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  • Al Kinel President
  • Brett Kinsler Partner
  • Mark-Muthig-Partner
  • strategic

    • Founded: 2009
    • Total Employees: 18
    • Years on List: 1
    • Last Year’s Rank:

Strategic Interests: leading the way in health information

Helping hospitals and other health care providers share information with each other and their patients is a paradigm shift that takes years. Rochester has been at the national forefront of this transition, which makes Al Kinel proud.

As the president of Strategic Interests LLC, Kinel has spent the last eight years helping healthcare stakeholders connect with each other and leverage government funds to help them make the transition to universally accessible health care records.

Strategic Interests specializes in deploying and using these systems, known as health information exchanges, and other digital health systems.

It is satisfying to see customers save money, he says, but it’s even more rewarding to see patients’ health improve. Kinel gives the example of a project his firm did with Unity Hospital to improve care for 3,000 patients with diabetes. Strategic Interests led the effort to implement and connect electronic medical records system so physicians could have a complete view of patients’ conditions and medical histories.

“Then we helped Unity deploy analytics to identify the gaps in care for those patients and protocols and tools to help those patients get better care,” Kinel says. “Unity demonstrated a 15 percent decrease in the number of patients with a hemoglobin A1C greater than nine.”

That test is a three-month measure of glucose levels in the blood. Patients with measures greater than nine are the sickest of sick, Kinel says. They are patients who oftentimes require numerous emergency room visits, hospitalizations and sometimes amputations.

Working for Unity gave Strategic Interests momentum after a project with Xerox Corp. fell through in 2010. Kinel had worked at Xerox for nearly a decade before taking a position at Carestream, a health imaging and IT company. At Carestream, Kinel developed expertise in health care information systems. Kinel started his consulting firm at the end of 2009 and was relying on a health care project for Xerox to round out the other three accounts he had signed.

“I thought Xerox was all set. They loved my proposal. I’m waiting and waiting, and all of a sudden I see in the newspaper, ‘Xerox has bought ACS (Affiliated Computer Services Inc.)’ They now had 2,000 health care consultants. They didn’t need me, but they didn’t tell me. I was nervous then — there was a month or two where I thought I had really made a mistake,” Kinel remembers.

It was then that he landed a project with Unity Health System, where he helped secure a $6.5 million grant from New York State to fund the adoption of new technology to improve health in the general population. “That’s when the business took off,” he says.

At the time, funding at the state and federal level for health care technology was increasing; Kinel by that time had the experience to bring it to the region. He started conversations with community leaders in 2004 and led an effort to bring $4.5 million for healthcare innovation to Rochester during his time as Carestream’s vice president of corporate and government health.

He volunteered to start a regional health information organization, or RHIO, which is the backbone of health information sharing.

“I served as the catalyst to bring the leaders of Excellus, MVP, the hospitals, employers and the Rochester Health Commission together to get them talking about the issues and the opportunity. We then did a feasibility study and applied to the state to get the money.”

Since then, Kinel and his team have developed a knack for getting people to rethink their practices. It is what consultants do, and it’s one thing Kinel says he always has loved about the profession, in addition to the variety and the challenge of it.

“We’re good at bringing people together to have the hard conversations. To say, ‘How can we change things to improve care and lower costs?’ ”

There are 16 staffers at Strategic Interests — two are partners, three are employees, and the rest are independent consultants.

Since founding the firm eight years ago, Kinel says people now see the advantages of health information exchanges for patient health as well as providers and insurers’ bottom line.

In 2017, a study by researchers at the University of Notre Dame found that health information exchanges nationwide could save Medicare $3 billion a year, which translates to $139 in annual savings per Medicare patient.

From Kinel’s view of the last eight years in health care technology, he says there have been three layers to the transformation.

First was the effort to put in electronic medical records systems in the hospitals and doctor’s offices. Second, he says, is the effort to connect those systems to provide a total view of patients regardless of where they had been seen. Now, the focus is to use information about patients’ social needs to identify gaps in care and fill those gaps using engagement strategies and technologies.

“We should be proud of New York,” Kinel notes. “The state has invested a lot of money in putting the connections between the RHIOs (regional health information organizations) across the state,” Kinel says. “Those RHIOs are connected to each other so we can get information about a patient from Rochester in New York City. It’s still getting better. It’s not perfect, but it’s far ahead of most parts of the country.”