By Howard Fine Monday, May 17, 2021
DearHealth software uses algorithms to make treatment recommendations. In hospitals and medical offices across the country, scribbled notes and illegible prescriptions have given way to digital devices and electronic record-keeping.
While the drive to digitize health records has been underway for decades, it gathered steam with the 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act, which encouraged medical providers to use electronic records to cut costs and improve the secure exchange of patient information.
The shift to digital record-keeping was further accelerated by the pandemic.
“This is the biggest, hottest area in digital health right now, said Ahmed Enany, chief executive of the Southern California Biomedical Council, a Westwood-based industry trade group. “What everybody is trying to do is to take patient data, analyze it and translate it into meaningful and actionable information.”
Enany estimated that about 30 companies have emerged in recent years in Los Angeles and Orange counties that are directly involved in either analyzing or enhancing electronic medical records.
Dozens more companies, he said, use electronic medical records for some aspect of their business. And still others have developed their own alternative electronic medical records systems for providers who do not have access to — or cannot afford to — join the big electronic records platforms.
Here’s a look at some of the leading L.A. County-based companies in this burgeoning industry.
HEADQUARTERS: Playa del Rey and Amsterdam
BUSINESS: Structured care and treatment programs for individual patients
CEO: Willem Houck
FUNDING TO DATE: $8 million
Playa del Rey-based DearHealth Inc. got its start at UCLA’s Ronald Reagan Medical Center in 2011 when a team of medical specialists there, led by Daniel Hommes, developed a software program to manage treatment of chronic diseases.
The platform was one of the first to use artificial intelligence algorithms. The AI takes patient data from the electronic medical record, draws on similar data from other patients and hones the algorithms over time.
The program uses those algorithms to develop treatment recommendations for specific patients that are then presented to the treating physicians, who can either accept, alter or reject the recommendations.
The recommendations can be presented within minutes instead of the hours or days it can take for physicians to come up with treatment programs on their own.
In 2013, the program became the centerpiece of a company that was spun out of UCLA and took the name DearHealth. The idea was to develop treatment protocols for a wide range of diseases, including several types of cancer. The company set up dual headquarters: one on L.A.’s Westside and the other in Amsterdam.
DearHealth has been generating some revenue from its software program, which has attracted customers such as Oakland-based Kaiser Permanente and Beverly Grove-based Cedars-Sinai Health System.
In May 2020, DearHealth was accepted as an app on Verona, Wisc.-based medical records giant Epic Systems Corp.’s marketplace for health care providers, which functions like the Apple Store for iPhones. This gave DearHealth’s software wide exposure, saving the company considerable marketing expenses.
In April, Daniel Hommes stepped aside as chief executive, and the company hired Willem Houck as the new CEO, charged with scaling up the company’s growth.
HEADQUARTERS: Marina del Rey
BUSINESS: Software that helps spot and diagnose medical conditions
CEO: Eli Ben-Joseph
FUNDING TO DATE: About $5 million
Marina del Rey-based HealthTensor Inc. got its start in late 2016 when Eli Ben-Joseph and two school friends realized that during routine patient exams, doctors often fail to detect or diagnose medical conditions.
At the time, Ben-Joseph and Thomas Moulia were both at MIT. They were joined by Nate Wilson, another friend from the Boston-area. The trio started to develop an artificial intelligence program that mines patients’ electronic medical records for medical conditions — essentially automating the clinical diagnosis process.
HealthTensor’s program, which is still in the pilot phase, is being used in 10 health systems that encompass nearly 70 hospitals. (Ben-Joseph declined to name the systems and hospitals using the software).
Ben-Joseph said that in the pilot programs, HealthTensor’s software is finding roughly 10 medical conditions a day for each doctor using the program. The conditions range from high sodium levels to congestive heart failure.
HealthTensor’s software is not perfect. Ben- Joseph said there have been some false positives as doctors double-checked the findings.
“We tell doctors to treat our product like a smart medical student,” he said. “Our product can give the physician the notes, but it’s up to the physician to check into it and verify the condition finding.”
HealthTensor has attracted roughly $5 million in funding from venture capital firms, including TenOneTen Ventures in Larchmont Village, Calibrate Ventures in Pasadena and Susa Ventures of San Francisco.
Ben-Joseph said the company has yet to scale up its software to market more broadly to health care providers.
HEADQUARTERS: Santa Monica
BUSINESS: Telecom platform for communication between providers and patients
CEO: Brad Brooks
EMPLOYEES: About 250
FUNDING TO DATE: $100 million
TigerConnect Inc. was founded in Santa Monica in 2010 as TigerText by investment and entertainment executive Brad Brooks (now the company’s chief executive) and his physician brother Andrew Brooks (now chief medical officer) to help companies control employee communications.
