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Doc makes an entrepreneurial leap

KERRY FELTNER
She was at the top of her game, possibly the pinnacle of a career. There were the years of experience, accolades and the freedom hard work earns. But this year, Betty Rabinowitz M.D. decided it was time to take a calculated risk.

With decades of experience as a physician, she co-founded a health care technology company to generate change from a new vantage point: CEO.

Rabinowitz, 59, runs EagleDream Health Inc., a health care analytics software and services company aimed at providing insights for consumers and the medical community across broad swaths of patients. From multiple sources it aggregates data that is then synchronized to create a database.

The company, located at 300 Trolley Boulevard, was started based on concepts from software Rabinowitz helped design during her time as a physician at the University of Rochester.

Its sister firm—EagleDream Technologies Inc.—also has headquarters there. The combined companies employ nearly 30 staffers in Rochester.

In 2015, its first year of operation, EagleDream Health is expected to post revenues of roughly $1.7 million—followed by around $5 million in 2016, officials say.

The first year has been fast and furious.

In May, EagleDream Health acquired Focused Medical Analytics LLC, a data analysis firm that identifies clinical variations to reduce extra costly medical services.

“Acquiring FMA was a game-changing event for us,” Rabinowitz says. “We have now incorporated FMA’s innovative work on clinical variation and health care network management into our core offering. We are a much broader, stronger and smarter company with the addition of FMA’s capabilities.”

Last month, EagleDream partnered with Illinois-based Medline Industries Inc., a supplier of medical, surgical and pharmaceutical products to hospitals and health systems with annual revenues totaling upwards of $8 billion. Medline has over 350,000 medical devices that are supported by more than 1,200 direct sales representatives.

“The Medline partnership is a very important milestone for us as they are a large multinational company that selected our startup company as a partner,” Rabinowitz says. “This is a very powerful message to prospective customers and investors. Medline is going to provide access for us to leading health care systems in ways that would not have been possible for us until later in our evolution.”

Even with its strong start, the leaders of EagleDream Health are looking for improvement. Many of its leaders had already succeeded in other careers. They started this company because they wanted to, Rabinowitz says.

“All of the people on our team we are working incredibly hard; people are giving their all to this,” she says. “You don’t make multimillion dollar companies by just sitting there.”

International start
Rabinowitz was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. Her parents were anti-apartheid activists.

They decided to move the family to Israel in 1961 as South Africa was experiencing large-scale massacres and hostile escalations, including the Sharpeville massacre on March 21, 1960, where police opened fire on a peaceful demonstration, killing dozens of protesters. The event triggered an exodus of anti-apartheid South Africans, Rabinowtiz says. Her mother already had been in jail for her activism.

Rabinowitz was a 6-year-old indirect witness to politics, hostility and conflict.

“I grew up in a home where there was political awareness and political conversation,” Rabinowitz says. “Moving to Israel in 1961—Israel was a young country at that time—and living through the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War and 1973 War certainly gives for me a huge appreciation of the peace we have here.”

She served two years in the Israeli military—a requirement of men and women—before starting college.

The military environment was not hospitable to Rabinowitz, who had been raised to question all things and to advocate for herself and others.

“I didn’t like the military,” she says. “There was a level of required blind discipline that doesn’t fit my personality very well, but I learned very quickly that you do what you’re told because there are consequences otherwise that aren’t worth the battle.”

She then was accepted—one of 40 of a pool of 1,500 applicants—to Ben-Gurion University Medical School in Beer-Sheva, Israel.

“I knew from a very young age that I wanted to go into medicine,” Rabinowitz says. “It was just something that became a reality. I knew that that’s where I was heading. I was very fortunate to go to a very prestigious private school in Israel that set high standards and allowed people to dream very big.”

Having an internal drive to lead others, she became president of the Medical Students Association. She was one of the leading voices of the student body and helped to effect changes at the school, which was three years old.

Medical school was exactly what she had hoped it would be, she says.

“I loved med school; I enjoyed every aspect of it,” Rabinowitz says. “I found the material was fascinating. To figure out) the human challenges of meeting patients and learning how to interview patients and learning how to do physical exam—it was just fascinating.”

She graduated from college in 1983 and then did a residency at the Soroka Medical Center in internal medicine in Israel. She and a small group of classmates staffed a clinic 30 miles south of Beer-Sheva in rural Israel for a year after school. The experience made her realize that medicine was the right choice for her.

