Birmingham-Based VitalEngine Provides Cutting Edge Collaboration Platform

By Laura Freeman

Birmingham-Based VitalEngine Provides Cutting Edge Collaboration Platform

Frustration can be a powerful motivator, especially when lives are at stake.

After all the advances in imaging, medicine and digital technology, physicians continue to struggle with basic collaboration tasks, such as sharing medical images and records, and simply finding the time to talk to each other. After double majoring in biomedical and electrical engineering at Vanderbilt, earning a PhD in biomedical engineering at UAB and serving on the faculty, followed by medical training and cardiology fellowship at UAB, Philip Johnson, MD, PhD knew there had to be a better way.

"Sometimes waiting for images to be burned onto a CD and mailed just isn't good enough. When you have a patient with an acute cardiac issue, time matters." Johnson said.

So combining what he knew from both the worlds of medicine and digital technology, Johnson set out to build a platform in 2015 that could handle data-heavy image transfer and communications so physicians didn't have to be in the same place or even the same state to work together.

Today, the creation that grew out of that effort is VitalEngine, a HIPAA compliant, cloud-based healthcare collaboration and workflow platform that allows for secure communication among healthcare professionals and robust data exchange. VitalEngine is now present in many hospitals and clinics around the US, including almost every major healthcare system, and even in countries as far away as Australia and New Zealand.

"You can access VitalEngine on any internet browser, computer or smart phone," Johnson said. "For the best performance, you can download the desktop application and establish a VPN connection for easy information transfer.

"We started out focusing on image exchange. VitalEngine can send and receive any DICOM image, including CT, MRI, ultrasound and nuclear, as well as patient records, along with a chat where the images can be discussed with colleagues. We've also developed additional communications and workflow capabilities including HIPPA compliant chat and texting, digital referrals, whiteboards to streamline workflow, telemedicine, and many other features. There is also a patient app that allows you to share images and content with patients and families."

The business model is a hub and spokes network where hospitals and larger clinics can get an annual subscription to the enterprise version, and referring physicians can use a free version.

"One of the strengths of our platform is that we have an excellent account support team that comes in to set up the software and teach the office team how to use it and what it can do," Johnson said. "Quite a few hospitals and clinics are already using it. We like to have time to train everyone on the software, but in emergencies, we can set it up on the fly.

"For example, a vascular surgeon reached out to us one night and said he had an emergency with a possible dissected aorta coming by ambulance and it sounded like a complex case. He wanted to see imaging as soon as possible so he could be setting up the OR and planning the surgery. He asked if there was any way we could add on the outlying hospital quickly so they could send the CT and communicate. Our team got on the phone, talked the other hospital through setup to connect them online, and the images were in front of the surgeon before the ambulance arrived."

VitalEngine was created from the inspiration of a working cardiologist seeking a better way to transfer information on complex cardiac referrals, but it has grown to be a valuable tool for major medical centers and physicians in multiple specialties.

"It's great to be able to communicate back and forth on a consult in real time while you are both looking at the images," Johnson said. "Not having to wait for images to be sent also speeds up turnaround time so physicians can schedule follow-up appointments with patients faster. Being able to show the images to the patients and families can also help them understand what's going on. That helps them make better informed decisions about their health and treatment options."

The company also owns, a site offering insights into cardiac care from a team of cardiologists, which has over 15,000 daily visitors. The content is available for both medical professionals and patients who are looking for an informed perspective on heart health.

In addition to being founder, Johnson continues his hands-on role as innovator, continuing to add improvements and new capabilities while constantly addressing new challenges in healthcare collaboration.

"If there's a better way, we want to find it," he said.