At Princeton Hospital, a surgeon makes her initial incision and does not like what she sees. Surgeons hate surprises. With scalpel poised, she calls for the file of the patient’s hernia operation from seven years ago. Within moments, the appropriate photos, documents, and videos all flow onto the overhead screen, in order. After brief study, the surgeon determines the growth is just normal scarring and she confidently, safely carries out her procedure. Guesswork averted.
Meanwhile, in a nearby office, an expert team of coders and billers are filing the expenses of this procedure with scalpel-edge precision. They hold in their hands all the patient’s previous conditions, coverages, and current treatments. They match these exactingly to all the latest Byzantine insurance medical coding slots. Thus, the surgeon, healthcare facility, and patient are more likely to get a fair financial shake. Guesswork averted.
Is it some new medical-technogadget? Not really. Just fine-tuned records management and retrieval that will save lives and dollars, and make the whole healthcare system run markedly more smoothly. This is exactly the type of field that could lure the attention of cautiously expert investor Keith Danko, CEO of Witherspoon Consulting Partners, based at 47 Hulfish Street..
And it’s what Donna Pizzulli’s Cybergistics LLC has been doing better for the last eight years. Their recent partnering, with Witherspoon taking a principal stake in Cybergistics, seems destined for mutual benefit.
Cybergistics earlier this month leased 10,000 square feet of warehouse and office space from Modern Recycled Space in the newly renovated Studio Park complex at 1800 East State Street in Hamilton. The company plans to outfit the facility over the next 90 days with an estimated move-in date on April 1.
“The Hamilton location is strategically positioned to cater to our current and future clients from central and southern New Jersey, as well as Pennsylvania,” says Pizzulli. “The space is conveniently located near several major highways, enabling us to provide highly responsive service to a wider geographic footprint.”
“We are excited to build upon our unparalleled track record at this new Hamilton location,” said Danko. “Hamilton will be an important complement to our existing warehouse and imaging center in Neptune, allowing us to provide even greater resources for our clients.”
When she founded the firm, Pizzulli, a veteran healthcare administrator, knew exactly what the system needed, and where the complex challenges of medical records lay.
Growing up in Asbury Park, Pizzulli felt the calling to be a nurse and entered D’Youville College in Buffalo. Yet her business proclivities took her to a degree in 1971, and a professional title as registered health administrator.
One of the few in this new profession, Pizzulli began her medical coding career at Hackensack Hospital. “The vacuum for trained healthcare administrators made us very well paid,” she says. “My father was a dry cleaner and when he saw my first check at age 21 he said ‘you’re making more than I do.’”
After a decade at Hackensack, Pizzulli took her talents abroad to the small Arab country of Qatar where she helped establish healthcare centers for that nation’s 200,000 people.
Returning to the United States, she served in various positions in the New Jersey Hospital Association, in Princeton. including senior vice-president. Her responsibilities at NJHA included the creation and management of a for-profit information services division, and leading the organization’s electronic medical record initiatives.
Pizzulli and her 20-person Cybergistics team stand poised and ready just as both records digitalization and medical coding face an exponential explosion. Medical coding is the immensely complex, but best-yet method of translating specific medical treatments into exact billable services. Every tape and tissue, MRI, tonsillectomy, consultation, overnight stay, as well as every exact type of illness to be treated gets its own coded number. One number for treating an inflamed appendix, another if it has gangrene, yet another if there is an infection.
Currently, medical coders use as their bible the latest version of International Classification of Diseases — ICD-9. This tome holds over 14,000 separate, specific codes for services. Sound like a lot? Well, the new ICD-10 which every medical provider will be required to use as of October, 2014, jumps to over 70,000 codes.
“This means that instead of selecting from three or four possibilities for a disease treatment, the coder will be selecting from eight or ten,” says Pizzulli. Everywhere medical treatments are expanding, but the largest engine pushing this change is orthopedics. Medical device manufacturers also nudge this proliferation. If a maker of a specific medical device, Pizzulli explains, can get a single billing code for his widget, it means more use, and more profits for his company.
To get paid, healthcare providers must find someone who can help them convert to, and employ accurately, the ICD-10 code and all its 70,000-plus choices. This makes Cybergistics’ business services federally mandated. That, along with the increasing shift to swiftly retrievable digitalized records, is forcing Pizzulli’s firm to face the very enviable challenge of client-overload. Enter Keith Danko.
Operating out of its small Hulfish Street offices, his Witherspoon Consulting Partners modestly markets itself as an advisor to small and medium-size businesses, and high-net-worth individuals.
While accurate, it represents a deceptively tiny tip of the fiscal-talent iceberg embodied by Danko and his lean team. When you come to Witherspoon Partners for advice, you will be dealing with some of Wall Street’s heavier heavyweight.
A Princeton-area native, Danko attended Saint Paul’s, then Lawrenceville School prior to attending Duke University, where he earned a bachelor’s in economics and English in 1981. After obtaining a Harvard MBA, Danko took to markets abroad, handling marketing for Egyptian American Standard in Cairo, and then heading mortgage securities trading in London as an executive director for Goldman Sachs.
Serving as CEO and CIO for ACAM Advisors, he managed and created new diversified hedge funds which led to that firm’s 900 percent increase in equity value during his six-year tenure. He also served as the CEO for the U.S. division of the global investment giant CQS.
Along the way, Danko’ entrepreneurial spirit led him to found Minisink Partners and Tachyon Systems, creator of the FalconEye.com method of financial market data delivery. Today, via his latest venture, Witherspoon Partners, Danko still keeps his hand in hedge funds as senior advisor to JPark Capital.
Larry Bell, Danko’s partner in Witherspoon, holds an equally broad-based Wall Street and entrepreneurial resume, which ranges from managing funds for MPM, Lehman Brothers, and Paine Webber, to acquiring Stony Brook Lightning Rods.
For Danko, all engines of business growth are powered by the right process. “Look at the great sports coaches,” says Danko. “For each situation they had a process — a series of automatic plays that proved themselves and drove their team forward. That’s what our clients get from us. We put that right process in place and it builds equity in the company.”
For Cybergistics, Danko and Pizzulli have several right and new processes in mind. First is an expansion of the company’s coding team. “This is not easy,” says Pizzulli. “It’s tedious, but very exacting work. Make a mistake and someone can end up in jail for fraud. The people graduating from school today have not been educated for long hours of intense, exacting work. Coders are tough to find.”
While Pizzulli works at the business, Danko intends to work on it. He will use his considerable marketing skills to bring aboard new clients. He sees this kind of top-level records retrieval, storage, and management as a service that can reach far beyond the medical field. Cybergistics’ already burgeoning growth was what set Danko to searching out the new storage and office facility in the Princeton area.
Danko insists that this major investment and hands-on management of Cybergistics is not really a departure. While he personally and financially is far more involved with this company than any of Witherspoon’s regular clients, the skills of setting up those profit-bearing processes remain the same. Besides, it is always nice to work with someone who is as highly capable in her field as you are at yours.
Witherspoon Consulting Partners LLC, 47 Hulfish Street, Suite 505A, Princeton 08542; 917-515-0889. Keith Danko, CEO. www.witherspoonpartners.com.
Cybergistics, 3535 Route 66, Building 2, Neptune 07753; 732-918-6100, fax: 732-918-1661. Donna Pizzulli, COO. www.cybergistics.com