Hospitals Can’t Hire Nurses Fast Enough. This Startup Uses AI to Help.

by Jeremy Porr
August 19, 2020
Iman Abuzeid and Rome Portlock pose for a portrait.
Photo: Incredible Health

As the number of coronavirus cases in the United States continues to climb, many healthcare workers are being forced to work long hours while some hospitals remain severely understaffed. One San Francisco-based startup is helping hospitals overhaul their hiring processes to meet the surge in demand.

“I mean, the nursing shortage is the biggest skilled labor shortage we have in this country,” Iman Abuzeid, CEO of Incredible Health, said in an interview with Built In.

Incredible Health is used by healthcare providers to hire nurses for permanent roles in under 30 days. The number is exceptionally low when compared to the national average, which ranges anywhere from 65 to 115 days, according to a recent report by NSI Nursing Solutions, a nurse recruitment company.


Aiming for Maximum Impact

A former medical doctor with an MBA under her belt, Iman Abuzeid co-founded the company in 2017 alongside Rome Portlock, a former software engineer and Massachusetts Institute of Technology alum who serves as the company’s CTO.

“I’m originally from Sudan and when I finished medical school, I decided you know ... one-on-one patient care is great, but I want to have an impact on a system level and on a bigger level,” Abuzeid said.

She completed her M.D. abroad in 2009 and then moved to the States, where she earned a master’s degree in healthcare management from the University of Pennsylvania. After that, Abuzeid went on to work for mobile healthtech startup AliveCor, where she met Portlock.

“That’s really where I learned to work with engineers and data scientists and learned what it takes to launch a product and grow a business,” Abuzeid said.

After hearing about how frustrated Portlock’s sisters, both nurses, had become in their search for a new position, Abuzeid and Portlock joined forces with an idea: to create an automated system that would speed up the hiring process for both hospitals and prospective nurses.


Abuzeid takes a walk with local healthcare providers outside of a hospital.
Photo: Incredible Health

Outsmarting the Algorithm

The duo are always looking for ways to improve their product and ensure it is helping to spread equity in the industry.

The company’s platform relies on proprietary algorithms that automatically screen and match nurses and hospitals. Though this approach is effective at fast-tracking hiring, the co-founders realized it could also introduce a bias where nurses who live further away from the hospitals they’re applying to are less likely to get hired. Once the issue was identified, Abuzeid moved quickly to update the platform so that it would effectively hide the location of nurses in search of a job.

The recent change is the latest effort the company has made to help support diversity efforts in the nursing field. One new, free-to-use tool launched early last month takes an applicant’s location into account in order to provide them with an accurate look at what they should expect to be paid.

“That really empowers nurses and helps them have more informed discussions about their salaries and careers,” Abuzeid said. “Eighty percent of nurses don’t actually know what they’re supposed to be getting paid.”

It’s important to be assertive and to not be mentally challenged at all by any of the statistical bias that’s already out there.”


Beyond a Buzzword

Diversity isn’t just a buzzword for Abuzeid or the company she co-founded, it’s an ongoing priority. As a Black woman in tech, she is well aware of bias that goes beyond algorithms.

As Abuzeid pointed out, companies led by Black women consistently get less than 1 percent of venture capital funding, which she called a “crazy statistic” considering the growing number of Black women currently launching companies. Recent data has shown that Black women are starting companies at a rate faster than any other demographic group.

“It’s important to be assertive and to not be mentally challenged at all by any of the statistical bias that’s already out there,” Abuzeid said. “Because guess what, your white male counterparts don’t have that. They don’t have that distraction. So you shouldn’t have it either.”

Abuzeid’s career path, as well as her lived experience, have provided her with astute insight into what it takes for companies to succeed in their diversity efforts.

“This needs to be ongoing. This is a long-term commitment. It’s not just something that’s fixed overnight,” Abuzeid continued. “Anytime a CEO wants to change anything in their company, there has to be a goal tied to it and tracking tied to it if we want real change to happen.”

Abuzeid went on to say that building a diverse team is not only morally imperative, but that it also drives financial results.

“I think we’ve all heard the narrative that diversity is the right thing to do. But look, we’re all in the technology industry, we’re running businesses, we have to drive shareholder value,” Abuzeid continued. “Therefore, the discussion around diversity [in tech] needs to be that it is data-driven. Diverse teams are proven and the research shows that they drive more profitability, they drive more revenue, they drive more innovation, and so on.”

The mission is to help healthcare professionals find and do their best work. That’s our guiding light.”


Eyes on Growth

For now, Abuzeid is focused on expanding the company in order to improve the lives of healthcare workers and their patients throughout the duration of the pandemic and beyond.

According to Abuzeid, Incredible Health currently operates in four states, including California, but the company has plans to expand throughout the country by the end of the year.

Incredible Health is currently used by over 200 hospitals, including big health systems like the Hospital Corporation of America and Baylor Scott & White, academic medical centers like Stanford and Cedars-Sinai, as well as local community hospitals.

“The vision of the company is to help healthcare professionals live better lives,” Abuzeid said. “The mission is to help healthcare professionals find and do their best work. That’s our guiding light.”

The company has raised $15 million in venture capital financing to date, according to Crunchbase.

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