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Reece Norris

Episode 51: How to Launch a New Product in a Niche Industry, with Reece Norris

After graduating from UT Law in Austin, Reece began his career clerking for a federal judge in Dallas. From the courthouse, Reece headed to Thompson & Knight where he worked as an attorney in TK’s corporate section. After working at TK for a year, he decided to join his dad, Rob, and close college friend, Bryan Johnson, as they were blazing a trail in a unique healthcare delivery channel.

Reece moved into the role of CEO at Innovative Infusions, helping to consolidate multiple Infusion Centers into one centralized operation. Working alongside Bryan and Rob, he helped create one of the most cutting-edge infusion delivery models in the country. Reece is passionate about creating solutions to relieve the complexity associated with managing an Infusion Center.

In addition to his role as Co-Founder and COO of WeInfuse, Reece is the co-founder of and director at the National Infusion Center Association (NICA).

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • Reece’s path that led him from being a lawyer to moving to the infusion center industry
  • The many common diseases states that require infusion therapy that make for this to be the fastest growing Pharma R&D
  • The WeInfuse software that fills the software gap needed in the infusion center industry
  • How to launch a new product in a niche industry, such as the infusion therapy industry
  • The importance of a system that accounts for every single dose of infusion therapy drugs due to their astronomical cost
  • The verifications, scheduling, nursing notes, and inventory management microsystems that make up the WeInfuse system
  • The test process WeInfuse went through during its early days — both internally and once they got their first client
  • Why things will get lost when there is not a piece of software to hold everything together — and why this was such a big problem for this $400 billion industry
  • The significant time investment it takes to implement an automated system inside a business — and why it’s so worth it
  • Why automation isn’t about putting people out of work — it’s about making them better at their work
  • How WeInfuse tracks the success of its system
  • New legislation that is going to make the WeInfuse system even better

Ways to contact Reece:

Podcast eBooks:

The Power of Two

Episodes 1, 2 and 3 collide to bring you summary of lessons learned and systems created around Vision and Key Initiatives that help drive success to companies and businesses.

The Transition to Automation

In Episode 25, Vera talks with Heidi Rasmussen, CEO and Co-Founder of one of Inc 5000’s fastest growing companies in America – freshbenies. This eBook highlights part of the conversation to bring out the best lesson in automation and on-boarding for startups.

Using IT Strategically

In Episode 29, Vera talks with Tom Grooms, Vice President, Information Technology, and Chief Information Officer for CF Industries. This eBook is your guide for seeing IT as more than just a faster way to do your accounting.

The ZFactor Methodology

In Episode 35, Vera talks with Cindy Goldsberry, founder and partner of ZFactor Group. This eBook shows you how to take your business from vendor to value creator.

Transcript:

Welcome to System Execution, the strategy and system behind today’s successful companies. Systems can make or break your company, but here, we’ll solve your physical, technological, and psychological systems issues, by connecting you with experts that have succeeded in overcoming those challenges in their own business, and providing you the guidelines and tools you need to implement those same strategies for immediate results. Now, here’s your host, Vera Fischer.

Vera Fischer: Today’s episode is sponsored by 97 Degrees West, the brand marketing agency located in Austin, Texas. 97 Degrees West serves regional and national companies in the healthcare, finance, energy, and manufacturing industries. 97 Degrees West believes that an integrated approach to marketing that involves traditional and digital strategies, that fit your customer’s buying journey, yields the greatest impact on your bottom line. Go to www.97DWest.com to learn more.

Welcome to System Execution, a podcast devoted to using processes and systems to drive to a better outcome for your business. I’m Vera Fischer, your host. Many of you know that business success relies on systems. Systems can be physical such as a warehouse or a factory, or technological. Think software. While others are psychological systems such as checklists, org charts, or your daily hot list.

I’m really excited, I’ve got a great guest today. His name is Reece Norris. Reece is the COO and Co-Founder of WeInfuse, and we’ll be getting to the definition of WeInfuse in just a few minutes, but before we get started, let me tell you a little bit about Reece.

