CHAMPION OF INNOVATION: Engineer develops wallet-size plan to fix health care

May 30, 2015
higgs-robert-mug.jpg Higgs

In his engineering career, Robert Higgs has earned patents for the processes used to make everything from the heat shields on the Space Shuttle to the impact-resistant plastic covering car headlights to the Fig Newton.

But Higgs now thinks he has something that can top all of that: a new process that can fix the U.S. health care system.

The 64-year-old Evansville resident has spent eight years and $25 million developing a medical-records technology that can put each patient’s lifelong medical history and images onto a wallet-size card.

The information on those cards is encrypted with a technology used by the U.S. Department of Defense, yet can be read by the computer systems of any health care provider, with the information on them fed into each provider’s electronic medical record system.

No matter which system they’re using.

Even more important, Higgs thinks he has come up with a compelling business case for every doctor, hospital and insurer in the nation to start using these cards.

“Why did no one else do this? Because it’s expensive,” said Higgs, CEO of ICUcare LLC.

Early on, some in the field of medical informatics told him it would take 25 years and $100 million. But he plunged ahead, anyway—because his mission was more personal and spiritual than commercial.

ICUcare was born when Higgs’ wife, Carole, had a disastrous surgery that resulted in 26 errors by the staff at an Evansville hospital.

“I prayed and made a deal with God: ‘If You will spare her life, I will dedicate my life to fix this,’” Higgs recalled.

ICUcare’s eDoc Telemedicine System is already in use in some African countries—Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Kenya—and was used by health care providers in Brazil to handle patients and players in the 2014 World Cup soccer tournament.

Higgs said the company has $3.5 million in revenue. He has 12 employees.

But ICUcare could explode in growth if Higgs lands one of the deals he’s working on.

His company has bid on a defense contract that would pay ICUcare more than $1 billion to deploy its technology to military veterans in the Veterans Affairs medical system.

He is also in talks with Louisville-based Humana Inc., one of the nation’s largest health insurers, on a $475 million contract to deploy ICUcare’s technology. Humana has estimated it can use ICUcare to pay doctors and hospitals faster, yet still save $20 million per year.

How so?

Because ICUcare’s cloud-based database receives medical records from any system, it can immediately send a record of exactly what services were performed to the patient’s insurance company. That will cut out staff time and wages now spent on processing billing documents.

It’s the key selling point that could make ICUcare the financial backbone of the U.S. health care system, Higgs predicted. And it could finally persuade health care providers to stop treating their patients’ data as their own.

“Nobody,” Higgs said, “will walk away from getting paid simply because they don’t want to give their data.”•

Check out the rest of IBJ's 2015 Innovation Issue.


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