Coming to Rochester
A bit of serendipity helped her find Rochester in 1988.

Upon the recommendation of school officials, she attended a seminar focused on doctor-patient communication at Harvard University. Five groups of 10 students were led by five physicians; Rabinowitz found herself in the group of Timothy Quill M.D., professor of medicine, psychiatry and medical humanities at UR’s School of Medicine and Dentistry and director of the Center of Ethics, Humanities and Palliative Care at UR.

He recommended she apply for a fellowship in Rochester, and by 1990 she was pursuing a fellowship in medicine and psychiatry at UR Medicine.

“I knew that it was kind of a rite of passage in Israel when you finished residency to come to the States for a two-year fellowship,” Rabinowitz says. “There was a high likelihood that I would do that, but I didn’t know what in and I didn’t know that that would be in Rochester.”

A year later she became a faculty member at UR and joined the Quill, Andolina, Sussman practice, now the URMC Clinton Medical Associates practice. She spent 25 years focused on the biological, psychological, social model of how a person’s mind and body play a role in the function of disease.

“I was very interested in mind-body kind of the boundary between our souls and our bodies and the illnesses that develop in that place where it’s neither here nor there,” Rabinowitz says.

Michael Goonan, retired chief financial officer of URMC, said it was clear Rabinowitz would not simply practice medicine but create long-term changes in the field.

“Betty is a brilliant, hardworking, high-quality and highly regarded primary care physician,” Goonan says. “On her own time, Betty developed software systems during her tenure at the medical center that resulted in the generation of dashboard reports that fundamentally provided constructive metrics and feedback to our network of primary care physicians to help them better manage the care of their patients.

“I believe that while Betty was a wonderful and high-quality primary care physician beloved by her patients, she felt that she could have more of a positive and lasting impact on the overall health of an entire population of patients in her role as CEO of Eagle Dream Health,” he adds.

What helped her find success throughout uncertain times in her career was openness for everything, she says.

“It just was absolutely a series of being open to meeting people who had a compelling message or story that I was curious about,” Rabinowitz says. “I think it was these doors opening that you can walk past if you’re not attuned to it. See where it goes and also have enough trust in your gut that … these were good people, and it proved absolutely.”

Thanks to the work of people such as the late Robert Ader, UR professor and founder of the field of study that connects the mind and the body’s immune system, Rabinowitz felt at home in her pursuit of a holistic view of care.

For centuries the mind and body have been separated when evaluating health, she says.

“It was definitely on the radar in Rochester, but medicine had a very biomedical model so it was all about if you could explain the physiology, if you could explain the bacteriology pathology that exists,” Rabinowitz says. “If you went to that place where symptoms were created by emotional anguish, or symptoms were cured by a relieving of emotional anguish, people got a bit squishy around that.

“That sentence, ‘It’s all in your head,’ has done more harm than anything. Mind and body are really a connected being,” she adds.

Through January she was a general internist and the medical director of UR’s Center for Primary Care, a role she held for five years. In October she officially ended her position as medical director but continued until February in an advisory role. She become CEO and president of EagleDream Health then.

“Going from the biopsychosocial model to IT and software seems like a very opposite ends of the spectrum, but in some way it addressed another part of my brain,” Rabinowitz says. “It was a bit more left-brained than right-brained, but what I was aware of was this ability to harness this rich clinical data (and) to begin thinking of groups of patients with common denominators.”

Becoming an entrepreneur
She co-founded the firm with area leaders including Arunas Chesonis, CEO of Sweetwater Energy Inc., a founding shareholder and a board member; and Bob Moore, CEO of EagleDream Technologies.

The management team includes Howard Beckman, chief medical officer of EagleDream Health; Michael McClure, chief information officer; Jolanda Chesonis, chief operating officer; Greg Partridge, chief data officer; Bob Allen, chief sales officer; and Michael Howard, senior vice president of sales.

“She’s got a lot of integrity, she’s got a great work ethic, (and) she’s extremely smart,” Arunas Chesonis says. “The thing that is most rare in my experience is, for people who have had some level of success, we tend to get stuck in our ways and aren’t as open-minded as we should be when people give us advice in how to improve or use a different style or approach.

“Very few people our age can do that. She is just so open-minded, like a sponge. She wants to do better and she’s no pushover either. She’s very open but she’s direct,” he adds.

Chesonis has been a business mentor for Rabinowitz and helped her realize the opportunity to start the company.

