Logo: University of Southern California

A Breakthrough in Healthcare Technology

Empath, a company spawned by HTE@USC, is an exciting new mobile application that solves the healthcare need for faster patient feedback.
By: Samantha Romero
January 09, 2015 —

Empath.io team Hugh Gordon, left, Victoria Scala, middle, Jared Goodner, right, and advisors Dr. George Tolomiczenko, upper left, and Dr. Terence Sanger, upper right, reviewing the data set that resulted from the first Empath.io implementation at Keck Hospital of USC on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014.

For decades hospitals have been plagued by the mundane task of compiling patient feedback data through paper surveys. The information is vital for hospitals to increase patient satisfaction by improving operations.

Tech entrepreneur Prashant Samant and former USC Viterbi students Jared Goodner and Hugh Gordon believe they have found a better solution for gathering such data. The innovative team has created Empath, a mobile application that allows healthcare organizations to receive immediate customer feedback, allowing them to improve every aspect of the patient experience.

“It helps because it allows us to respond to patients in real time and that means so much to them because it allows them to be heard,” said Josh Lee Chief Information Officer of USC Keck Hospital, which now uses the software.

Empath is possibly the most successful company to come out of the Health, Technology and Engineering at USC (HTE@USC). HTE, a one-of-a-kind interdisciplinary program, brings together doctoral students from USC Viterbi and Keck School medical students for up to four years with the goal of bringing to market a medical device or other products to improve healthcare.

How does Empath work? The process is simple. First, a hospital concierge asks patients to participate in a survey and enter their registration information via tablet. Empath then automatically sends three surveys to the patient’s mobile device. When they complete the form, the data is immediately processed and received by the hospital administrator.

Since the launch of the first pilot with USC Keck Hospital on July 21, the founders said they have received promising patient feedback data. For example, typical hospital surveys receive response rates of about 15 percent, according to the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAAPS). By contrast, Empath registers 60 percent rates.

“Before Empath what they had was a survey that has a whole bunch of yes and no answers with very little information about who is providing those answers,” said Goodner. “With Empath you have more responses from a greater number of patients, a larger percentage of the patient population and you also have information about who is responding in those ways.” 

One of the more difficult problems that the team faced while creating Empath was the regulatory exhausting process of Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPAA) compliances.

“A lot of Empath requires a lot of analysis of patient data,” said Samant. “We can develop all the algorithms that we want in our head but unless were able to test them quickly we have no idea if they work or not.”

In response to this challenge, the Empath entrepreneurs collaborated with USC Keck Hospital and HTE@USC to create a healthcare IT accelerating program known as the D-Health Lab.

D-Health Lab connects entrepreneurs to a mentor network that ranges from patients to clinicians to technology experts throughout USC. It provides a HIPPA compliant prototyping environment that allows innovators to use patient data in a safe and secure way while testing Health IT products.

Empath co-founder Samant said the most exciting part in the company’s creation was being able to build the app because of the D-Health Lab. Goodner and his team were able to take their health IT solution from concept to pilot within six months as opposed to what typically takes 12-18 months to accomplish, they said.

However, Empath is only one piece to the larger puzzle of healthcare IT. The application’s success also demonstrates the D-Health Lab’s capability to dramatically improve the healthcare system as a whole through IT innovation. The team said they envision the D-Health Lab environment being scaled from USC Keck to hospitals across the United States.

“Health IT and IT innovation particularly around data is widely considered to be the silver bullet in reducing costs and increasing access to healthcare,” said Samant. “It is the number one thing we can do to make our entire health care system more efficient.”