4 Questions With ZenCharts’ Dan Callahan
Before becoming cofounder of the behavioral health EHR company ZenCharts (chief sponsor of Mental Health News Radio Network), Dan Callahan enjoyed a long career in human services. After earning a master’s in social work degree from Fordham University in New York City, he worked as a social worker and a certified addictions professional, in therapeutic, administrative, even executive capacities. His 30-year career also includes authoring two workbooks and coauthoring a training curriculum for the New York State Office of Mental Health.
What made him make the jump from human services to software? Mental Health News Radio Network host Kristin Walker recently caught up with Callahan to find out. For the story on what led Callahan to the EHR market, as well as how his personality aids him in helping effect positive changes in the behavioral health market, keep reading and listening.
MHNR: What led you to develop an EHR specifically for the behavioral health market?
Callahan: That’s a long story, but it can be boiled down to one observation and one experience from my career. The observation: In my work in program development, I noticed that there were two types of clinicians: those who are great with people and really connect on a relationship level as well as those who were great at paperwork. People were rarely both.
The experience: In 1997, the company I worked for at the time brought in an EMR company. The cost was enormous, and usability was weak. I’m pretty techy, and I still remember going through the trainings and being overwhelmed. We abandoned it after a few months, and I remember thinking of the huge potential for a great product in this area.
Fast forward 10 years or so, and my son and his business partner were looking for great ideas to invest in. We put our offices in a warehouse and painted a 50-ft wall so we could write on it with dry erase markers. I started teaching Sean and Rick charting: That was the beginning of ZenCharts.
MHNR: Can you offer an example or two of how your past or personality has helped guide your career or allow for your success?
Callahan: I’ll offer one story from my childhood that helps explain why I think the way I think. My grandparents were in New York and I lived directly across the street. Every night my grandparents would sit outside and drink beer on the porch. My grandfather was partially disabled, so I’d go over every night and fetch a beer for them. Of course, they drank out of 10-oz glasses. So I’d pour them 10 ounces of beer, and then I’d have the other couple ounces for myself.
One day my grandfather said to me, “Danny, when you grow up, you’ll be a supervisor.” And I remember thanking him for the compliment—only to have him tell me it wasn’t. To him, “only the laziest SOBs in the world become supervisors.”
But very early on, I thought of processes practically like that—whether it was fetching beer or mowing lawns. I always looked at how to solve a problem effectively and simply. How can I do this differently, more effectively and more simply? Maybe some see that as lazy, but it’s about a better way of getting things done. And in business, that’s where great companies start, in solving a problem, simply and effectively.
MHNR: What’re your plans for the future of the company?
Callahan: This may sound ludicrous as a corporation, but we take things off in bite-size pieces at ZenCharts. For us, the end goal is simple: We want to effect the industry in a positive way. Currently, our main focus is on improving our product. We have probably rolled out in the last three months more enhancements to ZenCharts than most companies put out in three years. We’re currently working to redefine the standard of what behavioral health EHRs should be able to do—and do well.
For example, we believe clinical support and clinical decision making can be accomplished through this product. Right now, we’re working with experts to brainstorm how to make this product better for clients, particularly for outcomes. I think most behavioral health providers know that measuring outcomes is one of the most difficult things in this industry: how to do it effectively, and ethically, and we think we’re on the right track to offer some tools to help solve that problem.
Every treatment center in the country talks about their high success rates. And it’d be awesome if we could actually help not just show valid success rates but help target what brings success in recovery.
MHNR: Here at EverythingEHR, we help people find the right EHR for them. Because of that, we’ve researched the gamut of what’s available in EHRs today—and we know ZenCharts is the real deal. But can you explain to readers what you think makes ZenCharts stand out from others in the industry?
Callahan: Because I’m a human service professional, and maybe part of it is our recovery, I think it stems from the fact that we’re living congruently. Simply, we care about the work we do, about our clients. This work matters to us. When you’re in recovery and you’re doing something that doesn’t fit the ideals you believe in, then you’re out of congruence and you feel it. I think people relapse because they’re living incongruently.
I say all that to say this: I walk into every treatment center to train them and make sure they know I’m all in—not only now but months from now. I tell our clients, if you need us, we’re going to respond immediately because our goal is to keep you happy. Whether it’s dealing with downtime, even though it’s minimal and planned, or learning the ins and outs of new developments, I’m there to talk people through. We get through it together. I can say that and know I’m being honest and that those are not just words. When I’m with a client, I’m with them. And I think they feel that, and I believe that depth and caring not only makes our product great but helps our company help so many providers in this industry.
Daniel “Dan” Callahan, the co-Founder of ZenCharts is a Social Worker and Certified Addiction Professional with a human service career spanning over thirty years. He attained his Masters of Social Work degree at Fordham University, Lincoln Center in New York City. He is the author of two recovery books titled “Freedom Recovery”, Recovery Thinking, 90-Days to Change Your Life” and co-authored a training curriculum for the New York State Office of Mental Health, Bureau of Forensic Services. Dan has held therapeutic, administrative and executive positions with not-for-profit and private rehabilitation programs during the span of his career. Dan was integral in the development of several statewide initiatives in the State of New York including the Community Orientation and Re-entry Program (CORP) housed in the Ossining Correctional Facility (Sing-Sing) a program designed to bridge the re-entry gap for seriously and persistently mentally ill and mentally ill chemical abusers (MICA) offenders prior to and during release from incarceration.