Medical Records, Pocket-sized

There’s no reason to wait for the long-promised digital health record revolution, says Merle Bushkin. He already has the answer—and it fits on your keychain.
by Jennifer Myers

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Photo by John Sherman

While his friends have retired, 79-year-old Merle Bushkin (AB 1956, MBA 1960), a laid-back guy with the energy of a man half his age, is rocketing full speed into the challenges of entrepreneurship—launching a startup company offering a simple product that he says can revolutionize the American health care system.

Bushkin’s unassuming item is MedKaz®, a 4-GB flash drive carried on a keychain or in a wallet that can hold a lifetime of medical records, giving patients control over their data and providing a full picture for doctors, so that they can coordinate care, avoid mistakes, and reduce the cost of care. The records are secure—encrypted, password-protected, HIPAA-compliant, and not stored on a server.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Bushkin read of displaced New Orleanians whose paper medical records had been destroyed and who were only able to tell doctors what color pills they took. “Nobody had anything more sophisticated, and it seemed so primitive,” Bushkin says. “It’s the biggest opportunity I’ve ever seen to do enormous good and simultaneously create enormous shareholder value. There are damn few opportunities to do something this important.”

Bushkin, who spent a lifetime in investment banking, met with health industry and digital record experts to learn how to make the industry more efficient. Thus, Health Record Corporation (HRC), parent company of MedKaz, was created.

Passionate about his new endeavor, Bushkin can talk about it all day. “I hope you have six hours,” quips Leone, his wife of 53 years, at the couple’s serene 150-acre farm high atop a Brownsville, Vermont, hill surrounded by fog-topped mountains and an artist’s palette of foliage.

How does MedKaz work?

The patient purchases a MedKaz from the company’s site (medkaz.com) or Amazon.com (initial cost $100, with a $75 annual subscription update fee), plugs it into a computer, and enters basic personal information. The patient then completes a form authorizing his doctors to send records to HRC, which converts them into searchable PDFs, then emails the patient when they are available. Once downloaded on the MedKaz, the documents are erased from HRC’s servers.

Prior to a medical appointment, the patient completes a questionnaire stored on the device. The doctor can see a health summary, access past records, and generate printable medication or immunization reports. After the appointment, the doctor’s office uploads notes and test results to HRC, which creates a searchable PDF to be downloaded to MedKaz. If the doctor is licensed with HRC (licensing is free), he receives payment each time he updates the record. Bushkin notes that “MedKaz is a material new revenue source for doctors and hospitals.”

“No provider has all of your records,” says Bushkin, adding that a study published in the Journal of Patient Safety found that 440,000 Americans die annually as the result of medical errors. “Someone who is a diabetic may see five doctors, so having all records easily accessible and searchable can be both a time and life saver, and [it can] prevent unnecessary tests.”

“It gives the patient real power in accumulating their records from any location they receive care,” says Dr. Adam Buckley, chief medical information office for the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington, Vermont. “It is a simple, inexpensive, and straightforward solution to a complex problem.”

Despite the fact that MedKaz is being used by patients, Bushkin’s biggest challenge is penetrating medical bureaucracy. Hospitals are busy struggling to meet electronic records requirements mandated by federal law, in order to receive government reimbursements. “As a provider with limited resources and tremendous pressure to decrease cost, we can only focus on so many initiatives at once,” notes Kevin Donovan, CEO of Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center in Windsor, Vermont. “The ones that are mandated by external agencies often win out.” Unfortunately, says Bushkin, these expensive medical record systems are incompatible with each other, and patient access is often restricted by a portal system that contains summaries, not the complete medical record. “They meet the requirement, but not the spirit,” Bushkin says. “The systems are useless when it comes to sharing patients’ records, but government regulations suck all the air out of the room; no one will try anything different.”

Undeterred by the obstructions he has encountered, Bushkin is seeking likeminded investors, and has launched programs to sell MedKaz to each prospective market segment—to consumers and groups with specific healthcare needs, to corporations that can offer MedKaz as an employee wellness benefit, and to such government entities as the Veterans Administration and the Department of Defense. “The same way Facebook went campus to campus, we have to go community to community, market to market,” he says. “Then it mushrooms.”

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Class of MBA 1960, Section D
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