Valdosta Daily Times

Business

August 25, 2013

Azalea Health Innovations recognized, awarded for success

VALDOSTA — For the last five years, Azalea Health Innovations has seen the kind of growth of which start-ups dream.

Starting in 2008 with just four employees, co-founders Baha Zeidan, Dan Henry and Doug Swords, along with Mark Poole who still works with them, now employ 42 people throughout their main office in Valdosta and small satellite offices in Macon and Savannah. That growth has seen them move from a small corner of downtown’s Shared Office Space to occupying two floors of the current building downtown.

That growth hasn’t gone ignored. This past week, Azalea Health was honored with the Small Business Rock Stars Award by a competition conducted jointly by the Georgia Department of Economic Development and the Georgia Economic Developers Association. Made to recognize “outstanding, unique and impactful small businesses throughout the state,” it was awarded to six small businesses throughout Georgia.

Azalea Health Innovations has also been recognized nationwide, making Inc. Magazine’s recent 500|5000 list, which highlights privately owned businesses across the country. Coming in at number 1,365 for the country and 51 for the state of Georgia, this national recognition accentuates how far the company has come.

It’s a company born out of frustration. Co-founders Zeidan, Henry and Swords were working together at a medical office. They saw first hand how frustrating it could be getting information from and to doctors’ offices. With most patient records still hand-written, transferring and obtaining information about patients was a lengthy and time-consuming task.

Henry and Zeidan went through Valdosta State University’s computer science program, and along with Swords, a graduate from VSU’s business school, started kicking around the idea of designing a program, a piece of software that would be user-friendly and efficient, allowing doctors to keep and quickly retrieve patient records.

“We saw that there was a vast need for IT in health care,” said Henry, who serves as the company’s chief information officer. “The banking industry went through a technological revolution in the ’80s. Fast-forward to 2010, if I got in a car wreck in Atlanta, they’d have no idea about my medical history. There is a vast void in information.”

The journey from kicking around an idea to implementing it was helped by the local community. They entered into the Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce’s business plan competition, sponsored at the time by Guardian Bank. After a year of business planning, they won the competition and the start-up prize money that came with it. They used the money as leverage for a $100,000 loan and opened their doors.

“We’ve had a lot of help along with the way,” said Henry.

Along with the chamber, the three co-founders utilized the local SEEDS Business Resource Center and the Small Business Development Center at VSU.

“We turned a profit in 2010 and we’ve been profitable ever since,” said Swords, who serves as the chief financial officer.

Azalea Health offers software and services to medical offices, giving them easy-to-use software to streamline their operations. It’s a fiercely competitive market, running from small start-ups like Azalea to companies worth a billion dollars.

While there was already a market for electronic health records, 2009 saw the federal government make a big push for it, with Medicare enacting Meaningful Use Measures to encourage doctors’ offices to commit to using certified software for electronic records.

“We knew going into it that we’ve got big-time competition,” said Henry. “We had to come up with our edge, which is the service we provide and super simple to use software. Our customers embraced it.”

“We’ve been successful focusing on the rural areas,” said Swords. “Even though the competition is steep, they’re not being looked at as closely. We’ve been able to grow larger and get into bigger markets, but we really cut our teeth in rural markets.”

Which isn’t to say that they don’t still have smaller, more rural clients. Azalea’s client list extends from single provider practices to large, privately owned hospital systems.

With their browser-based software, a doctor can carry a tablet from patient to patient, cutting out all of the clutter and storage of paper records.

Since opening, the market has expanded, from just one or two clients to a client base that stretches south to Miami, west to Missouri and north to New Jersey.

“We’re primarily in the Southeast, but the software can be utilized anywhere in the country,” said Swords.

Their services have expanded as well.

Starting out with the idea of allowing doctors to easily keep electronic records, their software, along with the service Azalea Health offers, can take care of much of the red tape involved in running a doctor’s office.

“The ultimate goal is to make the doctor’s life easier. We’ll help the doctors file medical claims, do revenue cycle management, host the software.”

By clearing out all of the red tape, Azalea Health helps doctors spend more time, well, doctoring.

“At the end of the day, when you turn around and look backwards over what has been accomplished so far, it’s very humbling and overwhelming at the same time. We take a lot of pride in what we do.”

“It lets doctors see more patients, be more accurate, more efficient,” said Swords. “That’s the ultimate goal.”

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