Movers & Shakers interviewee with Julie A. Shimer, Ph.D. President and CEO of Vocera Communications

Published: 12 Nov 2004

Julie A. Shimer joined Vocera Communications, a wireless voice communications company, as president and CEO in September 2001 to lead its experienced team of professionals in creating the Vocera Communications System. The system consists of Vocera System Software and the Vocera Communications Badge, which operates over an 802.11b wireless LAN. The lightweight, wearable badge enables instant, hands-free voice communications. 

Julie A. Shimer Ph.D.
Since the system’s introduction in September 2002, the system has been worn and used daily by thousands of mobile workers employed in hospitals, retail facilities, warehouses, and libraries to save time and improve productivity every day.  Dr. Shimer recently led the company through its mezzanine round of funding, which will allow it to strengthen its infrastructure as it grows and expands into new markets.  Prior to joining Vocera, Dr. Shimer served as vice president and general manager of the Residential Connectivity Group at 3Com Corporation.  From 1993–1999, she held various executive level positions at Motorola managing their paging products and services including her position as corporate vice president and general manager of Smart and Connected Products, headquartered in Boynton Beach, Fla. She also served as a member on the company’s Science Advisory Board and, in 1998, was elected by the board as a corporate officer of the company.  Her extensive technological and managerial experience also includes positions at AT&T Bell Laboratories’ Silicon Technology Development Laboratory and Bethlehem Steel.

Dr. Shimer is a senior member of the IEEE and a member of Sigma Xi. She is a senior member of the Society of Women Engineers and was a charter member of the Lehigh Valley Section. She served on the National Medal of Technology nomination evaluation committee, has authored more than 10 technical papers, and holds a U.S. patent. She also is vice-chair of MentorNet, the online mentoring community designed to mentor women in the fields of engineering and science. In January 1999, Julie was nominated by Wireless Week magazine as one of the most influential women in business.  Dr. Shimer lives in Silicon Valley with her husband, Jary. They are private pilots who own a single-engine airplane, and Dr. Shimer is a member of the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of women pilots.

What are some of Vocera’s key highlights and benchmarks achieved since the firm’s inception?

Dr. Julie Shimer: We were founded in 2000, and we’ve created a product and user experience that’s new to the world.  Our most significant benchmark was the initial shipment of our product in October 2002.  Subsequent to the initial shipment, we have gained more than 120 customers, with thousands of users, primarily in healthcare.  We are changing and shaping the way people communicate at work and having a really positive and measurable impact on workflow in hospitals. 

In addition to gaining customers, the ability to actually demonstrate real productivity enhancements and patient satisfaction improvement is also a milestone.  This was represented by a benefits study First Consulting Group conducted for us in St. Agnes hospital in Baltimore.  They were able to compare two very similar nursing units, one without Vocera and one with Vocera. The unit with Vocera demonstrated 15 percent productivity enhancement in terms of time saved by the nurses. This means the nurses saved the time they used to spend looking for the person they needed to speak with and replaced this with more time spent delivering patient care. 

The other significant benefit besides productivity has been the reduction of overhead paging noise.  This has been particularly interesting to our customers working in Pediatric Intensive Care Units.  Here studies have shown that a child’s inability to get a good nights rest affects their ability to recover.  Thus, providers within those units are trying hard to drive down noise within those environments.  At St. Agnes, we were able to show a 94% reduction in overhead paging.              

Frost & Sullivan: Selling technology into the healthcare industry is no easy task today.  Even as interest continues to garner for wireless communications amongst healthcare facilities, line itemed budgets still lag behind.  What best describes Vocera’s value proposition when deploying into the clinical space?

Dr. Julie Shimer: There are several issues that are front of mind to healthcare today.  One is the nursing shortage, which is worldwide.  Another is the focus on improving the quality of patient care.  Based on studies that we have conducted, similar to the St. Agnes study, we can clearly demonstrate a nursing satisfaction benefit.  The hospital may look at it from the standpoint that they are improving the productivity of nurses, which typically means that they can support more beds.  From a nursing perspective, it means more face time with patients, which any nurse would prefer as opposed to running around the hospital tracking individuals down.  Wherever we have done nursing satisfaction surveys, we’ve seen an improvement in the satisfaction of nurses, as well as an increase in patient satisfaction.  That is important for hospitals. 

All hospitals state that there is tremendous value in delivering patient care while addressing communication needs without leaving the bedside.  So if you want to talk about what is at the very kernel of the Vocera value proposition, particularly relevant to hospitals, it is the ability to make or receive a call without stopping what one is currently doing.   If a caregiver is in a situation where there is a need to support a patient at the bedside, and a need to call out for additional help, there is no better way to do that than Vocera. 

