Digital health investments are booming, according to Rock Health, a venture capital (VC) firm that monitors investments in this sector.
In January 2015, the organization released its Year in Review report for 2014 that revealed venture funding for digital health companies surpassed $4.1B, nearly the total of all three prior years combined. The report stated that this level of financing exceeded 2013 with a year over year growth of 125 percent.
Although this figure indicates that the field is thriving, a new survey issued by Harvard University revealed a more conflicted outlook on the future of digital health investments.
The university sent the questionnaire to doctors, academics and other members of the medical field seeking their input on the state of the health care system in the U.S.
Carmen Nobel wrote in Forbes that “only 14 percent of respondents felt ‘strongly positive’ about the current system, while 20 percent felt ‘strongly negative.’”
Richard Hammermesh, professor of Management at Harvard Business School and a member of the selection committee told LabOutlook, a sister publication of Drug Discovery & Development, that one particular section of the survey asked respondents to identify which part of the industry had the potential to break through and have the most impact on quality and lowering costs.
The recurring answer revolved around improving health care delivery, the system that provides medications and treatments to patients when they need it.
As a result of this feedback, Harvard’s business school and medical school teamed up to launch the Health Acceleration Challenge.
“This is not a business plan competition,” the professor told LabOutlook.
The program was devised to help established companies nurture their ideas and get the opportunity to network and acquire new funding to increase their role in the industry.
“IT and consumer connectivity have had enormous impact on every industry you think of, with health care being the only notable exception,” said Hammermesh.
A successful candidate was accepted based on three criteria:
1) The contestant needed to demonstrate that his/her idea could lower health costs as well as increase quality of care and/or access to treatment.
2) Hard data needed to be presented that proved the first criteria. Also, the information needed to be collected from at least one or more sites.
3) Finally, the competitor had to show that they had a plan in place for “rapid and broad dissemination.”
A total of 478 entries came in from all over the world before the September 29 deadline. The committee selected the following four finalists this past November from the field of applications.
A study featured in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) showed that lapses in communication during the patient handoff process can cause a number of medical errors that could have easily been prevented.
Boston Children’s Hospital-based I-Pass saw an opportunity and created a training program called “The I-Pass Handoff Bundle.”
Theodore Sectish, a member of I-Pass’s executive board, described what the process consists of in his application to the challenge.
“The I-PASS Handoff Curriculum includes teamwork and communication training, simulations, a mnemonic to standardize handoffs, oral and written handoff improvements, faculty engagement tools, and an institution-wide sustainment campaign.”
Ultimately, I-Pass’s goal is to harness these tools to ensure that information is transmitted seamlessly between health care providers when a patient switches care, thereby guaranteeing that patient’s safety.
Sectish writes that this method works based on the data obtained from nine collection sites. He reports a “30 percent reduction in injuries due to medical errors,” according to his brief.
In April 2011, the Mayo Clinic produced a report analyzing medication adherence for patients dealing with chronic disease.
The authors discovered that approximately 50 percent of patients do not take their medications as prescribed due to a variety of factors, including restricted access to care or communication barriers with a physician.
Twine Health has an app that can help with that.
Here’s how it works. Patients can download the application to create a customized treatment plan in the form of a to-do list. Frequent reminders will pop up telling a person to take his or her medication at a certain time during the day and/or make sure they stick to a healthier diet.
The crucial part is that doctors can access this stored information to see how a patient is progressing. Co-founderJohn Moore told LabOutlook that clinicians can serve as “coaches,” a form of positive reinforcement that can provide constant communication when someone is in need of it. A user will rarely have to wait for a response. This app could potentially save money as well if the user does not have to schedule a follow-up appointment.
“Data flows in real-time to the coach so the coach is always up to date,” said Moore, adding that there also won’t be a gap in a clinician’s records.
Twine’s emphasis has been on helping people with chronic disease, hypertension being the first target.
“Twine’s product helped 86 percent reach their blood pressure goal within three months,” he concluded.
The idea of hospice care carries a stigma in the eyes of some. For example, some physicians have to deal with the notion that placing a patient in hospice care is viewed as giving up on proper treatment. Studies show that patients and their families feel this form of care is only brought up when a loved one is in the final stages of succumbing to an illness.
Dan Hogan, founder of Medalogix, wants to dispel this notion.
His company deploys a two-pronged data analysis service for physicians and other medical organizations. First, the two-year-old firm based in Nashville crunches the numbers to help doctors identify at-risk patients eligible for hospice care. The next phase requires digesting this information to assist in the decision-making process.
“Ironically, patient longevity improves in the hospice setting,” Hogan told LabOutlook. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) posted the results from a 2010 study in the New England Journal of Medicine highlighting how patients afflicted with non-small-cell lung cancer lived two months longer than recipients of standard care.
Another study performed by the NHPCO showed that the survival rates for terminally-ill patients dealing with congestive heart failure (CHF) and other forms of malignant cancer was drastically longer for patients receiving treatment in hospice settings compared with those getting what they need in standard care. Non-hospice patients with CHF lived for 321 days compared with their counterparts in a hospice setting who lived for 402 days.
Hogan acknowledges that this can be an overwhelming situation, but he feels that the predictive models his business uses can help everyone involved make rational and informed decisions.
“Data is really the fourth dimension of decision-making,” he added.
“My background is in healthcare investment and operations and on many occasions I observed a troubling amount of inefficiency within the U.S. blood supply, what’s oftentimes referred to as the vein-to-vein supply chain,” Bloodbuy founder Chris Godfrey told LabOutlook.
Godfrey said the structure of the market for blood in America is severely fragmented, which can lead to drastic price differences from region to region as well as frequent spot shortages. Basically, cost and supply can be affected by seasonal shifts and locations.
Bloodbuy addresses this uneven geographic distribution of available blood supply in real-time, and enables price transparency by publishing cost averages and other key indicators, Godfrey explained.
This cloud-based system could help hospitals find the right product when they need it without the risk of overspending or encountering a shortage.
The Final Countdown
Each finalist in the Health Acceleration Challenge shared a $150,000 prize as well as becoming the subject of a Harvard case study.
However, the journey for these firms is far from over.
All four finalists will be spending the next few weeks preparing for the final phase of the competition. Beginning April 14th, the companies will present a final proposal to a gathering of 150 senior health care executives at Harvard’s Forum on Health Care Innovation Conference. A final winner will be chosen the following day.
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