I would start with establishing a unified healthcare system — an infrastructure that is standardized in communication, training, diagnostics, and treatment. A large health system like Kaiser has developed systems that focus on delivering a seamless experience.
As a part of my interview series with leaders in healthcare, I had the pleasure to interview Bill Ho.
He is the CEO of Biscom, a software company that helps organizations share information securely through secure fax, email, collaboration, and file sharing. Bill offers more than 30 years of health IT and cybersecurity experience, and under his leadership, Biscom has seen record growth, launched award-winning products, and expanded its leadership delivering solutions for regulated industries, most notably healthcare.
Prior to Biscom, Bill held roles at Oracle and CNET.com before founding a company that pioneered cloud storage and secure collaboration. Bill received his BS Computer Science from Stanford, MS Computer Science from Harvard, and his MBA from MIT Sloan. Bill also serves on the President’s Council for Beth Israel Lahey Health in Boston, and is a firefighter and EMT serving his local community.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was the kid that took everything apart to see how things worked. Occasionally I was able to put them back together. With an engineering mindset, I fell in love with programming, because that kind of structured thinking came naturally to me. Combining that with a drive for problem-solving, I’ve always looked at building things to solve problems small and large — to make things better, improve upon a process, or save time. While I’m no longer a software engineer, I apply a lot of that logic, data-driven decision making, and rigor to corporate strategy, and sales and marketing functions, which is where I spend most of my time now.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I started a new division at Biscom when I joined and we built a product, a sales and marketing team, and technical support from the ground up — it was like a skunkworks project and fully encapsulated within a larger organization. We landed two customers right away and that validation that we had built a product that was valuable and useful was an incredible feeling — and it snowballed from there. Soon after, it was beyond satisfying to see that divsion go from the red into the black and see its contributions to both the top and bottom lines of the business.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I was at CNET, in the mid-1990s when the Internet was just getting its legs, we worked in a big yellow room below the executive offices, affectionately called “Big Yellow,” and we worked hard. We also played hard, including occasional games of Quake — a networked first-person shooter game — which we sometimes did during the middle of the day. During one epic session, Halsey Minor, the founder and CEO of CNET came out of his office upstairs, and down to my cubicle — I never knew why he singled me out — and expressed his displeasure — didn’t I have actual work to do? I felt like a kid caught stealing from the cookie jar. While not remotely funny at the time, several years later, when I was running my own company, I touched base with Halsey and we joked about it, and being in his shoes, I totally got it. But I was a little more understanding of these things personally, and while I think my startup team played a little too much foosball, I had been known to join in on a few myself.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
If you’re lucky, you can claim you’re the best at something. We are the best at building scalable, reliable, secure fax and file sharing solutions — our products are robust workhorses. We built up a reputation of having products that are “set it and forget it.” But that’s only half the story. You have to support what you build, and we’re also well known in the industry for not only standing behind our products, but also bending over backwards to help our customers when they need help. When you’re part of mission critical processes like we are, sometimes life-critical, you can’t be off your game. And because everything has an issue at some point, we believe in being the most responsive vendor around. Our entire team here at Biscom embraces this culture of building rock solid products and a customer-first ethos, and time and time again, our customers tell us they love us for this.
What advice would you give to other healthcare leaders to help their team to thrive?
Mission and values are key. We don’t look at our solutions from a features and functions perspective — we try to see how to best support our customers’ mission critical needs. It’s easy for us to get caught up in the day-to-day, and I find it useful to remind everyone why our work is so important in the larger sense. For our healthcare customers, we appreciate how our contributions are helping clinicians provide the best care for their patients. Our company understands both the gravity of the responsibility we have but also gets satisfaction in knowing how much we positively impact people’s lives. This knowledge helps drive our entire company to do better every day.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this study cited by Newsweek, the US healthcare system is ranked as the worst among high income nations. This seems shocking. Can you share with us 3–5 reasons why you think the US is ranked so poorly?
It seems counterintuitive — we have the best trained healthcare professionals, the top scientists, and the most effective treatment, but healthcare delivery is problematic in multiple areas, including astronomical costs, uneven availability and access, and an overly administrative and CYA culture. When other developed nations have nationalized their healthcare and can provide access to every citizen while delivering excellent patient care at lower cost, how can we not pay attention and view the data? In so many categories, the United States ranks poorly compared to our peers, and sadly ranks among the worst in infant mortality rates. While there are so many areas that can be improved, I think among the most problematic are the overall high costs of providing healthcare, including prescription remedy, the administrative burdens and paperwork that accompany each visit, and inefficiencies, redundancies, and poor communication across hospital boundaries.
You are a “healthcare insider”. If you had the power to make a change, can you share 5 changes that need to be made to improve the overall US healthcare system? Please share a story or example for each.
- I would start with establishing a unified healthcare system — an infrastructure that is standardized in communication, training, diagnostics, and treatment. A large health system like Kaiser has developed systems that focus on delivering a seamless experience.
- Deploy the best equipment, tools, medical devices, treatment, and procedures to all the hospitals, clinics, and practices across the country. Small community clinics should be on equal footing with big city or university hospitals. Until then, inequality in healthcare will continue.
