Teen, Family Friend Debut Health Care App

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The creation of a smartphone app its founders believe can change health care might not have happened had it not been for a race — between two dads and their toddlers.

Richard Evans and Mark Perecman, longtime friends from Farleigh-Dickinson University, swapped kids for the competition about 15 years ago. Evans’ 2-year-old daughter, Jessica Evans, hung over his friend’s shoulders, and 2-year-old Randy Perecman climbed onto Evans. The latter came out victorious.

“Ever since then, we called ourselves partners,” Evans, vice president of surgical services for the Bon Secours Health System, said of his friend’s son. “When we sign off text [message conversations] we say, ‘OK, partner.’”


On July 11, Evans and Perecman’s app, Familyfirst, debuted at Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern, N.Y. Randy Perecman, a rising senior at Council Rock South High School in Holland, coded the app with the aim of streamlining the relationship between doctors and patients’ families.

From left: Randy Perecman and Richard Evans | Photo provided

The app is a one-sided messaging service, meaning doctors and nurses can send quick updates to friends and family members of patients, but not vice versa. The app isn’t used to disclose medical information.

“Throughout surgery, the doctor will send messages like ‘We just started;’ ‘He’s doing well;’ ‘Waiting for him to wake up from anesthesia;’ ‘Will see you in five minutes,’” said Perecman, Familyfirst CEO and co-founder.

Evans, the president and other co-founder, believes the app’s future is bright. The co-founders are Jewish.

“Eventually it can be in every hospital in the United States and can be the standard of care,” Evans said. “There should never be any excuse for a family not being updated anymore.”

Familyfirst is the brainchild of Evans, 60, a former surgeon of 30 years, but the handiwork of Perecman. He devoted his childhood to building robots, but felt drawn to the universal functionality of smartphone apps. Before his 14th birthday he had taught himself Swift, a programming language developed by Apple for iOS and other operating systems.

He refined his coding skills two summers ago at Make School’s summer academy in San Francisco, where he learned the business side of app development. One morning while munching on cereal and scrolling through Snapchat, he discovered Mashable.com had featured his app, Vibe-Music Sharing Keyboard.

“It kind of spoiled me because that was my first app. I was like, ‘Oh this is easy,’” Perecman said. “That’s not the case.”

As a surgeon, Evans felt frustrated by the barriers to communication between doctors and families. Surgeries can last hours, leaving husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, frozen in the waiting room, fearful of leaving for the bathroom and missing a physician carrying precious information.

He didn’t have the time or resources to address the issue until he moved into his current role. That’s when he turned to his partner.

“I said, ‘Randy, I have this idea but I don’t know how to translate it to code,’” Evans said. “Randy’s my translator. He takes my thoughts and makes it happen.”

It didn’t take Perecman, 17, long to create Familyfirst, which is HIPAA-compliant, but it did take time to get it approved by Good Samaritan, one of the hospitals Evans is based in. After about a year of working with hospital management, select surgeons and nurses began using the app on July 11.

Early feedback has been encouraging. Perecman, who is interning at Speachify, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup, this summer, received text-message updates from Evans throughout the app’s launch day:

“Randy, the nurses and administrators are so excited about this app. They think it is the greatest thing,” read one.

“One family kept thanking me for keeping them in the loop,” read another.

Michele Dunn, an operating nurse at Good Samaritan, used Familyfirst to communicate with a patient’s loved one during a total knee replacement. She said it’s refreshing to have a more direct line of communication with those in the waiting room.

“A lot of the concentration on the technology in health care right now focuses on communicating information between providers and not getting it across to family members,” Dunn said.

“As far as I know, this is one of the few apps created by someone under the age of 20 that’s actually going to have a large impact on society and change health care,” Evans said. “You’ll never see this again and, if you do, it’s going to be a long time coming.”

Perecman appreciates the praise, but attributes his success in large part to the guidance of his late grandfather, Gershon Perecman, who was a Holocaust survivor. When faced with a decision, he often asks himself, “What would Zayde do?”

He knows that in technology there are plenty of opportunities to profit for those willing to sacrifice their morals. But that’s not what Zayde would do. He’d put families first. 

jneedelman@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0737

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