|20 Years of Data Conversion: Two Point and Phil Lisitza’s Story||| Print ||
Two Point Conversions is celebrating 20 years of providing data conversion and archiving services to pharmacies. In this interview company founder Phil Lisitza talks with ComputerTalk's Will Lockwood about how he got started, what data conversion has meant to pharmacists looking to deploy the best technology - including his father, and the changes he's seen in technology over the years.
This map, last updated over 10 years ago, shows sites of Two Point's data conversions across the United States.
CT: Phil, first, congratulations on 20 years. That’s quite an accomplishment. Tell us how you got into doing data conversion and why you chose to do it for pharmacies.
Lisitza: The way I got started was that my dad was a pharmacists. He bought a computer in the late ‘70s. He was one of the first guys with a computer. And so as a seven year old, I’d go with a my dad in the evenings to a place downtown where he had time on a mainframe that he used to run reports and that sort of thing. He’d put me in a room and gave me a login to one of the terminals and I basically taught myself. It was fun. But I didn’t end up going to school to study pharmacy or even computer science.
CT: What’s your academic background then?
Lisitza: I wanted to be a doctor and studied chemistry and then went to grad school for cellular physiology. I was still interested in computers this whole time and still playing around with them.
So, when I was in graduate school my dad, who still had his old computer he’d bought when I was seven, decided to get a new system. The vendor told him there wasn’t anyway to move the data off the old system and on to the new one. They told my dad that he’d just have to manually enter it. He said, “Phil, that can’t be. Can you do something for me?”
I’d done tech support for him, essentially as a hobby, so I knew the operating system well and could help him restore from backup and do maintenance.
CT: And so your first customer was your dad?
Lisitza: Yes. I figured out how to do it the conversion as a favor to my dad, while I was still working in a lab as a grad student. I worked it during lunch and at night. And I got it to work.
And then the vendor said, “That was cool, do you want to do it again?” I said, “Sure.” By then my research grant had come to and end, I’d done three or four conversions, and there was a 20-store chain that was interested. I decided to quit graduate school and do conversions long enough to be able to go back to school without loans.
CT: But that has happened yet, right?
Lisitza: Right, the demand never slowed down. Once other pharmacy system vendors heard that you could actually do this, convert data, it removed this enormous barrier to making a sale. Remember that at that time there wasn’t supposed to be a way to do this.
CT: You’ve seen some tremendous changes in technology over the last 20 years. Give us some of the history.
Lisitz: Well, to start, you have to consider that in those days we couldn’t do any real volume. The Internet wasn’t an option and there wasn’t even a 9600-baud modem. We were talking about 1200- and 2400-baud modems. If you do the math, the average store meant days of downloading, which meant that you’d never be current.
So what we did instead was we’d get laptops and lock ourselves in the store overnight to dump the data from a local serial port. We’d run the conversion on the laptop, output the data to floppies and load those into the new system. We’d show up at 7 at night, set up, and they’d lock us in.
CT: What did a laptop look like back then?
Lisitza: Laptop is a bit of misnomer for what we had then. The first one had an amber screen, an integrated printer, and it was huge. It must have weighed 45 pounds.
CT: I’m sure that’s a piece of hardware you don’t miss. How have things changed?
Lisitza: The ability to download data improved as baud rates went up, but it’s really high-speed Internet that has made the biggest difference. Phone bills and shipping used to be two of our major costs. When were much smaller we’d run tens of thousands of dollars a month in FedEx and long distance. Having six computers lined up long distance all weekend pulling data, that added up. And then something could happen to the connection and we’d have to start all over again.
We’ve always been early adopters of the highest speed connections available, because it has always made sense for us to be on the leading edge. Connectivity has improved tremendously, of course, to the point that what used to take eight to twelve hours to run, for example, now takes eight to twelve seconds. Improvements in processor speeds have also made a huge difference.
CT: So modern high-speed hardware and the Internet are saving you huge amounts of time. Has this opened up new opportunities?
Lisitza: Yes. Now the time we spend isn’t sitting and watching data come in. Instead, we do more QA work, we do more talking to people. We are spending more time verifying the data, make sure there’s quality control.
We look at a conversion now as a chance to make sure the data is clean and that we’re doing what we can to customize it.
CT: Tell us more about customization. What’s that entail?
Lisitza: We want to know if the customer is doing anything different. Are they adding a character into a field to make up for deficit in the old system or maybe using a field to collect a piece of data different than what was intended? We want to know how we can take what might be a cobbled together system and build it the right way for the new system.
We do a lot of cleanup too. For example, someone might not have been able to have multiple IDs for doctors, so they create the same guy for each insurance plan they bill to. We can consolidate those. We can merge and cleanup patient files. And for a chain, where you may be converting from 100 individual databases, getting cleaned, consolidated data in a conversion is absolutely critical. Making one, consolidated enterprise view of patients and prescribers is pretty compelling for a chain.
CT: There must be some real challenges here.
Lisitza: It is pretty technically challenging to do it well. One thing you have to realize is that it’s not your match rate, it’s your mismatch rate that’s important. To never make a mistake, and to get that to run in a reasonable amount of time, it’s all pretty challenging.
CT: You are handling very sensitive data when you do conversion – patient data and business critical operational data. This must be a big responsibility.
Lisitza: We were very serious about data security and privacy long before there was HIPAA, particularly from a computer security perspective. We were really early on the Internet, so we built our own firewalls early on to protect our systems and the data we were handling.
It’s gotten to a point where we have a person whose sole job is to read the regulations, understand them, and do risk assessments. We educate our clients and we are constantly having meetings to make sure our staff is up to date. Particularly with the HITECH act, we’ve been meeting to make sure we are all current on the regulations.
CT: Phil, thanks, it’s been a very interesting conversation. Best of luck for the next 20 years.