Health Startup Accelerator Wars 12/23/11

For those who haven’t seen or heard of them, health-focused startup accelerators are cropping up across the country. Granted, there are only five that I know of – Rock Health, Healthbox, Blueprint Health, Startup Health (not even sure if this is an accelerator or not), and NantAccelerator. The accelerators are trying to duplicate the success of non-health incubators and accelerators like Y-Combinator and TechStars.

Rock Health is the only program that has been around long enough to have a class of companies to call alumni, but that will change by next spring when Healthbox and Blueprint should have completed one cycle. This week both Rock Health and Healthbox announced their new incoming classes of startups. I thought it would be fun to look at what ideas are getting into the accelerators. Today I’ll cover Healthbox, and next week Rock.

For some context, Healthbox is in Chicago. It runs for three months (January-March, which means you have to be committed to it because who would want to be in Chicago for those months?), provides $50,000 and downtown office space, and takes a 7% equity share of the companies. Like all accelerators, a big part of the sell is the intangibles, like having access to knowledgeable and well-connected people to guide strategy and business development.

The most interesting part about Healthbox is that it is funded primarily with BCBS money. If you’re a startup hoping for an exit/acquisition, having the links to a payer and having them own a piece of your company seems like a good launch strategy.

OK, now finally to the startups.

1. CareHubs – "healthcare social enterprise platform". I’m not exactly sure what that means, but it sounds a bit like Avado. Connecting patients and providers is a great idea, as long as (a) somebody will pay the providers, and (b) patients care enough to want to be connected.

2. CareWire – text messaging services to improve appointment prep and enrollment as well as patient satisfaction. I’m curious how patient enrollment works over text messaging and also about the ease of PM/EMR integration ("compatible with any mobile phone and PM/EMR.")

3. Corengi – helps people with type 2 diabetes find clinical trials.It looks like they put a pretty front end on, made it slightly more searchable, and are using the API to pull trial info. I’m not sure how many people with type 2 diabetes will use this.

4. The Coupon Doc – a centralized repository for manufacturer discounts on prescriptions and OTC meds. It sounds like it will have reviews and price

5. DermLink – streamlines referrals to dermatology by enabling both patients and referring docs to take pictures of skin lesions to be interpreted remotely. I like this one a lot. First, suspicious skin lesions scare people, so I think they’ll be motivated to pay to get a fast response. Second, I love growing the network through referrers (PCPs) and letting them earn money for taking the picture and answering symptom-related questions. I’m not sure what the cost is and the site talks about insurance, but I’d make it self pay. A lot of people would be willing to pay and dermatologists would prefer instant payments.

6. Iconic Data – a Patient List Manager (PLM) to assist physicians accessing patient info across different locations. They must be pulling patient lists, including clinical data, from ambulatory systems. The physician can then track his/her patients across different facilities where the physician has privileges. I see the value to docs and the ease of layering in additional functionality like analytics and electronic prescribing, but I just wonder how easy it will be to scale this with each provider patient list and associated clinical data? That’s a lot of integration.

7. Patient Journey Record (PaJR) – readmission prevention using risk stratification based on patient and caregiver reported data. Phone calls are placed to patients and responses are logged to assess ongoing risk. It’s been used in pilots in Ireland and apparently reduced readmissions by 50%. The next step is to add in machine learning and language patterns. I really like the outsourced model for readmission prevention because of the ease of scaling. I’m not sure how this company is doing patient intake, but I think that will determine its success. Also, it’s one of the worst names I’ve heard for a company in a while.

8. Push Wellness – an incentive model for encouraging healthy behavior. It’s a tool for employers to engage employees and lower healthcare costs. Employees are financially incented to be healthy, presumably sharing in the savings that employers get from healthier employees. This makes sense. I also think selling to HR departments is easier than health systems.

9. SwipeSense – a personal hand sanitizing device that records compliance of staff. It will come down to how much it costs and how good it is at reminding staff to use it.

10. UnitedPreferences – a service for payers and employers that offers prepaid cards that members and employees can use only on approved preventative health initiatives. I’m sure there is an incentive angle in here somewhere, but it’s not clear in the very limited info available.

OK, there you have it. The future of healthcare in 10 startups. Really though, some of the concepts are very good. Some aren’t, but that’s likely where Healthbox comes in to help pivot them in the right direction. It will be interesting to see what success they all have being in the accelerator.

I’m taking the long weekend off to be with family. Have a safe and happy holiday.

Travis Good is an MD/MBA involved with health IT startups.

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