May 26, 2020

In mid-March, PatientPop employees tuned into an all-hands meeting from their living rooms, kitchen tables and make-shift home offices. 

The meeting began as a standard update on the industry. PatientPop co-CEOs said that with stay-at-home orders going into effect in nearly every state, doctors and dentists were seeing their appointments drop off significantly. People were afraid of getting infected and were canceling non-emergency appointments. 

Jake Hirsch, a customer success manager at the healthtech company, had seen this trend first hand. His customers — physicians, dentists, pediatricians and healthcare professionals of all stripes — were facing empty waiting rooms with no way to connect with their patients. They needed help.

“These conversations were coming pretty quickly in March,” Hirsch said. “People were asking if we had a telehealth solution and wanted our recommendations. When I spoke to my colleagues, they were getting that same sentiment.”

Due to strict regulations and low demand, telehealth tools have been slow to gain momentum, Hirsch said. Building virtual care tools was certainly the long-term product roadmap at PatientPop, but it wasn’t an area the team was set to dive into until 2021. 

That was about to change.

PatientPop was going to build that telehealth solution sooner than planned, the CEOs announced. And they were going to build it in about two weeks. Even under normal circumstances it was an ambitious goal, but it was a tool that the medical community needed immediately. 

In a conversation with Built In LA, three PatientPop employees shared the story of the adrenaline-filled weeks that followed.

 

Los Angeles tech careers PopPatient

 

What happened immediately after the announcement of the telehealth product? 

Senior Product Manager Bre Vergess: After the company announcement, I reached out to see how I could get involved. The next day, Saturday morning, I hit the ground running with a group from engineering and product. When Monday morning came around, I was meeting with other cross-functional teams to get them up to speed. It was crazy how much had changed since that Friday afternoon announcement — we’d already done so much. Soon, everyone was working on something that touched this effort. 

Director of Demand Generation Jordan Decker: I think I screamed internally for a second and then was like, “OK, let’s figure out how to do this.” It was a really interesting waterfall effect across the company in terms of who was activated when. We had a lot of people from our product, business development and marketing perspective involved early on, and then we started bringing in members of the sales and customer success organizations, and then the rest of marketing, to really pitch it. I was existing on a marketing-geek adrenaline rush.

Customer Success Manager Jake Hirsch: Initially, it was like, “How are we going to pivot so quickly?” And then all of a sudden I had over a week of fully-booked days where I was scheduled to talk with practices about this product. It’s exciting to get on these calls and know we’re helping practices in a really dire time. 

 

Los Angeles tech careers PopPatient

 

Products don’t get made in a vacuum. How did you receive and incorporate feedback so quickly?

Vergess: In this case, we were learning about the market, the tool and the need for it along with everyone else. I love customer feedback, but it rarely comes to me in the way it did for this product. I usually get a CSV download of feedback collected from our customer success and support teams, then adjust what we’re building based on that. For the telehealth offering, I was in meetings with the CSM, marketing and implementation teams to collect feedback on a daily basis.

Decker: We assembled a core group of our sales and customer success teams to be the test runners. They were responsible for seeing what was working, and they were the first line of feedback. We had product experts and our marketing voices in there to help coalesce that information so that we could adapt before rolling out companywide. 

Hirsch: Essentially, that gave us a crawl, walk, run approach to validate demonstrations, the onboarding process, our conversations with customers and other workflows. Never before have I done a demo where the provider asked about a feature, and by the next demo a couple of hours later, that feature was incorporated. Everything was evolving so rapidly, which is a testament to the cross-functional collaboration going on.

 

MENTAL HEALTH BREAKS

Building a new product in mere weeks is stressful, pandemic or not. “I required everyone to put a 20-minute block on their calendar every day where they had to step away from their computer,” Decker said. “There’s nothing going on that can’t wait for 20 minutes. If you don’t take care of yourself as a person before you take care of yourself as an employee, nothing is going to work.”

 

With so many teams working on this product — and with tight turnarounds — how did everyone stay organized?

Decker: A lot of communication! We had a companywide Slack channel for everyone involved in telehealth where anyone could shout a question out. We also had standups daily, if not multiple times a day, just to brain-dump on each other about what was changing or about to change. Open communication was the biggest part of making this work.

Hirsch: In those three crazy weeks in mid-March to early April, everyone was very transparent in terms of what we were trying to achieve. We all understood that there are no stupid questions. I remember we Slacked our chief revenue officer with something we thought might be a bad question, but he said, “Oh, actually, I don’t know. Sit tight, let me find the answer.” Everyone was super accessible and checked their ego at the door. That’s always going to be helpful — but especially when you’re trying to roll out a new product in a couple of weeks.

Vergess: We couldn’t have executed this project unless we trusted the people around us. We’ve created the space for people to lead — regardless of their years of experience. If people are eager to do something and they’ve shown that they’re committed, we trust that they can run with it. By letting others take on projects, we all advance that much faster. 

 

 

Ambitious timeframe aside, what were some challenges in building out the actual product?

Vergess: There’s a learning curve with users and technology — I’m not the only one who’s taught their mom how to use FaceTime during the pandemic! This is uncharted territory for a lot of people, specifically doctors. They have enough on their plate and now we’re putting this entirely new technology in front of them. From a product standpoint, we wanted to make it as easy as possible. We figured out what the MVP looked like and started with the basics.

Decker: We got a lot of questions early on about how billing and insurance payments would work for telehealth. That’s not something that we’d normally advise on because so many states and specialties have different rules. But we didn’t want to give someone a tool and not tell them how to use it. Our content team did as much research as possible to figure out what our customers needed to know, and within a few days, they had built out a nicely designed PDF of common billing codes.

Hirsch: There’s never a one-size-fits-all in the medical space. We got questions from dentists about whether they could even help patients since they couldn’t see them through anything but an HD video. We reached out to some advisors, and one of the things we learned was that dentists were leaning on telemedicine for triage cases. People are going to the emergency room instead of their dentist because their office is closed. But the ER doesn’t know how to properly treat dental issues. Teledentistry is a way to help make sure that patients get the right care.

 

For all of the hard work that went into this product, will it have a future after COVID-19 is controlled? Can something built so quickly last?

Vergess: I think that from the patient’s perspective, we are going to see people expecting to use telehealth regularly, especially once they realize that instead of driving across LA in traffic to get to the doctor, they can get what they need using their phone. 

Hirsch: We’re not trying to just get in front of doctors and sell them on this — we’re trying to educate them about what’s going on in the market and the industry right now. We have this beautiful product that was built to replicate the in-office experience in the short-term, but I want to show people that there’s long term value, too. The data is showing us telehealth is going to be here to stay. 

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