He graduated from the University of Texas in Austin Law. He began his career clerking for a federal judge in Dallas. From that experience, he headed to Thompson & Knight Law Firm, where he worked as an attorney in the corporate section. After his tenure at Thompson & Knight, he decided to move into the role of CEO at Innovative Infusions, where he helped to consolidate multiple fusion centers into one centralized operation.

Working alongside his partners, he helped create one of the most cutting edge infusion delivery models in the country, all while learning how to successfully launch a new product into a niche industry. Reece is passionate about creating solutions to relieve the complexity associated with managing an infusion center. In addition to his role as Co-Founder and CEO of WeInfuse, he is also the Co-Founder and Director of the National Infusion Center Association.

 

Welcome to System Execution, Reece.

Reece Norris: Thank you, Vera. I appreciate you having me on. What a kind introduction.
 

More on Reece’s Background

Vera Fischer: Well Reece, it’s really great to have you on the show. I get very excited about guests who have these very niche industries and how they’re solving really complex problems. I know you’re going to be giving us some insight into your workflow system for those infusion centers, but before we get started, my listeners really love to hear about our guests, your background, how you got started. What’s your story?

Reece Norris: No, absolutely. I mean, I was a satisfied attorney. That’s sometimes rare. I was enjoying my job at Thompson & Knight, but had always been involved with my dad and a college friend of mine, Brian Johnson, as they were growing and building infusion centers. I was always involved in the periphery, throwing my two cents in, doing some heavy lifting when I could on the sideline.

But really enjoyed it, and developed a passion for this niche industry. Then there was an opportunity as they were going through some challenges and restructuring some growth pains, where some partners exited and I was able to come in and was given the role of CEO. Brian was given the role of COO, and together we really transitioned the company.

It was a myriad of different entities, consolidated those entities in one corporate structure. Then, we transitioned our entire business model from a manager of infusion centers to an owner of infusion centers. So, through those transitions, we obviously had to build systems so nothing leaked, and we didn’t lose anything in the gaps.

It was an exciting time, challenging time. This is an incredibly unique niche in the industry. It’s primarily dealing with biologic therapies that are delivered intravenously. While most people haven’t heard of it, to give you an example, Johnson & Johnson’s number one drug is Remicade. It’s a 6+ billion dollar drug in their asset column, and the pipeline for infusion drugs, biologic specifically infusion drugs, continues to grow at a clip that outpaces all other pharma R&D. So, it’s pretty fascinating and exciting.

 

Vera Fischer: It does sound fascinating, and I imagine those who aren’t familiar with it, certainly they don’t have someone in the care of needing that type of infusion therapy. It’s something you wouldn’t know about. So, what other infusion type therapies are there? Just from a patient perspective? What might you be suffering from? Just to frame it up for our listeners.

Reece Norris: Absolutely. Common disease states are autoimmune disorders, which include lupus, Multiple Sclerosis, so MS, Crohn’s, UC, rheumatoid arthritis. Those are just some of the common disease states that we treat.

Vera Fischer: And also Reece, you had mentioned in an earlier conversation with me that you cannot do this at home. Is that correct?

Reece Norris: Yeah. Certain therapies aren’t delivered at home. They have to be delivered in a controlled environment like an infusion center, or an in office infusion suite. So, an infusion center is typically a standalone infusion center, or one that’s contained within a physician’s office. We cater to both of those markets and both of those markets treat IV therapy.
 

First Steps of How to Launch a New Product in a Niche Industry

Vera Fischer: Great. Okay, that helps me a lot. And listeners, I hope it helps you, too. So, let’s get started, I’m excited. You’ve got this awesome workflow system that you figured out once you saw how it all worked with infusion centers, from beginning to end, and you have done something in the industry that no one else is doing. So, take us through that and help us understand how you implemented the first steps of this workflow system in such a niche industry.

Reece Norris: Absolutely. So, this dates back actually to the days when we were still operating infusion centers. We’ve now sold our actual infusion center locations, but during that process, we had cobbled together multiple systems, because there was no software at that time, and fascinating enough, still until we launched WeInfuse, there was no software dedicated to this delivery channel.

