How Ribbon’s value-driven tech philosophy helps patients find care

Nate Fox
January 24, 2022

It takes more than blunt engineering force to solve a daunting data challenge

How do you solve a problem like bad doctor data? It turns out, it’s not so simple!

Behind the scenes, the healthcare industry relies heavily on provider (i.e., doctor) and facility data. The problem is, that data is fragmented across all kinds of sources, leading to a ton of noise. In fact, up to 50 percent of doctor data is inaccurate—an outrageous figure but one that is not surprising to patients who encounter this firsthand. The data noise is so great that it’s common for us at Ribbon to see hundreds of possible locations and phone numbers across many sources for a single provider.

Patients are consequently forced to contend with confusing and conflicting information when searching for care.  Ultimately, this bad data delays care, burdens patients with unexpected, sometimes crippling medical costs, and creates billions in waste annually.

To match the scope of the problem, we created a dynamic API data platform.  As we began building this software, we learned early on that blunt engineering force alone doesn’t cut it. This led us to develop a tech philosophy to help guide us as we scale and tackle an increasing number of daunting challenges.

As Ribbon’s CTO and co-founder, I’m excited to share what this tech philosophy means in practice within our quickly growing technology in healthcare organization. I believe it helps ensure our engineers, data scientists, and product managers are continually empowered to build robust and forward-looking data infrastructure for the healthcare industry.

Ribbon’s Tech Philosophy

Because the stakes are so high, the engineers we hire must have a strong technical background or aptitude to solve hard problems. However, it’s Ribbon’s tech philosophy—and a prospective engineer’s alignment to it—that makes me especially optimistic about our ability to play a role in what Julie Yoo, a16z partner and Ribbon board member, calls the great unlock in technology in healthcare underway.

Our tech philosophy is anchored to the following four pillars:

  1. Values Alignment: We are a values-driven company—and we mean it. Our values are front and center in everything we do. We care just as much about hiring for alignment with our values as we care about hiring for technical aptitude. This translates into a tech organization full of collaborative and empathetic individuals who are deeply motivated to solve hard problems together.
  2. Critical Infrastructure: We are committed to building a product that becomes known as critical infrastructure for healthcare companies everywhere, as we believe this can power needed change across the industry. But in the immortal words of Uncle Ben of Spider-Man, we remind ourselves that “with great power comes great responsibility.” If our API goes down or we launch a new feature without supporting backwards compatibility, numerous healthcare applications that intend to help patients would be at risk of breaking. We believe that technologists who embrace this responsibility fuel Ribbon’s progress toward realizing our industry-wide infrastructure vision.
  3. Technical Growth: Our default is trusting individuals and investing in their technical onboarding so that it’s possible for a new PM or data scientist to launch an entirely new product in a matter of months, not quarters. To safeguard this autonomy and agency, we invest in systems that enable teams to ship their products with speed and as little interference as possible. Working on technology like Ribbon’s exposes individuals to a wide surface area of problems that provide the freedom not only to ship fast but also to learn fast. We want our people to grow with us—or even eventually beyond us if that’s their goal!
  4. Intentional Innovation: We love working in a field where new innovations are constant and can offer game-changing promise. Our engineers routinely evaluate new technologies and make sure that any upgrade or change we make truly advances our mission. Know an interesting way to use blockchain? We’re all ears! But when we vet new tech in terms of how it can improve circumstances for everyone in healthcare, most especially patients, we ensure that we’re innovating with intention and choosing the best technology to do so.
From Philosophy to Practice

The work to push healthcare forward is fun, inspiring, and hard all at once. Our philosophy in practice helps create an environment where engineers can simplify the complex and tackle really big challenges. The team’s creativity and commitment to solving hard problems have empowered them to:

  • Build a dynamic API with flexible endpoints that can plug into a multitude of use cases. In order to build impactful infrastructure, our technology needs the flexibility to be relevant to the wide variety of use cases across the many healthcare stakeholders we serve. Our team has built an API that powers apps where users can: do highly targeted doctor searches based on conditions and preferences; conduct searches filtered through specialties or insurance plans to find doctors or facilities recommendations; and flexibly edit the JSON to add a new data field to handle their specific use case.
  • Leverage data engineering and machine learning to find signals in a sea of noise. Put bluntly, healthcare data has historically been in a state of chaos. Where others saw an insurmountable mess, we saw an opportunity to roll up our sleeves and embrace the value we could create as data plumbers and innovate intentionally. Our engineers employ data engineering creatively to handle thousands of data sources and schemas at scale. Once we normalize all of this data, we separate right from wrong. This is where we use a range of machine learning techniques not only to identify truth but also to add new signals based on emerging trends, such as which doctors offer telehealth via the analysis of claims data.
  • Create a connective fabric for healthcare data that drives network effects. As we partnered with customers who had their own data sets, we saw an opportunity to integrate them with ours. Weaving fragmented data together allows us to become a single source of truth for our customers—and a solution that can free our customers to focus on their missions instead of complex data challenges. Not only does this capability solve complex data management challenges across numerous sources, but it also allows Ribbon’s data platform and customers to benefit from network effects that matter. The more Ribbon grows and the more customers use our platform, the more intelligent and comprehensive our data becomes.
We’re Growing Our Team to Meet Growing Demand

It’s a thrilling time to be part of Ribbon Health. Over the course of the next year, we intend to more than triple our tech team across engineers, data scientists, and product managers!

Demand for our technology will only continue to grow. New and accelerating healthcare innovation and the industry’s move toward better and more accessible care are putting unprecedented pressure on provider data. A more efficient healthcare industry that can deliver high-quality, affordable, and timely care to all patients relies on this data being accurate.

Our tech philosophy makes it possible for all of us at Ribbon to rise to this challenge and meet demand with an ever-evolving API data platform capable of fitting into current and future use cases. Stay tuned for more insights into the numerous ways our technology is improving healthcare.

Interested in our tech philosophy and helping us solve hard problems that drive positive impact? Or know someone who might be a good fit? We’d love to hear from you!

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At Ribbon, our mission is to simplify healthcare