HealthConnect.Link Making A Difference Today, and Tomorrow

Originally published in Edgewood College Magazine (Fall 2017)

What was to become “a real passion” for Kevin Dwyer ’16, MBA ’17 has its origins three years ago, when his wife Emily began a family medicine residency program in Madison.

“Neither of us were really prepared for just how challenging it was going to be for her to not only manage learning the medicine, but also working with very complex situations with low-income patients.”

Complexity is nothing new for Dwyer, who works for a Sauk County engineering firm that serves both private industry and the U.S. Department of Defense. He doesn’t talk much about his “day job.” His passion is HealthConnect.Link, an online resource that Dwyer hopes will change health care, social services, and ultimately the world.

When they weren’t working, Dwyer says, Emily and her colleagues would share stories about their challenges with providing referrals for these low-income patients.

“There was one story in particular,” he remembers. “A homeless man tried to donate some plasma so he could earn some money, but he was rejected because he had high blood pressure. Fortunately for him he is on Badger Care (a health care coverage program for low-income Wisconsin residents) so he can go to the clinic for free. So he got a prescription for hypertension, but without any income he didn’t have the four dollars needed to go to the pharmacy to fill and pay for the prescription.”

“I found out some months later that someone in the clinic had ‘dropped four dollars on the floor’ for him. That’s when I really started to do the research for what would become HealthConnect.Link,” Dwyer says.

HealthConnect.Link, he says, is truly an Edgewood College project.

“When I first started I received support from (School of Business faculty member) Mark Chock, who teaches Marketing. He then put me in touch with (faculty member) Mark Barnard, who put me in touch with (former Dean of the School of Business) Marty Preizler. Raj Kamal (faculty member) has been integral in this project. There have been so many from Edgewood College who have contributed – I literally lose track.”

Pursuing the research as part of the coursework in the MBA program in the School of Business, Dwyer found that between 40 to 47 percent of low-income people say they rely on a physician as a primary source of information for referrals to community resources. Importantly, however, almost one-third of those same people use the internet as their primary source of information.

HealthConnect.Link, he says, tries to address the ‘information gap’ that exists currently between the people who need support services and the people they depend on – health care professionals, and the support services in the community.

“I figured if we can bridge that gap with a technology-based solution, that meets the needs of doctors so it can fit within the clinic workflow, so they actually want to use it to help their patients, then there’s a tremendous opportunity to reach a lot of people and help them get the help they need.”

Applying for a grant available to support getting HealthConnect.Link launched led him to reach out to Christina Bell BSN ’84, MSN ’05, DNP ’17. Bell served as one of the speakers at the May Commencement ceremony, and used the occasion to single out fellow graduate Dwyer.

“As I look out into this audience,” Bell said, “I see endless opportunities with incredible minds seated in front of me. One of those incredible minds belongs to Kevin Dwyer, an MBA graduate who is also a mechanical engineer.  After watching his wife (a medical resident) struggle to access resources for her patients, Kevin decided to make a difference by forming a non-profit.  Kevin’s nonprofit is creating this amazing tool to bridge the information gap so a patient will be matched to the right resources in less than 60 seconds. Kevin please stand, as I want everyone to know who you are, you are going to positively influence the lives of so many.  Thank you for making an incredible difference!”

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Today, in every spare moment, Dwyer continues to look for both funding partners, and for community partners. That focus on partnership, he says, is a direct reflection of his experience with faculty and fellow students both in and out of the classroom.

“They’ve been incredibly helpful as far as networking in the community,” Dwyer says “One thing I have learned is that everything is about relationships. They have really helped me a great deal to develop the relationships to get this project this far.”

It is clear this project is well on its way, and has great potential to make a difference in Wisconsin, and beyond.

“We’ve been so fortunate to develop a really robust network of community partners, including SSM Health, Dean Medical Group, the Community Action Coalition, the UW-Madison School of Social Work, and many, many more,” he says. “We set up a big challenge for ourselves, being a technology-based, non-profit startup,” Dwyer says, adding that his goal is to expand to the entire state of Wisconsin in the next year.

So how does one go from engineering sophisticated equipment, to building a technology-based non-profit in his “spare time” to helping create a more just and compassionate world?

“Engineering is all about solving complex problems that many of us struggle to understand,” he says. “Access to care is not only an incredibly complex, multi-faceted problem, it’s also such an important and meaningful problem. To be able to address five or six concurrent issues in a way that can actually help somebody, and maybe even change their life, seems worthwhile.”