Promising startups given seed money, mentoring in hopes of scoring venture capital.
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Three "incubator" organizations that support healthcare startup companies with cash and mentoring are investing heavily in IT in their respective 2012 classes.
The first of the major health incubators, San Francisco-based Rock Health, was criticized for touting its staff's lack of experience in healthcare and leaning heavily toward personal fitness, flashy smartphone apps, and dicey direct-to-consumer business models in its inaugural class of 2011. But among the 15 companies that Rock Health recently awarded $20,000--as well as office space and a mentoring program--are Nephosity, which makes the MobileCT app enabling health professionals to share medical images on the iPad, and Epi.MD, which offers an online tool for population health management and sharing of electronic health records (EHRs).
Those companies started their five-month mentoring period earlier this month. Similarly, nine startups selected by New York-based Blueprint Health and 12 chosen by Chicago-based Healthbox began three-month programs. Blueprint Health is providing $20,000 in seed money to each participating company, while Healthbox offers $50,000 awards. Both are helping their inaugural classes this year.
Healthbox, a spin-off of venture capital firm Sandbox Industries, and funded by BlueCross BlueShield Venture Partners, the California HealthCare Foundation, HLM Venture Partners, Merrick Ventures, and Walgreen Co., invited InformationWeek Healthcare to its launch event in Chicago last week.
Most of the Healthbox companies have eschewed the direct-to-consumer model. "There are marketing challenges of reaching out directly to patients," acknowledged Victor Gane, founder and CEO of DermLink, a teledermatology provider based in Atherton, Calif.
For that reason, DermLink is marketing its services to primary-care physicians and dermatologists who wish to add a telemedicine option to their practices. In a pilot underway in the Chicago and San Francisco Bay areas, patients pay $99 up front, $35 of which goes to the consulting dermatologist and $24 of which is a facility fee to the referring primary care doctor, comparable to the facility fee Medicare pays, according to chief medical officer Dr. Jamison Feramisco. DermLink keeps the balance.
The online consultation cuts referral time down to one business day, including the dermatologist's report back to the referring physician, so patients no longer have to wait weeks for an appointment. "It closes the loop much faster," Dr. Feramisco said.
Some of the other companies are still working out their business models. SwipeSense, based in Evanston, Ill., has developed a system to track usage of portable dispensers of antibacterial hand sanitizer over Wi-Fi networks to cut down on hospital-acquired infections. Co-founder Yuri Malina said that SwipeSense will be looking to determine whether to add real-time locating to its product during a trial to start next month at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
Malina's partner, Mert Iseri, also said the company needed to decide whether it sells consumables or technology services. "What business do we want to be in?" Iseri asked the audience at the Healthbox launch event. "Our ideal goal is behavior change," he said.
Another startup, Atlanta-based Iconic Data, offers a patient list manager for clinicians via any Web browser, including those on mobile devices. The idea is to improve charge capture at the point of care for better revenue-cycle management across multiple facilities.
But CEO, co-founder, and chairman Dr. David LaBorde appeared to be caught off guard when an attendee asked if the system interfaced with EHRs. He was forced to admit that users would have to re-enter data into their EHRs.
These companies have until early April to avail themselves of the program mentors and refine their products. All three incubators have planned "investor days" for participants to make their pitches to VCs looking to support promising ideas for the long term.
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