At Rock Boston Demo, ‘Passion and Dedication are Contagious’

Monday Aug 27, 2012 by Susan Johnston - Contributor, VentureFizz

Despite numerous challenges to healthcare innovation—among them complying with FDA and HIPAA regulations, working with large insurance companies, and standing out amidst the barrage of information doctors and patients face—Cambridge’s Broad Institute buzzed with excitement on Friday for Rock Health’s Boston Demo Day, when seven digital health startups pitched their ideas.

In her opening remarks, Rock Health’s COO Sarah Pollet said that Rock Health “operate[s] under the assumption that passion and dedication are contagious.”

Presenters showed that passion and dedication throughout the afternoon, starting with keynote speaker John D. Halamka, MD, an emergency physician and Chief Information Officer at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. According to Halamka, last week’s release of the final requirements for Stage 2 Electronic Health Records Incentive programs makes this an exciting time in healthcare IT, because it will remove the silos that currently exist around patient data and require the capability for patients to export data from one vendor’s system into another by 2014.

“Meaningful use stage 2 will necessitate the creation of products that don’t exist in the marketplace today,” he added. “I can think of no better group to change healthcare as we know it.”

During the seven startup pitches, entrepreneurs explained how their use of technology would help solve problems like long waits for a dermatology appointment or flawed Alzheimer’s trials. Several of the startups’ ideas use smartphones or text messaging to improve patient outcomes and reduce healthcare costs.

NeuMitra applies mobile technology to alleviate the effect of stress on daily health and productivity. To illustrate the concept, cofounder Robert Goldberg described a soldier returning from deployment overseas and experiencing PTSD. After three years of therapy, the vet discovered he was having flashbacks in Whole Foods because it reminded him of being in a market. “You can use GPS coordinates to produce a stress map of your life and see the effect. You’ll get medication reminders and real-time alerts, said Goldberg. Eventually, he hopes to use Siri to “talk you down during the most stressful times.”

Podimetrics is prototyping a bath mat that scans the bottom of the foot looking for changes in blood flow to detect diabetic foot ulcers. Cofounder Jeff Engler said the company plans to concentrate on elderly patients covered by Medicare Advantage and charge insurance plans on a per member per month basis. They hope to finish the prototype and conduct pilot programs over the next six months.

And the youngest team of the group, Reify Health, led by medical students at Johns Hopkins, is already generating over $20,000 a month from its mobile therapy developer platform. The web app allows medical experts to develop evidence-based mobile health therapies to address health challenges likes smoking cessation or weight loss.

“We allow experts to create fully automated text messaging conversations with defined rules and logic for interacting with patients,” explained cofounder Ralph Passarella.

COO Pollet said vision for Rock Health’s 12-week summer accelerator was to “tap into the innovation ecosystem that lives inside the academic centers, hospitals and startup enclaves in and around Boston … The idea is not to disrupt outside the system but to innovate and disrupt along with the system.” Judging from the enthusiastic reception by the audience of healthcare professionals, entrepreneurs, and potential investors, Boston’s healthcare and tech communities are ready for disruption and innovation.  

Susan Johnston is a journalist and contributor to VentureFizz.  You can follow Susan on Twitter (@UrbanMuseWriter) by clicking here.

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