What ends up happening is you have to build your own, essentially. We had developed our own proprietary system for our legacy infusion centers, and then when we sold our business, we really looked back and said, “Gosh, what do we have that was really unique and was our secret sauce?” It was really a system. The legacy system was not something that we could retail or license, so we started from scratch, rebuilt a brand new system which is now WeInfuse, and now we’re licensing it obviously to physician practices, as well as to independent infusion centers today.

But the critical component that infusion centers, critical issues that they face, is that the inventory is astronomically expensive. The biologic therapies takes years, if not decades to develop, and they’re very expensive for the manufacturers, and they’re priced accordingly. So when they hit the market, drugs for rheumatoid arthritis range from $5000 a treatment, and someone’s getting their treatment every month perhaps, maybe every eight weeks.

Or, as much as $10,000 a treatment. There’s even an MS treatment that’s $100,000 a dose. So, having a system that accounts for the inventory and makes sure every single vial is accounted for and also billed out to the insurance company, to repair in our nomenclature, is vitally important to the success of your business and it can be crippling if you don’t account for every single vial, so that’s what we specialize in.

Vera Fischer: And Reece, how many therapies would a typical infusion center go through in a month?

Reece Norris: You know, we say that on average, an average sized infusion center is between 150 and 200 infusions per month. Some of the ones that are bigger, I mean, we have clients that are doing 700+ infusions a month. So, I would say though, on average, about 200 infusions per month.

Vera Fischer: So, from a workflow perspective, where did you have to start when you thought of, “Okay, we’ve got an opportunity here and we’re going to automate this?” Where did you start when you learned you needed to know how to develop and launch this new product into the industry? How do you get that idea off the whiteboard?

Reece Norris: Absolutely. We first built the system out of necessity. This time we’re able to build it with a clean slate off the whiteboard, and really have a wishlist. But also through the lens of being in the seat of someone that’s operating an infusion center, and again, I think that’s what really sets us apart, is our software is very intuitive.

So, let’s start with the moment a physician says and diagnoses a disease state and says, “You should be on infusion therapy.” It puts into motion a domino effect and every single domino’s reliant on the previous one, so they fall appropriately in place.

So, first, you have to run all the insurance through to make sure. These are very expensive therapies so the insurance company obviously wants to put a lot of hurdles in place to make sure that infusion therapy is truly appropriate for this patient, in this disease state.

That in and of itself is a micro system. That’s a part of WeInfuse. We call it the verifications component. We have complete workflow dashboards that work an infusion center through that portion. We have a chair based scheduling system that’s very tied to each different medication, because each different medication has a different frequency.

So, a patient either comes in every four weeks, every six weeks, every eight weeks. That’s also tied to our inventory system, so then we have infusion specific medication nursing notes, as well as an inventory system. So, those are our core components. Again, verifications, an insurance component, a chair based scheduling system, infusion nursing notes, and then an inventory management system. They’re all linked together and they’re all communicating together to make a seamless workflow.
 

Why You Need to Build Out the Business Before the Product

Vera Fischer: So Reece, some prior guests who have developed their own proprietary software or put those tools in place, from the very beginning, before you’re even doing any development on how to launch a new product, there’s a thing you have to do to understand what it is you’re building, correct?

Reece Norris: Correct. I mean, we really had to … We had sold our company, we’d been working for the company that bought us, and again, a lot of people have horror stories about that. It was actually a very good process for us. We left on great terms from our previous company that purchased our infusion centers and so we were able to really take the time, this time, to write a system, whiteboard it to your point, and build a module.

I mean, from a whiteboard to a wireframe, all the way to then you start to code and then there’s obviously you see the little bugs in the system, and you’re correcting that, all the way, we’ll probably never stop doing that. But it’s been a fun, fun journey, and definitely taking something as complicated as infusion therapy and as unique as infusion therapy, has been fun and challenging, definitely in and of itself.

I mean, just finding the first client that’s willing to take a risk on you was exciting and also terrifying. I’m sure for them, as well as for us, but it’s been a really, really great journey.