“I met him, I sensed his passion and energy and knowledge, and really was compelled to say if I’m ever going to take a professional risk this is the safest environment to take that risk,” Rabinowitz says. “He truly is a magician. (He is) just a connector, a facilitator, an energizer and an incredible mentor.”

As a medical director at UR, Rabinowitz knew how to make change happen. The ability to help an organization make positive changes was exciting, she says.

“I enjoyed committees—I was accepting of how change occurs in groups and could harness that effectively,” Rabinowitz says. “You have to figure out what’s good about an organization and harness that to change the things that you think are worthy of change.”

Rabinowitz continues to be a clinical professor of medicine. Now immersed in the business world, she has a team of adept business professionals to help her find her stride.

“I always had a little bit of a curiosity about how business worked,” Rabinowitz says. “There was a little bit of an entrepreneurial spirit in me, but I always was an employed physician and never ran my own practice. (I) didn’t think that medicine and money went well together. I never chose to be a medical entrepreneur but was always very curious about how these things happen.”

Cynthia Reddeck-LiDestri, wellness director at LiDestri Foods Inc. and an investor in EagleDream Health, has seen Rabinowitz in multiple roles, including physician, friend and colleague.

“Betty has been successful for a number of reasons,” Reddeck-LiDestri says. “She is an extremely intelligent and insightful physician who wants to make a difference in the world. She brings a physician perspective to medical analytics, which is rather unique since many of these kinds of systems have been developed by IT people who know their field but look at things very differently from the medical professionals who actually have to use the systems.

“I know that for Dr. Rabinowitz, failure is not an option.”

From her experience understanding how the mind impacts the body, Rabinowitz has learned that having a positive outlook in any situation is essential, especially in business, Rabinowitz says.

“Part of the secret to me (about life) is if you is if you have the ability to connect with what’s positive about whatever your reality is, that’s probably one of the biggest gifts you could have,” she says. “The gift is to think this is what I’ve got and you make the very most of it. It’s never not worked for me. You work your tail off if you want it badly.”

A challenge of creating software is making it user friendly. The team at EagleDream Technologies has been trying to focus on simplicity, Rabinowitz says.

“One of the most complicated tasks we have faced is making it simple,” Rabinowitz says. “If physicians and medical groups and care teams don’t use it, nothing else matters. It could be the best thing in the universe, but it has to be focused and relevant. You need to answer the questions people are struggling with on a daily basis. Otherwise don’t bother.”

The implications of success in the field of health care analytics could change the entire system in the future, leaders say. The technology is a conduit to have an impact on lives.

“This isn’t building another gizmo—all of those are worthy endeavors—but this is about the core of our being,” Rabinowitz says. “(It is) about allowing health care to function at a higher level, higher quality, at lower costs with more engaged happy patients.”

Off the job
When she’s off the clock Rabinowitz enjoys wood turning, the craft of bowl turning where a chunk of wood is attached to a lathe to shape it.

“I love discovering the grain of the wood, as it always is a beautiful surprise since no two pieces of wood are the same,” she says. “It also requires a level of concentration and focus that drowns out all other thoughts and as such is very meditative.”

She is also a strong advocate for animal welfare and supports Lollypop Farm, the Humane Society of Rochester and Monroe County PCA Inc.

Rabinowitz, who lives in Fairport, is enjoying the first year of a startup despite its ups and downs, she says. She is eager to see where the company will be in the next decade.

“I’m having a ball,” Rabinowitz says. “I’m fortunate to be with the people I am surrounded with here. We’re all bringing the best of what we do to this. I don’t think that with a team like we have … that there is a chance that we’re not successful. It can’t be that all of these talented people doing their best work won’t be successful.”

Betty Rabinowitz
Position: CEO and president, EagleDream Health Inc.
Age: 59
Education: M.D., Ben-Gurion University, Israel, 1983; residency in internal medicine, Ben-Gurion University, 1988; fellowship in medicine and psychiatry, University of Rochester, 1992
Family: Spouse, Leah
Residence: Fairport
Activities: Wood turning, protecting animal welfare
Quote: “Part of the secret to me (about life) is if you have the ability to connect with what’s positive about whatever your reality is, that’s probably one of the biggest gifts you could have. The gift is to think this is what I’ve got and you make the very most of it. It’s never not worked for me. You work your tail off if you want it badly.”
 

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