- Remove redundancies in the system — a system of record that is easily shared across all those who are providing care for a patient, where information flows freely but in a secure environment. Anyone who, as a patient, has had to fill out paperwork and answer the same questions for different providers can appreciate the benefit of a unified system.
- Squeeze out all inefficiency, red tape, and useless paperwork to cut administrative costs and increase speed of service. Technology will play a part of this, but also updated policies and processes that focus more on common sense and less on defensiveness.
- And make all of this great healthcare accessible to everyone.
Ok, it’s very nice to suggest changes, but what concrete steps would have to be done to actually manifest these changes? What can a) individuals, b) corporations, c) communities and d) leaders do to help?
Is healthcare a right or a privilege? I believe it’s an inalienable right, and the way to ensure this is by starting at the top with our political leadership. Healthcare should not be used as a bargaining chip in political battles. We need the leaders of our country to put politics aside and come to a consensus on addressing the national healthcare problem. Once this is established, communities, companies, and individuals can be aligned and be part of the solution.
I’m interested in the interplay between the general healthcare system and the mental health system. Right now, we have two parallel tracks, mental/behavioral health and general health. What are your thoughts about this status quo? What would you suggest to improve this?
Mens sana in corpore sano — “a healthy mind in a healthy body.” Most people take this Latin phrase to mean good physical health promotes good mental health. I also believe this applies in the other direction. Instead of separating these two aspects of life, we should look at this holistically. A troubled mind can produce physical manifestations and a sick body can also affect our mental state. We are a highly evolved, thinking creature and healthcare should be treating people on both aspects equally. I’d love to see clinical interactions support both physical and mental health care.
How would you define an “excellent healthcare provider?”
There are many excellent healthcare providers, but from my personal experience, the ones I have appreciated the most are the ones who are good listeners, creative thinkers, empathetic, and masters of their craft. But also those who know their limits and are okay admitting they don’t know the answer. The ones who take their time with you, create an emotional bond, and are clearly passionate about caring for you are the ones I deem to be “excellent” in my book.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote?” Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The harder I work, the luckier I get. I don’t believe in winning the lottery — the odds are astronomically against it. I’d rather be in control of my destiny. And what I can control is how much time and effort I put into things. I had a pretty active childhood and grew up playing ice hockey, baseball, and lacrosse. I was never the natural athlete — but I worked hard and even was recognized by an early hockey coach as the kid with the most hustle. With that mindset, I was lucky enough to play lacrosse at the college level but always felt like I had to work twice as hard as everyone else. But a decade later, overworking myself at the office and not spending enough time exercising, I was feeling pretty removed from my past athletic achievements. I was challenged by some coworkers to run an Olympic distance triathlon. I always thought competing in triathlons was impossibly hard and didn’t see myself as having what it took to do one. I had never swum long distances, I hated running, and I couldn’t remember the last time I rode a bike. But I forced myself to train in each of the three disciplines, created a healthier meal plan, read every book on the subject, and prepared myself mentally — and I successfully finished the race with my friends, and then competed in several more. This made me realize that if I could do this, anyone could as well. And people of all shapes and sizes completed these races as well. Believe in yourself and be ready to work for what you want. I truly think people are capable of achieving anything they set their minds to.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We’re working on helping companies with their digital transformation in their communications infrastructure — how they share HIPAA-protected patient information quickly, securely, and agnostically — by digitizing their fax infrastructure (yes fax is huge in healthcare) and providing an interoperability layer for more seamless exchange of data. While we’re seeing amazing medical breakthroughs, the back office is stuck in the past. I can’t think of another industry that will gain more from technology initiatives to help with administrative efficiencies, cost savings, and improved patient care.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better healthcare leader? Can you explain why you like them?
I think there’s a lot of “Google savvy” self-proclaimed healthcare pundits out there. I’m a big fan of Journal of the American Medical Association — it’s peer reviewed and data-driven, but it can be a bit technical. I also look at Mayo Clinic’s web site as a wealth of information — I go there to do research when a family member gets sick. But I’ll go out on a limb and admit that I’m actually a big fan of Reddit. While it’s rife with unappealing and silly topics and posts, there are nuggets of gold in there. Real people, unfiltered, and often entertaining. Reddit is unvarnished and requires a lot of self-editing and the ability to sift through a lot of junk. You’ll also find some actual specialists that comment or reply to threads — and while they may or may not be the real deal — they can be really valuable and spark ideas I wouldn’t have thought about that then become the start of more in-depth research. Use at your own risk.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
We are in the midst of a pretty major social justice upheaval and I both sympathize with and appreciate those who are fighting for the Black Lives Matter cause. As a minority myself, I’ve experienced racism firsthand and it’s truly an ugly part of our culture. I feel that the majority understand and believe in true equality, but it’s become apparent that there are still pockets of people who are not willing to part with an antiquated and outdated racist mindset. I would love to see an America that treats everyone with the love and respect they themselves would want, regardless of race, creed, color, religion, Inter course orientation, or national origin. Celebrating our differences, valuing each other’s opinions, working side by side, and just trying to get along would go a long way towards achieving true peace and happiness in this country and around the world.
How can our readers follow you online?
I’m most active on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/billho1/
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!