Vera Fischer: So whenever you’re, when you first launched the workflow system and you had to test it, did you test it with that first new client?

Reece Norris: You always try to build in systems that basically a system that sits on top of our software that allows us to do a lot of Q&A. So, we have obviously, we run the application through basically a series of tests. Then it goes through a human Q&A, so we try to shoot holes in it all different ways, but until it’s in a live environment, you really never get the Q&A that a live environment provides.

So, we obviously did those things for our beta client. We’re very thankful for our beta clients, Kane, Hall, and Barry. It’s a neurology group in Dallas, Fort Worth. It was great that they were based in Texas ’cause that’s where we’re based, so we could provide some high touch white glove service to them.

They do a lot of different therapies which was good for us to have a beta client that not only did they service their neurology patients, so their MS patients or their patients that were suffering from an autoimmune disorder, they took patients externally as well. So, a rheumatologist that needed to refer over a rheumatoid arthritis patient, or a gastroenterologist referring a Crohn’s patient.

So, our testbed was incredibly diverse. It allowed us to, yes, it was more painful in the beginning because we were truly ripping every Band-Aid off in the software and exposing it to all the different specialties, but for us, it was vital because we wanted our application to be robust and handle all the specialties and all the therapies.

 

Vera Fischer: And Reece, whenever you had those beta clients, this is the part where a lot of people don’t necessarily want to talk about it, but what were the glaring mistakes or, “Uh oh, didn’t think about that” or, “That didn’t work as planned?” Give me an example, and then how you fixed it.

Reece Norris: Yeah, no, I think we went in there to our first client, again, Kane, Hall, and Barry, thankful for them. We had a lens on it, “We’re going to be dealing with these issues.” Murphy’s Law always comes into play and I think that’s what you’re asking, right?

So we first honed in on the most critical part of the application, and I think we did, having built an application in the past that was at a microcosm and it ran our own infusion centers, we really knew we needed to focus on first on the nurses’ notes, making sure we had the clinical right is of vital importance, obviously.

But then it’s, because our system ties into every other piece of the … The chair based scheduling is communicating with the nurses’ notes, which is communicating with the inventory. We couldn’t look at it in a silo for too long. “Let’s get these nurses’ notes right, but quickly.” You’re branching out into the other systems that we’re communicating with, the inventory or the chair based scheduling system, or the insurance component.

So, we nailed the nurses’ note, and then from there, the next critical thing was inventory. Got to get patient care right or nothing else matters, but right behind that is the expensive inventory. We’ve got to get the inventory talking to the nurses’ note accurately, and in the best, and get rid of every single bug that we have in the system.

I mean, it’s close to perfect as there is a system on the market today, but we’re always going to be making improvements to make it easier for the user, and things like that.

Vera Fischer: So Reece, in the past, all of those things that you’ve now automated were done by hand?

Reece Norris: You know, it really is amazing. We have estimates, again, it’s not a scientific number, but this is potentially a $400 billion dollar industry and there is little to no software or infrastructure dedicated to this delivery channel. So, yes, to your point, when we go into an office, typically they’re managing it. They’ve bastardized their EMR, so their traditional physician software, with a combination of Excel. Perhaps they have an isolated inventory system, so an inventory system that’s not talking to anything other than you’re putting vials in, you’re taking vials out, but it’s not communicating with the nurses’ note or the schedule.

Then, sometimes the scheduling component of a traditional EMR can’t even intake a chair based scheduling system, so then you see things like Google Calendar, and yes, it’s completely disconnected so you can see how many things could fall through the cracks. Because one patient’s getting not just one vial of drug, there’s multiple of drugs typically given for a patient.

Then, the scheduling system is so unique, ’cause it’s chair based and not exam room based. Those are just two little uniqueness components. There’s so many more. But to your point, most of the things were done by hand, and obviously humans aren’t perfect, and so anywhere we could automate the system, we’ve tried. There’s just frankly, too much money at risk not to automate.
 

