For seeking a cure to what ails Chinese health care. Apricot Forest offers a suite of three apps that aim to fix some of the core inefficiencies in China’s medical system. (About those inefficiencies: Most physicians in China work for state-run hospitals, where entry-level doctor wages are about $500 a month, on par with a taxi driver’s earnings. They routinely juggle caseloads of 50 to 60 patients a day, which means patients must wait an excruciatingly long time before being seen.) Twenty-five percent of China’s 2.5 million doctors now use at least one of Apricot Forest’s apps, as do about 2,000 new physicians every day. The primary app is MedClip, an all-in-one patient service system. Doctors can photograph, store, and organize patient records; dictate notes directly into a patient’s chart; send patients reminders and educational materials via China’s popular Weixin (aka WeChat) messaging system; and consult with other doctors on difficult cases. The second, e-Pocket, contains reference materials, such as drug formularies and specialized calculators. And the third, Medical Journals, helps doctors stay up-to-date on the latest research literature.
For attacking cancer with robotics. Doctors’ weapons against cancer have traditionally been surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. India-based health care technology firm Perfint Healthcare has developed a fourth: image-guided robotic systems. Perfint’s newest product, called Maxio, helps doctors through delicate procedures—enabling them to better see, say, how to insert needles to enter a tumor, and then assist in guiding the needles into a patient’s body, and monitor their placement and the effect on the tumor. Maxio has been used 1,500 times in renowned hospitals in the United States (where it received FDA approval last May), as well as in India, Germany, and Russia, and this year it will launch commercially in Japan, Korea, and notably China, where liver cancer is particularly prevalent and Perfint just received regulatory approval.
For improving health through coaching. Prevent, Omada Health’s disease-avoidance regimen, helps at-risk individuals turn motivation into results. Major insurance companies, including Kaiser Permanente and Humana, recruit candidates, and Omada provides them with a personal health coach and tools to track their diet, exercise, and progress; weekly fitness and nutrition lessons; and regular feedback, including a version of group therapy. It all happens through the web or Omada’s app. “If you look at the best kind of behavioral science programs out there, all of them really, really leverage social connections,” says Omada cofounder Sean Duffy. Omada initially targeted prediabetes, and the company grew by 10 times last year while users lost an average of 5% of their body weight—results that, if replicated widely, could reduce the $245 billion that the American health care system spends on diabetes care. In December, Omada expanded Prevent to battle hypertension, high cholesterol, and metabolic syndrome. And those personal coaches have the motivation to keep helping: The coaches are paid based in part on how well the patients perform.
For changing the way we see our brains. Imagine your brain as a network of city streets, says ElMindA CEO Ronen Gadot. MRIs show us the roadways, but not the traffic. ElMindA’s device, however, can observe the effect of billions of neurons that fire when you think, talk, and breathe. It uses up to 256 electrodes and sits on the head like a hairnet, monitoring how brain networks respond to one another to help treat such conditions as PTSD and memory loss. “If there’s a traffic jam,” Gadot says, “we can detect it and find better interventions to open up those clogs.” The technology, approved last July by the FDA, could eventually help the 2 billion people living with brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and ADHD. For example, researchers may, for the first time, see how the brain responds to a drug versus a placebo. “The more we can see,” Gadot says, “the more we can affect functionality.”
For reducing heart failure hospitalizations. More than 5.1 million people in the U.S. experience heart failure each year, a condition where the heart no longer pumps enough blood and oxygen throughout the body. Those living with heart failure struggle with reduced mobility, shortness of breath, and chest pain, and often need frequent medical care. And according to the CDC, the condition causes an average of 1 million hospitalizations each year, contributing to the $32 billion spent on the disease. To help patients maintain their well-being at home and keep them out of the hospital, CardioMEMS developed a paper-clip-size wireless device that’s implanted in the body for doctors to remotely monitor blood pressure and heart rate. The monitoring helps doctors anticipate when complications may arise, and proactively manage medications or treatment. Clinical studies have shown the device reduces hospital admissions by 37 percent. CardioMEMS received FDA approval last spring, making it the first wirelessly powered implant of its kind to come onto the market. It was acquired by the global medical-device company St. Jude Medical shortly thereafter.
