Trailblazer

Entrepreneur Helping Shape Nursing’s Future

Trailblazer: Entrepreneur Helping Shape Nursing's Future

Julie Meek could use an extra hat rack to handle all the caps she’s worn in an intriguing career that has lasted more than three decades.

Meek has been nothing if not a trailblazer in her career. She became a nurse after graduating from Ball State University in the 1970s, and broke ground by joining training programs previously set up for medical school grads. Meek took information she gleaned from work in emergency rooms and other health-care settings, filtered them through graduate school at the IU School of Nursing at IUPUI, and—using research—turned her experiences into a patented algorithm processed by computer software that could prospectively identify at-risk groups that consume significant portions of health-care funds.

That software—called One Care Street®—was the foundation for her next ‘new trail’: launching The Haelan Group®, a start-up company that became the first successful enterprise launched from Indiana University’s Emerging Technology Center (ETC). The ETC was a key part of the collaboration between IU, IUPUI, Indiana state government and the city of Indianapolis to turn central Indiana into a life sciences magnet.

Julie Meek and her students gather around a computer.

Technology is a vital tool for today’s nurses, tracking patient records, medication instructions and more at a patient’s bedside.

For Meek, One Care Street was the culmination of her desire “to find those 10- to 12-percent of employees whose health issues use 80-to-85 percent of a company’s health-care funds, and help people control those issues,” she says. One Care Street didn’t just help companies; “it helped people determine why they aren’t feeling and functioning as well as they’d like.”

Haelan’s success drew interest from larger, acquisition-minded companies. Once her company sold, Meek circled back to her roots, the School of Nursing. And in typical entrepreneurial fashion, she is helping to turn nursing informatics, a fast-growing field that offers students new frontiers to explore, into one of the school’s most popular courses.

Changing culture

Meek looks at the changes in America’s health-care system and in the training of doctors, nurses, dentists and other future health-care professionals and applauds the move to Accountable Care models. “We’re getting away from a fee-for-service mindset, and moving toward a quality-of-care system,” she says. “That’s a great way for us to get ahead of the curve” and provide better care.

Creating One Care Street and launching Haelan was “a wild ride,” she recalls. “It was exciting—we had such good people, and we were so passionate about what we were creating.” A company that started with just three employees eventually grew into a thriving enterprise with 60 employees. “Without a doubt, it was the single greatest work experience I’ve ever had.”

"Julie has always looked at nursing a little bit differently … she saw opportunities and possibilities the rest of us didn’t see.”

Anna McDaniel

The process demanded a lot from Meek, who had to balance family life—her supportive husband Ted and three sons (Kyle, Joel and Brian) still in school at the time—with research and business work, for the initial eight months of Haelan, working out of their home. “My hair was definitely on fire; I was constantly on the move,” she says.

Meek’s success didn’t surprise her long-time friend and colleague Anna McDaniel. The two attended Ball State together and now both work in the School of Nursing. “Julie has always looked at nursing a little bit differently,” says McDaniel. “She saw opportunities and possibilities the rest of us didn’t see.”

The software’s potential was remarkable: it provided predictive information on at-risk groups about three times more accurately than using basic demographics and medical claims. But Haelan needed guidance and support from the ETC to turn that potential into impact in the marketplace. “We were the very first company in the ETC, and it offered all the benefits Haelan needed: contacts, support, infrastructure and more,” Meek says. In little more than a year, Haelan turned profitable and “became the poster child for research-driven, entrepreneurial growth in the life sciences,” she adds. For IU, IUPUI and their life sciences partners, Haelan’s success validated the belief that the field could become a major engine for economic growth.

New trails

After the company’s sale, Meek stayed involved for a time, but found herself with new trails to blaze, this time teaching a new generation of nurses, preparing them for pathways neither Meek nor McDaniel even dared to imagine coming up the ranks.

Nurses “used to be the handmaidens of health care,” Meek says. Today, nurses have a wide range of skills and a wealth of knowledge about a health-care system in flux, and she is excited to be part of another unfolding story.

She is co-coordinator of the school’s new doctorate of nursing practice (DNP) program, with a focus on applied statistics, business management and informatics. “Nurses in hospitals and elsewhere tell me they will soon need three or four times the number of DNP graduates we’re currently turning out to meet the demand of our health-care system,” Meek says. That demand offers huge career potential for nurses.

Meek’s background commands the respect of her pupils. “They seem to appreciate being taught by someone who has ‘been there, done that,’” she laughs. “My life is a case study in something nurses face all the time: balancing human and financial resources, while creating a positive environment.”

McDaniel believes her friend’s experiences help nursing students harness “their ability to problem-solve, to see the big picture and to understand patients” in the ever-evolving world of health care.

Part of Meek’s work comes in the school’s distance-learning programs, including such technologies as chat rooms, podcasts, on-line classes and more, allowing nurses “to stay in touch without having to leave their homes or hospitals or offices,” she says.

Meek enjoyed the whirlwind world of research and entrepreneurship, but considers “this part of my career a great fit with this time in my life. I love my students, teaching them and learning from them, and being part of intriguing campus groups here at IUPUI.”