How Reece Ensures Their System is Implemented Correctly

Vera Fischer: Right, right. From this, automating this entire workflow from the time that the doctor has prescribed this type of infusion therapy, all the way to the delivery to the patient, and follow-up and subsequent infusion appointments, how do you ensure that the whole workflow system is implemented correctly on that infusion center side?

Reece Norris: We spent a lot of time on the frontend, sometimes frustratingly so. I wear the sales and marketing hat. Brian, our CEO, wears more the product development and development hat. We really, at this stage in our company, we really white glove that implementation process, making sure that we go deep with the client before they actually go live.

We have a series of training videos. Obviously that’s par for the course for any software system like this, but even beyond that, we have a series of trainings that we do, and then ultimately, we do a deep dive into their actual operation. For example, we’re in front of a large client in the Dallas, Fort Worth area, that has multiple locations.

We literally chart out their entire current infusion workflow before we implement our software, because we want to make sure that it’s done right, that we have an understanding of how they’re doing it today, so when they start to automate the process, they know what steps are truly eliminated and what roles and what personnel is going to be affected by that.

We just sent that proposal over to them today. They’re a signed client. It’s almost we have a consultancy sales process because we want it to be done right.

Vera Fischer: Well, Reece, you have really brought up a critical point, and I understand that just through different industries, when people hear the word “Automated workflow” or an automated software system, or platform, they sometimes truly think that there’s nothing they have to do. They just plug it in, and it just automatically goes, but there’s such a huge human component at the beginning of that process before you actually implement that tool to make it successful.

Reece Norris: Yeah, you have to invest in the frontend, and I think we recently signed a client. They of course wanted to get onboarded yesterday, but we have to really walk through that, and that’s a learning process for us, and making sure we set the right expectations during the sales process, and we’re doing an okay job of that. We could do better.

But you’re right, if you make the investment on the frontend, the implementation is going to be so much better, and I think too, sometimes we think when we go into an office, especially a large one, people think we’re going to be replacing jobs, and that’s absolutely not the case. We’re going to build an ROI on your time, and you’re going to focus on things that actually matter.

Unfortunately in this business, there’s things you can’t automate. The insurance process, for example. The insurance companies put a lot of obstacles in front of these very expensive drugs to make sure and perhaps rightfully so that before they outlay a significant amount of cash, to cover the patients’ therapy, that it’s appropriate. And that’s a manual process.

We automate it in the sense of we keep track of all the different dates and all the different next steps that are required by the insurance company, but currently there’s no automation for that part of the business.

Then, on the backend, there’s going to be insurance, because there’s a third party payer, you’re going to have issues with certain claims. Your time is much better spent on those problems that are actually truly problems, versus those that are self-created by not having an automated workflow system.

That’s where we say, “Hey, spend your time on the frontend and on the backend, and let’s automate as much as we can in the in between.”

Vera Fischer: Exactly. I think that the upfront is almost a non-negotiable as we move forward into even heavier technology used, and implementing those systems. ‘Cause once you really are in it, you understand that workflow, then the system just by virtue of what it’s meant to do, works better.

Reece Norris: I wholeheartedly agree, and that emphasis will never be lost on us. Mainly we’ve sat in the operators shoes, and I think for better or worse, and I think it’s obviously much better, we can relate to how painful it can be to move to a new system. Some of the challenges we have is because there’s no dedicated software until WeInfuse, there was no dedicated software for this delivery channel, a lot of folks have built their own systems, and yes, they may be cobbled together, but still someone built them and they’re proud of them.

So, there’s a sensitivity too there, that we try to be sensitive of the fact that, “Hey, what they’ve built may be working. We’re just trying to automate it and do it better.” There’s always that sensitivity, too.
 

How to Measure the Effectiveness of Your System or Product

Vera Fischer: Reece, how do you measure the effectiveness of the system that you guys are putting in place?

Reece Norris: We do it in a myriad of ways. Obviously in real dollars is obviously one of the best ways. Our system gives each infusion center the ability to reconcile where every single vial went. So, when it comes out of the refrigerator, because typically biologics are stored in refrigerators, it lands on a nurse’s note, we convert those vials into billable units that are ultimately able to reconcile to your billing system.