Vocera was recently awarded $6 million in funding equating a total of $37.3 million in capital investment to date.  How does the firm plan to leverage this latest investment to further progress their technology’s capability for healthcare?

This money is earmarked for two purposes.  One is to start developing vertical markets, outside of healthcare.  The other is to make a move into other English speaking parts of the world.  Particularly, we are planning a thrust into the U.K. next year. 

Frost & Sullivan: Greater emphasis today is being put on wireless IT initiatives in remote and homecare fronts, as a solution to spikes in chronic illness and a need for continuous care.  How do you see voice technology playing into these applications?  Has Vocera currently incorporated or plan to adapt their technology to meet these needs?

Dr. Julie Shimer: Today we do not utilize Vocera functionality outside the hospital or campus environment, or in other words, we do not put a badge on a patient at home.  Having the Vocera system however, does have direct benefits for providing care to people in the home.  For example, many patients today that are homebound have a need to monitor their blood chemistries continually.  The ability for a patient to call into a healthcare facility that has Vocera enables that patient to directly come in contact with a particular laboratory technician or case manager, without having to navigate the phone tree.  In instances where a patient’s measurements may fall outside specific specifications or has an urgent healthcare query and needs direct access to their provider, the individual can get right to the badge, provided Vocera is in utilization and the provider extends access.  Though we are not looking at putting the badge in the home right now, it may certainly be something we consider in the horizon. 

Frost & Sullivan: As Vocera’s technology continues to evolve and incorporates greater numbers of users within hospitals and clinics, what steps has the company taken to ensure functionality within a secure environment for clinicians and patients alike?

Dr. Julie Shimer: This is clearly an important issue everywhere, and particularly in healthcare with a requirement for information security.  There are a couple of things that we do, and I will address them from the technology, network side and HIPAA perspectives.

From the technology perspective, what is most important is to have secure wireless networks.  We make sure our system and our clients can actually run in a variety of security environments.  We are an application, and the application is only as secure as the infrastructure it rides on.  As security protocols evolve over time, we ensure that we support them.  We support VLAN, dynamic WEP key encryption, TKIP, Cisco LEAP, and plan to support the new WPA standard in our next release.  Because we are an application and can only control that aspect of it, our goal is to make sure that we ride on secure networks.  .

The second piece of application security is the application itself.  We compress the voice communication using a proprietary codec.  Even if you were able to break into the network, and “sniff the bits”, you would not be able to decode the conversation.  We have a high level of application security and we support a variety of application security options.

In terms of the way it is actually used in the healthcare environment, we have created a best practices HIPAA guide for deploying Vocera, which we offer to our customers.  When you really think about it, HIPAA is about workflow practices.  It is training people to make sure that they protect information.  In terms of data, you have to ensure that people are careful in regards to how they enter data and make sure passwords are not shared.  Also, all hospitals have HIPAA requirements for voice communications; we just created assist hospitals in creating one for Vocera.  Typically the guidelines for using a Vocera badge would be the same as if you were speaking to someone face to face.  If there is a need for a more secure conversation, we support the use of a headset, which some hospitals choose to use within various environments.  Then you can follow the guidelines for telephone security, because you can only hear one side of the conversation.  The point is, the application does not introduce a new case.  It is one of two existing cases, and you have to make sure that people are aware that when they are calling on a Vocera badge, someone standing nearby can hear both sides of the conversation.       

Frost & Sullivan: Where do you see Vocera’s place in the healthcare industry ten years from now?

Dr. Julie Shimer: That’s a great question, and we love to think that Vocera will be the ubiquitous communication tool in healthcare.  When you think about that, it has very significant implications for the future of healthcare.  Today, with pre-Vocera thinking, if a person is designing a hospital building, a key architectural mandate is to improve communication flow.  This is why you see buildings with a nursing unit desk, or nurse clerk sitting in the center of a hub, with multiple hallways extending out.  The reason for this configuration is the difficulty in reaching a nurse on the floor.  Thus, the nurse clerk has to have the ability to see down those hallways, and quickly locate a nurse when needed. 

With Vocera, it is no longer necessary to see an individual or have a phone number to reach them; you just push a button and say their name or function.  Hence, there is no need to design a hospital around communication alone.  This allows the architect to design the hospital to capitalize on other workflow efficiencies, such as movement of equipment, personnel, or even a therapeutic priority.  There are already hospitals being built, that are considering Vocera, and considering the impact Vocera will have on the way they build their hospital.  I think over time you are going to see the whole shape of healthcare literally change, because it is now possible to reach someone with just the touch of a button.  We really think that when people fully realize the potential of the workflow optimization achieved with using Vocera, many things will positively change in the hospital.  We are working with a number of customers and partners who see this potential, so I think it will be quite remarkable.  People will look back and say, “Wow, Vocera really changed a lot.”

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