The business of taking care: Four ways healthtech is improving healthcare
Healthcare has come a long way since the gory days of bloodletting and trepanation, and now it's evolving more rapidly than ever thanks to dazzling advancements in science and technology.
A growing industry where new methods are applied to old problems, the healthtech sector is rife with innovators that use the latest tech capabilities to more quickly detect diseases, give patients access to the right care and in general make it easier for doctors to do their jobs.
Even in a developed country like the U.S., healthcare has issues — two major ones in particular: expense and accessibility.
According to a Deloitte estimate, people in North America spent $3.3 trillion on healthcare in 2015 and are predicted to spend $4 trillion in 2020. But a lot of that money is wasted. In 2009, the Institute of Medicine has reported, roughly $750 billion was eaten up by “unnecessary services, excessive administrative costs, fraud, and other problems.”
The situation is also grim when it comes to healthcare access. A recent Gallup poll indicates the number of uninsured Americans rose by 3.2 million from 2016 to 2017 — meaning about 12.2 percent have no health insurance, which can sometimes be the difference between life and death.
Here are some ways healthtech companies are using new technology to improve America's healthcare system.
If you have a body, odds are you’ve visited a doctor at some point. Was it the pinnacle of your day? Probably not. Fortunately, numerous companies are working on improving the patient experience by facilitating interactions with doctors, making it easier to get medication and steering people toward the right resources.
Location: New York, New York
How it’s using healthtech: Scheduling a doctor’s appointment is no fun, but it’s part of life. Zocdoc aims to streamline the process and save you time. Use its website or app to search for doctors based on specialty (dentist, primary care physician, chiropractor, etc.), location and whether or not they accept your insurance. Read reviews from other Zocdoc users. Once you find a doctor, book an appointment with only a few clicks.
Industry impact: On Feb. 28, ZocDoc announced a partnership with hospital and clinic network SCL Health to bring real-time appointment booking and doctor reviews to facilities in the Colorado-Montana region.
Location: Denver, Colorado
How it’s using healthtech: DispatchHealth is essentially an urgent care center on wheels. You can make a call, submit a request online or use the app and DispatchHealth will send over help depending on the medical service needed, including stitches and on-site blood tests.
Industry impact: DispatchHealth works in 10 cities across the US (like Denver, Pheonix, Seattle, Richmond and more) and received 7,562 care requests in February 2019.
Location: New York, New York
How it’s using healthtech: Blink Health lets you order your prescription medication online. It has a nationwide network of 30,000 pharmacies to make sure you have access to your prescription while keeping the price low.
Industry impact: In October 2018, Blink added home delivery with free two-day shipping (take that, Amazon).
Services for Doctors/Researchers
Healthtech is about more than enhanced patient care. It's also about giving doctors and researchers the tools they need to excel. From big picture projects (like trying to find a cure for cancer) to more detail-oriented ones (like finding new ways to train doctors), these companies are helping the people who help the patients.
Location: New York, New York
How it’s using healthtech: Flatiron Health uses technology to advance oncology, the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of cancer. Its database of 2.2 million active patient records makes it an asset for oncology research. It also offers a suite of OncoCloud programs that oncologists can use, including Electronic Health Records (EHR) management to clinical trial data.
Industry impact: Flatiron Health works with more than 15 of the top therapeutic oncology companies to fight cancer. It also recently renewed its partnership with the FDA's Information Exchange and Data Transformation (INFORMED) program to provide cancer research.
Location: Chicago, Illinois
How it’s using healthtech: If training to become a doctor involved playing video games, would there be more doctors in the world? Level Ex taps both surgeons and game developers to create realistic video games that aim to imitate actual medical procedures. There’s Airway Ex for airway specialists, Gastro Ex for gastroenterologists and Pulm Ex for pulmonologists.
Industry impact: According to Level Ex, more than three million of its in-game cases were played in 2018. Its newest game, Cardio Ex, is scheduled to launch this year.