For getting one step closer to human drug trials—without harming actual humans. Building 3-D organs may sound like a sci-fi movie plot, but that’s what San Diego-based Organovo is doing. By placing cells into a 3-D printer, the company has built a working replica of a human liver. While the technology isn’t advanced enough to replace a liver in the human body, the implications for scientific research and drug testing are huge. The Organovo liver model is being used in pharmaceutical trials to study new drugs before they hit the market. For years, drug trials have been done on rats or on single cells in Petri dishes, but often they pass these trials and fail immediately when tested on humans. Organovo’s liver will allow drug companies to get much closer to the biology of a human trial without using actual humans, potentially saving millions of dollars and enabling life-saving drugs to reach the market faster. Next up, Organovo plans to build kidneys, hearts, and cancer tissue—and perhaps one day replace a human organ entirely.
For introducing a better blood test. Hate needles and having blood drawn? You’re not alone. With the game-changing new blood test by the company Theranos, you may never need to visit the doctor for the painful test again. Instead of doctors sending vials of blood to a lab and waiting days to receive results, the Theranos test can be done at a pharmacy and requires only a painless finger prick for a tiny drop of blood, and results can be processed within four hours. In addition, Theranos is charging a fraction of the cost—$2 to $4 for basic blood tests, instead of what can cost thousands of dollars today. If all blood tests were performed at such low prices, it could save Medicare and Medicaid $202 billion over the next decade, according to the company’s estimates. Headed by 30-year-old founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes, and launched in late 2013, the new test rocketed Theranos to a $9 billion valuation. To date, Theranos has opened more than 40 centers at Walgreens in Arizona and California, with plans to expand all over the country.
For developing the next generation of health monitors. Google may have had a hiccup when trying to break into the health sector in 2008 with its “Google Health” venture, a personal health record database that it retired in 2011, but it came back strong last year. In addition to the Google Fit platform that was launched last October to track sleep and exercise metrics, Google is developing a “smart” contact lens that monitors blood sugar levels for the 382 million people worldwide who have diabetes, and corrects vision by autofocusing on what someone is looking at, almost like a camera lens. The first prototype is expected in 2015. Plus, Google Glass, whose consumer value is still questionable, could have groundbreaking impacts on health care. It’s being used in surgery rooms to record procedures for resident training, allows surgeons to monitor vital signs of a patient without looking away, and provides hands-free immediate access to patient information.
For helping small businesses provide health insurance. A business typically spends $500 to $3,000 per employee for a health care broker to manage their insurance program. Brokers act as a middleman between the company and the health insurance provider, and charge a hefty commission to do so. Zenefits, a San Francisco-based company that launched in 2013, is aiming to change the entire system. It offers companies a free, easy-to-use software program that manages health insurance, plus other HR functions like payroll and retirement. Zenefits claims it’s doing what Travelocity.com did to the travel agency model in the 1990s—and in less than two years, it has signed up 2,000 small businesses. Brokers across the country, meanwhile, have just been left to complain to insurance regulators about this new competition.
For bringing the sharing economy to the surgery room. If you’ve ever been in a hospital operating room, you’ll likely notice the tremendous amount of expensive medical equipment sitting around. A surgical table can cost $50,000 depending on the model. That light fixture above you? $6,000 to $8,000. After surgeries, much of that equipment sits in a closet until it’s needed again, and at a time when health care spending is being counted by the penny, it’s difficult to let $30,000 equipment collect dust. That’s where Cohealo comes in. Just like Airbnb and Uber monetized unused bedrooms and cars, Cohealo is finding hidden value for hospital equipment. It developed a software program for hospital systems to coordinate and transfer medical equipment between hospitals, delivering the stuff to a surgeon who needs it within a day or two. Cohealo is now being used in 70 hospitals, and according to the early adapters, they’ve averaged $1 million in annual savings.