Cloudbreak CEO Jamey Edwards’ Mission to Humanize Health Care
Applying modern technology to an age-old problem in health care — language barriers that can negatively impact patient care — is Jamey Edwards’ mission for health care innovation. While it may seem like an oxymoron, it’s an idea borne of one man’s interest in entrepreneurship and a family background in health care. It’s also an idea already taking hold in hospitals throughout the United States.
Edwards is CEO of Cloudbreak Health, LLC, a telemedicine platform that provides aid for non-English speakers, deaf patients and other underserved patients. Designed to allow providers to connect, communicate and care for patients, wherever they are and regardless of the language they speak, Cloudbreak is breaking down communication barriers that might have formerly limited patient access and hindered treatment. The platform performs more than 85,000 encounters a month in more than 1,000 hospitals on over 10,000 video endpoints.
Health Care Innovation Inspired by the family business
While Edwards’ family has extensive health care experience, his background was in investment banking and private equity for the first 10 years of his career. He graduated from Cornell in 1996 and went to business school in 2001. While there, he took a class on entrepreneurship, wrote a business plan and, as he says, “became hooked and enamored with the concept of taking an idea and turning it into something real, having people care about that something real, and having it positively impact the world.” At the time, he says, he didn’t really have anything specific in mind. He just knew that this was the direction he wanted to go.
While working as an investment banker, Edwards also consulted for his uncle, an emergency room physician.
“I come from a family that’s pretty steeped in health care,” he says. Aunts and uncles on both sides, a sister and a brother-in-law are all health care providers. Edwards became CEO of his uncle’s ER, hospitalist and anesthesia group and helped build it from a six-site company into a leading group in the southwest United States serving more than a million patients a year.
His 10 years with the company exposed him to the challenges of health care innovation. “I really saw, on the front lines, how the evolution of health care was resulting in doctors being asked to do more with less. The consequence — diminished connection between patients and doctors,” says Edwards. “The medical workforce is one of the most disenfranchised workforces in the country today.” He points to a recent study by the Mayo Clinic indicating that 49% of physicians suffer from burnout. “Do we all want a burned-out doc managing our treatment and caring for us? The answer is a pretty obvious ‘no’ as the number one symptom of burnout is treating your patient more like an object than a person.”
Breaking down language barriers
While Edwards was working to build his uncle’s company, he was introduced to Andy Panos, who started Language Access Network (LAN) in 2003. LAN was bringing an interpreter to the point of care for patients with limited hearing or English capabilities via a video conferencing platform.
“We engineered a deal to take it private in 2008 and then grew it into the telemedicine company it is today,” Edwards says. The company, now Cloudbreak, grew from an average of USD360,000 to USD12 million/year over the next few years. They then took on an institutional investor, Kayne Partners, and grew the business 3x over during the three years following the deal.
Earlier this year, Cloudbreak was widely recognized for the work it is doing as a leading unified telemedicine solutions provider: Best Overall MedTech Software in Medtech Breakthrough’s 2019 Awards Program; 2019 Health Care Supplier of the Year from the Los Angeles Business Journal; and Andy Panos, Co-founder and COO of Cloudbreak, was named an honoree of the Columbus Smart 50 Awards by the Smart Business Network.
Edwards’ business savvy and financial background has certainly been instrumental in his ability to help the companies he’s been associated with grow from a revenue standpoint. But for Edwards and his colleagues at Cloudbreak, the focus is singularly on reducing barriers to care “by deploying powerful technology to address the disparities of language access, geography and distance.
“If you stand in our call centers, you hear people being helped with every single call,” Edwards says. “The number one diagnostic tool a doctor has in treating a patient is communication.” Imagine, he says, how frightening it would be to go to hospital when you don’t speak English. “It’s absolutely terrifying and you can’t engage in your care,” he says. “Doctors who practice medicine and can’t speak to their patients sometimes refer to it as ‘practicing veterinary medicine’ because the only way they can treat that patient is through medical testing which is obviously a very expensive and inefficient route to go.” He continues, “The ROI on our service is higher than most people think initially as it impacts every hospital department.”
The ability to communicate, patient to provider, not only cuts costs but improves care. “It’s a pretty exciting space to be in right now,” he says.
Exploring new opportunities in delivering care
While Edwards is excited about the impact that Cloudbreak has already had on the ability of providers to effectively treat patients despite communication challenges, he sees additional opportunities in the future.
“We’re really excited about the future of telemedicine in this country,” he says. “We see telemedicine being used every day at hospitals nationwide — it just needs to be integrated into how doctors practice on a daily basis.”
It is a tool that, like a stethoscope, will just become integral to providing care. “We want to be the video collaboration tool that sits next to the hospital’s EMR (electronic medical record) and makes the care team’s life easier while speeding care to patients in need whether their communities have the providers locally or not.”
Edwards has seen an important evolution in the use of telemedicine to provide care and he believes the evolution is ongoing. He says that Telemedicine 1.0 was “pick up the phone;” Telemedicine 2.0 incorporated video, but still didn’t offer interoperability; and Telemedicine 3.0 will solve for interoperability and finally provide enterprise-wide telemedicine solutions.
“Our video can traverse multiple systems effectively unifying them into one platform,” Edwards says.
“We’re pretty excited about continuing to grow and scale the business. We try to participate in as much as we can in terms of thought leadership in the industry and continue to pioneer new solutions that people view as innovative.” He mentions some current work as part of Startup Health, a health care incubator that, he says, “is very focused on moonshots and solving the thorniest problems in health care today.”
And, of course, Edwards will continue to focus on Cloudbreak and continued growth. “Over one million people a year are being helped by the platform. We want to see that go to two, five, 10, or 100 million.” The focus is on the United States, but he adds: “We feel like there’s plenty of opportunity here but, eventually, the goal will be to do more things internationally as well.”
Humanizing health care through technology — on its face, perhaps, an oxymoron. Through its implementation, though, it is a reality that is improving communication, and care, for millions.