Location: Waltham, Massachusetts
How it’s using healthtech: PatientKeeper offers a range of apps that help physicians do their jobs. Its EHR software is designed help doctors keep better track of their patients, while its financial performance software helps hospitals and doctors’ offices get reimbursed.
Industry impact: Over 65,000 physicians across North America and the U.K. use PatientKeeper to maintain their records.
Thanks to advancements in technology and biology, researchers and physicians are now able to link certain genes to various human traits and conditions. With the onset of consumer DNA kits and personal genetic testing, that information is becoming readily available to everyday folks. Want to know if you’re at risk for a degenerative disease like Alzheimer's, or if you’ll pass a certain trait to your children? The answer may lie in your DNA.
Location: Mountain View, California
How it’s using healthtech: 23andMe makes consumer DNA kits that people can use for home genome sequencing. Spit into a tube, mail it off and 23andMe will send you information based in DNA analysis. Learn things like where your ancestors came from, whether you’re a carrier of certain heritable diseases or even if you’re likely to go bald.
Industry impact: More than 5 million people have used 23andMe, with 80 percent opting-in to participate in research. In July 2018, the companied signed a $300 million partnership with pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline to develop treatments based on 23andMe's genetic insights.
Location: San Francisco, California
How it’s using healthtech: uBiome’s consumer kits will help you learn more about your microbiome — the trillions of bacteria living in your body — than you ever wanted to know. Kind of gross, yes, but bacteria plays a significant role in your health — for better and worse. Some of it helps you digest certain foods or make vitamins. Other bacteria is linked to irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease.
Industry impact: Scientists at uBiome work with research institutions like Harvard, Stanford and University College London. The company recently awarded grants to fund projects that study gut microbiota in childhood asthma and explore the microbiomes of indigenous and hunter-gatherer communities.
Location: San Francisco, California
How it’s using healthtech: Modern Fertility makes finger prick-based fertility tests that women can take at home instead of at a doctor’s office. The tests measure hormone levels, ovarian reserve and a woman's personal Fertility Measurement Index (FEMI) number.
Industry impact: Modern Fertility raised $6 million in a funding round last May.
The sooner you detect a disease, the sooner you can treat it. New technology gives doctors a clearer picture of patients’ issues, which prompts more accurate diagnoses. Just as German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen's X-rays revolutionized treatment of broken bones, companies are using technology to pinpoint health problems that are far less visible.
Location: South San Francisco, California
How it’s using healthtech: Verily uses machine learning to screen for diabetic retinopathy (DR) and diabetic macular edema (DME), preventable diseases that can cause blindness if allowed to progress. Other Verily projects include the development of a smart contact lens that can detect glucose levels in diabetics (that one's currently on hold) and the use of sterile male mosquitoes to stop the spread of diseases like Zika and dengue.
Industry impact: In January 2019, Verily announced a $1 billion investment round to fund future projects.
Location: Beverly, Massachusetts
How it’s using healthtech: LexaGene uses genetic analyzers (which sequence DNA) to detect pathogens like viruses or bacteria. The company's LX6 genetic analyzer simultaneously detects up to 22 different pathogens (like Influenza and MRSA), then produces data that shows which pathogens were detected, their quantity and whether they have drug-resistant genes. The whole process takes about an hour.
Industry impact: In February 2019, Lexagene formed a Scientific Advisory Board to determine the ways LexaGene's machines can be used in food safety, veterinary diagnostics and biodefense markets.
Location: Boston, Massachusetts
How it’s using healthtech: Pathologists study human samples for signs of disease. But spotting evidence disease isn’t always a black-and-white process. PathAI uses artificial intelligence to more accurately spot potential issues, making it easier for pathologists to diagnose diseases.
Industry impact: Working with partners like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the company aids researchers with the development of drugs that can benefit regions in need around the world.
Images via Shutterstock, social media and screenshots of company websites.