How Particle is breaking data barriers within the healthcare industry
Troy Bannister has worn many hats in the field of healthcare: He was a medical student, emergency medical technician and a clinical researcher. Now, he's Cofounder and CEO of Particle Health, a platform aiming to make health records more accessible to patients and providers.
In 2016, Joe Biden, who was Vice President at the time, held a speech at the Health Datapalooza in Washington DC, sharing how his family struggled to get his late son Beau's health records from one hospital to another because the two health systems were not technically compatible with each other. Eventually, the records needed to be physically transported—by plane. Beau Biden passed away from glioblastoma in 2015.
This was Troy Bannister’s "aha" moment. "If the Vice President of the United States has difficulties getting his son's health records from one hospital to another," he says, "this is a real problem." In 2018, Troy founded Particle Health alongside Dan Horbatt with the goal of making it easy and secure to transmit medical records within the healthcare ecosystem.
Though he’s not in the Primary portfolio, I got in touch asking if Troy would share some of the lessons from building this company. In this interview, he tells us about personally encountering the challenges of healthcare data transfer, finding inspiration from the world of fintech, and the “blessing and curse” of building a product that’s in desperate demand.
Sam Toole: Let's start with what initially got you into healthcare. What made you say, "I'm going to quit my job and dive into Particle Health full-time"?
Troy Bannister: The long and the short of it is that my math teacher in high school was previously an emergency medical technician (EMT) and he used to tell us these crazy stories—beautiful ones about delivering babies and also gruesome ones about decapitation. And I thought, "This is wild." So when I got to college, the first thing I did was sign up for an EMT class.
I was in business school, and after working in the ambulance for a year, I thought, "I love medicine." I ended up going to med school at Georgetown and… I absolutely hated it. I was depressed and knew I’d never be a happy doctor, which also means I'd never be a good one. So I left and I got a master's in biophysics. With that, I did clinical research at Mount Sinai for a few years and got more entrenched in the digital health space, which they were calling 'mHealth' back then.
So I ended up jumping to StartUp Health in New York. I was one of the early employees and that gave me a good overview of the state of digital health, what it meant to be an entrepreneur in healthcare, and, most importantly, what problems existed. During that time, I kept seeing a core issue come up over and over again. As an entrepreneur building a digital health company and managing a patient population, I have no idea who these patients are, what meds they're on, what allergies they have, what their comorbidities are. The only way to access this data is either to ask for it in patient intake forms, which suck and no one actually answers them holistically, or I have to go build my own data network for hundreds of thousands of dollars per hospital. At the same time, I learned about Plaid, Stripe, and Twilio, and I thought, "This is a lot harder to do in healthcare, but the opportunity is even bigger." So I started Particle Health…
For people who aren’t familiar with Particle, what product are you offering to your customers?
We provide a single API that allows healthcare companies to connect with and get data seamlessly across almost every electronic health record vendor and hospital in the U.S. We’ve built security, privacy, and data standardization as a core competency because you shouldn’t have to worry about building that type of thing.
On the data front, there are two constraints. One is the technical limitations of what we can exchange. We have enabled both C-CDA, or Consolidated Clinical Document Architecture, which is the most widely used format for health information exchange in the US today, and FHIR, or Fast Health Interoperability Resource, widely adopted as the industry standard for the exchange, integration, sharing, and retrieval of electronic health information. So we can get the entire patient clinical record, including diagnoses, medications, allergies, labs, and doctors’ notes. The other constraint is around what data the electronic medical records and providers have to share back with us when we ask for data.
Who are your core customers at this point and what does the sales process look like?
There are a couple dimensions that we think about on the sales side. One is the maturity of the organization that we're selling to. On one end, there are large enterprise groups and on the other, there are two-person companies. Right now, our ideal customer fits somewhere in the middle. These are the companies that can typically move fast. They know their value propositions, unit economics, how this data will actually change their business, and they're often already trying to acquire this data. The other dimension we consider is the use case kind of paradigm. There are providers, payers, pharma, and consumer-facing applications. Currently, we're selling only to providers-facing solutions that get a ROI from managing risk better—that's the nuts and bolts of it.
As you've scaled the business over the last couple of years and started to find a product-market fit, what are some of the biggest challenges you've faced?
The first kind of jump into this on the go-to-market side was, "Let's just throw this at the wall and see what sticks." Are we selling to digital pharmacies? Are we selling to providers in primary care, specialty care, or virtual telemedicine as a service for a fee?
The blessing and the curse of Particle is that every healthcare organization under the sun wants access to this data, which is great because our total addressable market is massive, but it's a curse because we have to know the use cases and the ROIs for a bunch of different things. If you compare two seemingly identical companies together, they probably have different ROIs behind the scenes, so knowing the right questions to ask during the sales process and the implementation process are incredibly important to understand and make sure we're not spinning our wheels.
Shifting gears, if you weren't running Particle today, what would you be doing? What are the other areas that excite you in healthcare?
I don't think there's a robust infrastructure in healthcare yet, which is wild. So whoever wins those different categories of infrastructure are going to have hugely impactful value propositions. You can slice and dice specialty care services and manage service stuff all you want, and those do amazing things, but nothing is nationally as impactful as running a true infrastructure win. So I think that's where my brain always goes, "What are the pieces that could be tied together to create something hugely valuable for another set of value creators?"
Why has New York City been the right place for you to build the business?
It's funny, I came to New York without a job. I didn't know what I was going to do and within three years or four years, I was starting a company. I don't think there are many places in the world where you can do that. I was constantly being introduced to folks who are well-connected and experts doing big things. There's also a special energy here. It's like, the moment you walk outside in the morning, you're going all day and I love that. It's inspiring and it pushes me harder. And the rat race has its benefits, I suppose, as well as its many drawbacks. Right now, the New York healthcare scene is also awesome.