TigerText eventually turned to helping health care providers manage their communications networks and in 2018 rebranded as TigerConnect.
Today, the company’s platform is used by an estimated 6,000 health care organizations, allowing medical providers and other parties to exchange more than 10 million messages daily.
TigerConnect’s communications platform operates independently of electronic medical records systems but increases their functionality by facilitating communications between all the parties that care for patients, even if some are outside the EMR system. It also taps into EMR systems for patient lists and contact information.
According to Chief Medical Information Officer Will O’Connor, TigerConnect’s platform allows for data integration into electronic medical record systems even when one of the parties is outside that system.
He cited an example where a home health aide without access to an electronic medical record system can use the TigerConnect system to connect immediately with a physician or nurse who can consult and upload information in the patient’s electronic medical record.
Another way TigerConnect can increase the functionality of EMR systems is by speedily connecting with a doctor if there’s a change in the patient’s condition.
O’Connor cited an example where a patient’s potassium level spikes. As that is recorded into the EMR, TigerConnect can alert a doctor to take action, such as ordering new medication.
“We can make sure that result gets to the right person at the right time as fast as possible,” he said. “In effect, we are supplementing the EMR, doing something extremely well that the EMR doesn’t do well at all.”
YEAR FOUNDED: 1990
BUSINESS: Electronic medical records systems for physicians and radiologists
CEO: Pat McGonigle
EMPLOYEES: About 120
Westchester-based MedInformatix Inc. was in the electronic medical records game long before most medical practices and hospitals went digital.
The company started in 1990 as a billing and office management company for small physician practices. As part of its effort to streamline billing and workflow management for clients, MedInformatix soon developed a proprietary electronic medical records system.
In 2000, the company began to offer an EMR system aimed at radiology practices, with a focus on conveying images and image analysis information.
While MedInformatix’s platform has the capability to integrate with Epic and other major systems, according to communications director Kristine Lowe, it is more focused on smaller independent practices that can’t afford those massive systems or need a more customized approach.
“We target niche medical practices that don’t need all of the bells and whistles that come with the standard Epic system,” Lowe said.
According to MedInformatix’s website, its EMR systems can be paired with the company’s billing and practice management offerings.
Lowe said major EMR players don’t generally serve independent radiology practices that are not integrated into a major hospital. One reason: The large systems, with their focus on patient information, often don’t have the capability of receiving or transmitting patient X-rays or other images.
Lowe said MedInformatix is working on software to enable easier interoperability with major electronic medical record systems.
The company is also expanding its geographic reach. Last month, it announced it is opening an office in Austin, Texas. Chief Executive Pat McGonigle said in the announcement that many of the company’s clients either are headquartered in Texas or have substantial operations in that state.
HEADQUARTERS: El Segundo
BUSINESS: Telehealth provider
CEO: Jamey Edwards
FUNDING TO DATE: $35 million
El Segundo-based Cloudbreak Health began in 2003 as an interpreter service for the medical industry under the name Language Access Network. In 2015, at the same time it received $15 million in funding, the company changed its name to Cloudbreak.
The company’s main client base is hospitals, where it provides in-person and video services. It has about 450 interpreters on staff and another 2,000 who are independent contractors, mostly outside California.
When the pandemic hit, Cloudbreak, armed with an additional $10 million in funding, expanded into more direct telemedicine, with physicians on-call for video consults with patients.
In June 2020, Cloudbreak announced its video platform was accepted into Epic Systems Corp.’s app marketplace, giving Epic hospital clients improved ability to conduct telemedicine visits — or bring in video interpretative services — and simultaneously enter notes and data into the electronic medical record.
The deal also allows physicians in remote locations to access the Epic system during telemedicine visits, making them better informed about the patient’s condition.
Chief Executive Jamey Edwards said Cloudbreak had previously worked on developing the software to integrate Cloudbreak’s video platform with electronic medical record systems through a research and development project at UC San Diego Health. The company then reached arrangements with several smaller electronic medical records systems before cutting the big deal with Epic nearly a year ago.
Cloudbreak itself, though, will soon be part of a larger operation. Next month it is due to join a group of digital health companies assembled by Delray Beach, Fla.-based UpHealth Holdings.
The new entity will go by the name UpHealth Inc., and Edwards will become its chief operating officer. Cloudbreak’s El Segundo operations are expected to remain in place after the deal concludes.