Modern medicine

Organizations turn to technology to tackle health care hurdles

Posted on Jan 30, 2020 :: Cover Story
Jessica Thiel
Posted by , Insight on Technology Staff Writer

Each year, millions of people of all ages suffer a concussion, which can lead to a traumatic brain injury and serious repercussions, including death.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the number of people experiencing a TBI increased 53 percent between 2006 and 2014. In 2014, TBIs led to 2.87 million emergency room visits, hospitalizations and deaths.

From people suffering a fall to school-age athletes to professional football players, concussions and TBIs affect many. It’s just one real-world problem TitletownTech is addressing with its venture fund and studio.

The organization, a partnership between the Green Bay Packers and Microsoft, recently became the lead investor in Oculogica, a company whose founders are from Beaver Dam. The digital health company completed an $8 million round of funding in January.

The startup has developed an algorithm-based neuro-diagnostics tool. Its EyeBOX concussion assessment device collects and analyzes more than 100,000 data points in less than four minutes to generate an objective assessment that’s unique to each patient.

EyeBOX is the only baseline-free test the Food and Drug Administration has authorized to aid in the diagnosis of a concussion. Neurosurgeon Uzma Samadani developed the device, which uses eye tracking to assist in evaluating patients with a suspected concussion. In late October, it received a Current Procedural Terminology, or CPT, code from the American Medical Association, which will help it get to market more quickly.

“To us, that’s a big, meaningful problem,” says Craig Dickman, one of two managing directors of TitletownTech. “It’s creating value in the market but also creating opportunity here in Wisconsin with a couple of Wisconsin natives.”

Tackling big, meaningful problems is just what TitletownTech has set out to do. The organization, which includes an innovation lab, venture studio and $25 million venture fund, focuses its work in five verticals: sports, media and entertainment; digital health; agriculture, water and environment; advanced manufacturing; and supply chain technology.

Dickman says the TitletownTech team identified these areas as ones that would be active and where the region could solve important problems and create new value. Digital health has been the most active of the five, with that area accounting for 30 percent of investments so far.

TitletownTech works with early-stage companies, and its work includes creating, building and scaling. On the creating side, it works with founders or companies that want to build something new. Building and scaling focuses more on investing in a company with work that’s already progressing.

In TitletownTech’s first six months of operation, Jill Enos, the organization’s other managing director, says it has heard from multiple doctors and health care providers with ideas they would like to pursue. TitletownTech helps those innovators evaluate and explore their concepts.

“To me, just having that local connection right away really was affirming that it’s a space that has opportunity where we know we can add value by leveraging these strengths,” Enos says.

Dickman says TitletownTech has provided a mechanism of support that didn’t exist before for doctors, who aren’t likely to show up at a pitch competition or go to a traditional startup venue. Many health care providers don’t want to quit their day jobs to pursue their idea, and TitletownTech can allow the health care provider to be the founder and help assemble a team that can focus on developing and managing the innovation.

For Enos, it’s not surprising that the digital health vertical has grown as quickly as it has. It’s an industry where everyone sees challenges and there’s no “silver bullet” to fix them. However, she says the health care systems and providers in the region have tremendous strengths they can contribute.

“It’s inspiring to me to see that people want to come out and say, ‘We know there are challenges here.’ The people who live and work in the environment recognize that they’re in a system that’s hard to make changes in,” Enos says.

Increasing investment

While digital health has become a hot area for entrepreneurship, established health care organizations also have made investing in technology a priority.

Dr. Ashok Rai, president and CEO of Prevea Health, says implementing technology solutions has become a huge focus for his organization. Its work has included patient forward-facing solutions and enhancements in how it delivers care.

Prevea launched its Epic electronic medical record system in 2002, and it has only continued to evolve since then. In the past couple of years, it has offered an ever-increasing roster of patient-facing technology solutions.

Using the DocASAP platform, Prevea patients can seamlessly schedule appointments and access their medical record online or through an app. Based on answers the patient gives, the intelligent system triages down a tree and gets him or her set up with the right kind of appointment.

Statistics show that people schedule about 50 percent of health care appointments when clinics aren’t open, and for 90-plus percent of scheduling, it’s not necessary to talk to a person. “People are busier and want to access the world in different ways, so we have to evolve to the patient,” Rai says.

In 2017, Prevea, which operates urgent care sites throughout the state, added a “Save My Spot” feature. Its app can geolocate users, tell them where the closest urgent care site is, inform them of the wait time and allow them to save a spot in line.

