Several months into the pandemic, Jon Lensing (20MD) chose a path with boundless potential.
As hospitals nationwide suspended elective surgeries and laid off health care professionals to focus on specialties most affected by the coronavirus, Lensing redirected his business' efforts to leverage an expanding pool of clinicians looking for work. OpenLoop, a web-based platform co-founded by Lensing under the name Apollo in January 2020, originated as a means for streamlining the process for clinicians (health care professionals who work as caregivers to patients) to work for different hospital systems. Though as his business grew exponentially in the early months of the pandemic and telehealth's prominence increased, Lensing shifted OpenLoop's focus to match telehealth's growing demand.
A former medical student at the Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, Lensing believed he could help more patients through starting a business to increase health care access to rural communities. Shifting OpenLoop's focus to telehealth greatly accelerated his vision to provide health care to all 42,000 zip codes in the United States. "With the growth we experienced during the pandemic, we saw a clear need for what we were doing," says Lensing. "We are a telehealth company that helps power other telehealth companies."
Expanding OpenLoop's services required additional funding to increase its staff. "We had a lot of customers and potential clients in our pipeline that needed our services, yet we didn't have the personnel infrastructure to handle bringing in new clients," says Lensing. Over a three-month span earlier this year, Lensing used skills he sharpened in the UI's John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (Iowa JPEC) to make 200 pitches to investors. Initially hoping to raise $1.5 million in seed funding, Lensing secured $3 million by April through a mix of private investors and venture capital groups. The funds will allow OpenLoop to increase its sales, marketing, and accounting staff to manage more partners. Most importantly, the Des Moines-based business will bolster its software engineering team to improve efficiencies in its platform's features and matching functionality—decreasing the time it takes to deliver telehealth to patients.
To expedite the matching process, OpenLoop is developing a clinician tracking system. Similar to an applicant tracking system that organizations may use to handle recruitment and hiring needs electronically, this software application provides a comprehensive view of OpenLoop's various telehealth partners, clinicians, and schedule gaps. The automated system pairs the clinicians' preferences, including availability, pay rates, and specialties, with telehealth companies' needs. Clinicians are matched with telehealth companies within an hour—and once a match is made, OpenLoop verifies the provider's credentials and streamlines the onboarding process with the telehealth partner.
Lensing estimates 60% of OpenLoop's patients seek primary care, while the remainder seek specialty care ranging in areas from mental health and male fertility to general cardiology and smoking cessation. OpenLoop has aligned with 15 telehealth companies, many of which are in the early stages and don't have the necessary funding or patient volume to support hiring full-time clinicians. Others are looking to expand but don't have the infrastructure to recruit and onboard 20 to 30 clinicians. "Our goal is to become the dominant driver within this space and be the No. 1 place for clinicians to get integrated within the health care ecosystem," says Lensing, who was recently named to the Forbes Next 1000. "To accomplish that, we'd like to work with every telehealth company out there."
Reflecting on his path to develop OpenLoop, Lensing credits Iowa JPEC in helping set the foundation for his business—connecting him with mentors and providing financial assistance. Iowa JPEC executive director David Hensley says the Pella, Iowa, native is a shining example of the successful innovators that have benefited from the center. "We are impressed with Jon and the team's success in building an innovative telehealth solution to ensure access to high-quality medical care regardless of an individual's location," says Hensley. "OpenLoop is a great example of the types of successful entrepreneurial ventures launched by Iowa students, staff, faculty, and alumni who are supported by Iowa JPEC."
Lensing's vision for OpenLoop stems from his time in medical school where he witnessed numerous patients who were very sick by the time they sought care at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics. For many, distance was the biggest barrier. Had the patients been able to see a clinician earlier, many of the diseases could have been prevented. That experience remains a driving force for Lensing to bridge the gap between clinician and patient. "It's our hope that we can deliver health care to anybody anywhere at any time," says Lensing. "And we believe telehealth is the quickest and most direct path in getting that care to patients."
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