Archive for October 30th, 2008

Beth Israel Pulls up its Skirt

October 30th, 2008 | No Comments | Source: Boston Globe

Odds are, the quality of care at Beth Israel Deaconess hospital is roughly the same as that provided at Boston’s other teaching hospitals, which is to say it is excellent.

So why is it that there seems to have been a ton of medical screw-ups at The Deek lately? Almost certainly this has to do with CEO Paul Levy’s bold policy to be forthcoming when medical errors do occur rather than the typical approach in which hospital leaders try mightily to bury these stories.

Credit Levy and his team for true leadership on the matter.

To be sure, it seems like The Deek has been haunted lately. In June, the hospital fired a cosmetic surgeon after he appeared to nod off while performing liposuction. Days later, another surgeon operated on the wrong ankle of a female patient. Earlier this month, a previously terminated drug abusing staff anesthesiologist was found in a hospital closet, dead as a door nail. Cue the ghoulish music.

Medical errors big and small happen with striking regularity at all hospitals. By some counts, 15 million errors occur each year in the US (thankfully few are this egregious, however).

That’s why Levy’s relentlessly transparent approach, if he backs it up with a data-driven, scientifically based, hospital-wide improvement program, may eventually elevate The Deek’s performance to truly outstanding levels.

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Yammer Tweaks Twitter

October 30th, 2008 | No Comments | Source: NY Times

Some scoffed when Yammer went live 8 weeks ago. With 3 million people Twittering away, did the world really need another microblogging platform?

No one’s laughing now, and it turns out the 2 companies could not be more different in many important aspects.

Twitter burst onto the scene 2 years ago and almost overnight created a new verb that entrenched itself in modern lexicon to nearly the same degree as “to Google.” “To Twitter,” users simply logon with a computer or cell phone and respond to the question, “what are you doing?”

Responses, or “Tweets” are limited to 140 characters. They range from profound and poetic to decidedly humdrum, like “I should have worn a sweater.” 

But despite Twitter’s enormous popularity and brand recognition, it has zero revenue. Not a cent. Not even from advertisements.

Twitter has argued that YouTube had little revenue when it sold to Google for $1.7 billion, and Facebook has a similar valuation on revenues of only $150 million. “Get the eyes first, worry about revenue later,” is the mantra. “Oh and by the way? Twitter registrations are up 600% this year.”

Which brings us to Yammer, the West Hollywood start-up that tweaked Twitter’s microblogging concept into an internal corporate communication tool and started generating revenue the day it went live.

As with Twitter, anyone can join Yammer for free, but they must have a corporate email account to do so.  Yammer users (Yammerers?) answer a Twitteresque question, “What are you working on” to communicate with company colleagues.  If the company wants to assume administrative control over the chatter, they pay Yammer.

It has been called Twitter with a business model, and it was enough for Yammer to secure the prestigious TechCrunch 50 prize last month. Yammer claimed that 10,000 people and 2,000 organizations signed up for the service the day it launched.

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Collateral Damage in Iceland

October 30th, 2008 | No Comments | Source: Economist

What can the financial collapse in Iceland teach us about health care start-ups close to home? Plenty, it turns out.

The north-Atlantic island nation is home to two innovative health care companies, DeCode Genetics and Actavis, and although they are not to blame, both have been staggered by Iceland’s economic catastrophe.

DeCode Genetics pioneered personal genomics by perfecting DNA-sequencing processes and leveraging its access to Iceland’s unique national genetic database. It made breakthroughs in the last 2 years that leave no doubt it is a player. For example, it identified genes associated with basal cell carcinoma and possibly causative gene mutations for schizophrenia.

DeCode cut its burn rate by half earlier this year to guard against financial hard times, but it wasn’t nearly enough. Like many early-stage biotech companies, DeCode has tiny revenues and large cash flow needs. It is now encountering severe difficulties accessing credit. Worse, Lehman Brothers tied up $30m of DeCode’s reserves in risky US auction-rate securities before it went bust a month ago. There are no buyers for the securities right now.

Actavis, Iceland’s other health care jewel had risen to become the world’s fifth-largest generic drug maker through a series of smart acquisitions. The company had diversified product offerings and built a global distribution system which should have insulated it from financial hard times.

Not so. Actavis’ problem is that Thor Bjorgolfsson, a billionaire who controls the company had a large stake in an Icelandic bank and that money vaporized when the bank was nationalized 3 weeks ago. Now many speculate that Bjorgolfsson will sell Actavis to recoup some cash.

Both companies are likely to survive since they demonstrably create value for shareholders, but not without a good deal of hand wringing, soul searching and tumult. US biotech companies take notice.

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