At a breakfast for community leaders ThedaCare held in October, President and CEO Dr. Imran Andrabi outlined the organization’s commitment to becoming a full-service population health organization, which includes embracing technology solutions. Not only do people expect health care on demand, the dynamics of the industry are evolving.

“Who do you think is our competitor today?” Andrabi says. “It’s no longer the health care systems. Amazon is my competitor. CVS is my competitor. Walgreens is my competitor. Google is my competitor. Apple is my competitor. J.P. Morgan Chase is my competitor. That’s what’s happening in health care.”

Traditional thought processes aren’t enough when competitors are sitting on billions of dollars wanting to disrupt health care and having no patience for the legacy model of the industry, Andrabi says.

Rai says all kinds of telehealth and virtual health players who aren’t local to the community have come into the market. This can present problems such as disjointed care, which can lead to increased costs to consumers, he says. To address the incursion, Prevea works to meet patients’ needs and expectations.

“The best thing to do is for those who are providing your care to evolve. Prevea’s No. 1 goal, in partnership with HSHS, is to push the evolution as fast as we can to implementation,” Rai says.

Prevea employs an innovation officer whose job is focused on finding technological solutions to problems. Having a dedicated person in that role provides the most direct way to get from idea to implementation to ongoing monitoring, Rai says.

Improving care

Health care systems have turned to technology to improve not only patient experience but also care. The quickly expanding world of telemedicine, which allows for remote patient care, is one of the most prominent examples of this.

Prevea uses telemedicine in the occupational health sector with its Prevea Corporate Health and Wellness customers. For example, if an employee of one of those local businesses is injured on the job, he or she can connect with a Prevea occupational health provider or nurse from the job site online, via video, in real time.

Some Prevea Health school nurse services also provide telehealth service in rural communities where multiple districts share a school nurse. In addition, Prevea is working on soon being able to provide mental health care and fetal medicine care via telehealth for some communities.

Prevea’s Hospital Sisters Health System partners, St. Vincent and St. Mary’s in Green Bay, St. Nicholas in Sheboygan, and St. Clare Memorial in Oconto Falls, also use telemedicine, as needed, in 14 types of medical specialties. This includes stroke, emergency and NICU care. The technology used to conduct telemedicine visits is portable and features a camera and microphone for live, two-way audio and video.

Telemedicine is especially important for rural communities or communities that may not have access to certain medical specialties. For example, St. Nicholas Hospital in Sheboygan does not have a NICU, but with telemedicine, if a baby is born with complications, doctors at St. Nicholas can connect with the NICU experts at St. Vincent Children’s Hospital in Green Bay with the click of a button for immediate consultation.

Libertas Treatment Center, which is a part of HSHS, also uses telemedicine to provide care for people with substance use disorders in rural communities in northern Wisconsin.

To help educate patients about topics such as technology in health care, Prevea recently launched its “Plug in to Health” podcast. Rai says people of all generations are interested in embracing technology, and the podcast provides a modern and engaging way of educating people.

Prevea also has used technology to improve surgery outcomes. In 2018, it became the first health care system in the state to offer robotic spine surgery, which provides greater accuracy and faster outcomes, Rai says.

In November, Prevea neurosurgeon Joseph Chabot became the first in Wisconsin to use Gleolan to treat gliomas, a type of brain tumor. Gleolan is a dye the patient ingests to make it easier for the surgeon to distinguish where the cancerous tissue is located within the brain.

In addition to improving outcomes, Rai says technology helps streamline workflow for providers, who carry heavy workloads and who are in short supply. For example, Rai sees nursing home patients. Using his phone, he can access their history, get a notification when their labs are ready and view lab results. “It makes us more efficient. It makes us safer,” he says.

Prevea uses a platform called Doc Halo to allow doctors to securely communicate with other providers. In the past, Rai says providers would have to page one another and wait for a response. This system offers more seamless communication and leads to a reduction in duplication of work, Rai says. Doc Halo is also HIPAA compliant, which helps address privacy concerns surrounding the proliferation of technology solutions and patient data.

Moving into the future, Rai says Prevea will only continue to invest more money and human capital in devising technology solutions. The organization plans to get involved with more startups and the piloting of new technology solutions where it can serve as both the guinea pig and potential benefactor.

“Our plans are to continue to evolve at a much faster rate. We’ve done a lot in the past two years, and we’ll probably do more this year and even more the following year,” Rai says. “The technology is exponentially increasing. This is not a gradual curve.”