You can pull a report for us, and see how many billable units should have been billed out of a certain vial and compare it to your actual billing software. Those should match identically. When they don’t, and there’s a discrepancy, you’ve either billed too much or not enough, and that’s obviously real dollars that we can show in every month. No matter how perfect someone is, there’s going to be mistakes in that process.

The fact that you can reconcile to something which as far as we know is the first time that we have a fully reconcilable report, that’s hugely beneficial. We’ve caught mistakes across the board. Mainly ’cause again, as a human, you can only be perfect so much. We can translate that into real dollars.

The next is time. Obviously in many of our clinics, the nurses are going home earlier, because our documentation is very intuitive. We’ve put a lot of things that automate the documentation process for the nurse, so in nursing time, our nurse is able to go home earlier. They’re not having to document after the patient leaves, because they’re documenting in real time in our system. Those types of things are very tangible benefits of the software.

Then, there’s just the overall aspect of the administrator can now go in to our application and know exactly what’s going on in their infusion center today. They can look at the schedule, it’s a simple, intuitive schedule. The patients that are in yellow are being infused now, the patients in green have been infused, and the nurse has completed the note. The patients in red had an insurance issue so they can’t be treated that day, and the patients in blue haven’t been started.

Just in that quick color coding system, you know exactly the status of your entire infusion center for the day, which is very important for an administrator who’s also managing perhaps the physician practice as well as the infusion center.

There’s a lot of moving parts within a physician’s office that has an infusion center, so just those quick dashboards and being able to get your arms around it so quickly is very beneficial.
 

Next Challenges for Reece and WeInfuse

Vera Fischer: Okay, that is really cool. I love all of that, how you measure that. That’s very informational. Really love all the takeaways that you’ve provided around your workflow system, and before we go and we want to wrap up our discussion, tell me what your next challenge is for WeInfuse.

Reece Norris: Absolutely. Our next challenge is we are working on a scanning component, and again, not to bore any of our audience with the details, but it’s probably strange to many that each vial that’s produced today comes in a lot, so it’s not serialized down to the vial. Soon there’ll be legislation that makes each vial serialized, so we’ll be working on a scanning component whereby you can scan, using like a handheld scanner, maybe like what you see at a grocery store.

Each vial as they come into the office, as they go onto a nurse’s note, and again, giving us another level of very specific data and even making our software better. That’s our next challenge, as that legislation comes down and manufacturers start to serialize the vials. We’ll be adapting our software to that, so it’s exciting for us.

Vera Fischer: Well Reece, you have shown us that processes are needed to get the work done when launching a new product into a new niche industry, and have provided a few of the nuances that our listeners need to hear, regarding the execution of a successful system. Before we go, let’s close out today’s discussion with any final advice you want to share, anything we may have missed, and then tell us the best way we can connect with you.

Reece Norris: The best way to connect with us is on our website, at WeInfuse.com. You can email info@weinfuse.com as well, and we’d love to just talk with you. We’re extremely passionate about this niche in healthcare. For anyone considering starting an infusion center, we get this a lot, you’ve got to do due diligence. These drugs are complex, sometimes risky if they’re not done appropriately, and the financial risk is huge because the drugs are so expensive.

Truly evaluate the systems that are available in the market. We obviously believe we have the best, but we’re biased. So, thank you for having me today. I really appreciate it.

Vera Fischer: System Execution fans, no matter how many notes you took, or how often you re-listen to this episode, remember every successful business uses systems to drive to a better outcome. Reece, it’s been great to have you on the show. Thank you for sharing your insight with System Execution listeners.

Reece Norris: Thank you.

We hope you found this episode of System Execution on how to launch a new product in a niche industry enlightening. For free examples, case studies, eBooks and more, be sure to visit SystemExecution.com/resources. Contribute to the conversation by reaching out to Vera directly on email, at vera@systemexecution.com. Until our next episode, thank you for the privilege of your time.

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