GeriTech’s Top Picks from AARP’s 2nd Health Innovation@50+ LivePitch

On May 31st, AARP hosted its second annual Health Innovation@50+ LivePitch event. I wrote last fall about the ten companies that AARP had considered most promising for its first LivePitch event. In this post, I’ll present the second slate of finalists, comment on how promising they seem to me — in terms of improving the healthcare of older adults — and tell you which products I’m most interested in.

For those clinicians and others who may not be familiar with the event, here’s how it works. First, AARP invites companies with a new consumer-oriented health technology for the aged 50+ market to apply for one of ten spots at the LivePitch event. Submissions are screened by a “committee of technology experts” who decide which products or services are “the most innovative.” (See the FAQ here for more info.)

The ten chosen companies get to present two pitches at the LivePitch event: one for “investors and health technology experts,” and one for AARP consumers. A winner is picked for each pitch session. The companies must be fairly small (less than $5 million in funding so far) and prepared to launch their product within one year of the event.

AARP’s list of this event’s ten finalists is here.

GeriTech’s quick take on the AARP LivePitch finalists

Here’s a short synopsis of the companies/products presented at the LivePitch event, along with my initial reactions.

  • Adhere Tech: Patented smart pill bottles that measure how many pills in bottle in real time, send the data into the cloud, and reminds patients to take meds via phone call or text. Works for liquid meds too. Info sent wirelessly via cellular radio signal.
    • I’m very interested! As a practicing doctor, I’m constantly struggling to find out just what medications my patients are taking (which is not always the same as what has been prescribed, although that info is very important too).
    • If this could provide clinicians — at the time of the visit/encounter — with an up-to-date list of meds being taken, this could really improve care for older adults.
    • This also sounds like it could address the issue of tracking PRN medication use; very important for pain medications, insulin, etc.
    • How do they send info to the clinicians? Their website doesn’t say.
  • Caremerge: Communication and care coordination platform for assisted-living facilities. Meant to improve communication within facility, with family of resident, and with external clinicians and providers.
    • Good concept, unclear how well they will be able to execute when it comes to real-world usability for external clinicians. Last fall I mentioned Caremerge in a post about the difficulties I have with care coordination for patients in assisted living; among other issues, these older patients often have SEVERAL other doctors and offsite providers (home health care agencies, private caregiving agencies) that I need to communicate with. I’m a bit skeptical that all will be willing to connect via the facility’s platform.
    • On their website’s section on clinical collaboration, Caremerge promises to “eliminate phone tags and faxes with offsite Providers (PCP’s, Specialists, Therapists, etc.).” Would be nice to see more specific information on how collaboration with the facility would work for the PCP. I’m guessing it involves inviting the clinician to log-in to the platform; unfortunately I doubt most doctors will be willing unless they have a lot of patients at the facility. It’s after all easier to just send a fax! As for sending messages, I might use an assisted living facility’s platform, but the busy neurologist I’m coordinating with probably won’t.
    • For specifics on what I regularly struggle to communicate with facilities about, see this recent post.
  • CoPatient, Inc: Service that identifies medical billing errors and sorts them out on behalf of the patient. Saves patient time, hassle, and reportedly money as well.
    • Sounds like it could be useful to patients, assuming it works as well as advertised. But not very relevant to helping geriatricians coordinate with older adults and caregivers.
    • The main insurance/financial issues I regularly run into relate to understanding how much a drug or assistive device will cost a patient. Having this information at point-of-care could help clinicians and patients better work out a feasible management plan.
  • HomeTeam Therapy: Service using online video and Microsoft Kinect to help patients with their home physical therapy exercises. Seems meant to be used in combination with (or as a follow-up to) in person PT sessions.
    • Could be useful, as I’m sure most patients have difficulty sticking to their home PT exercises.
    • Unclear how suited it will be to a frail older population. All the patients visible on the company’s website are young and athletic looking.
  • LabDoor: Service providing independent evaluation and grading of dietary supplements. Grades products based on safety and efficacy.
    • Not particularly of interest to me unless the service will also make it easy for patients to tell their clinicians what supplements they are taking.
    • In general, the biggest problems I face regarding supplements is 1) knowing what patients are taking, and how much of it; 2) spotting any interactions with their prescriptions, or dangers related to their health conditions; 3) getting some patients to stop taking mega-doses of certain vitamins. (Neat recent NYT op-ed summarizes some of the problems with vitamins.)
  • Life Vest Health: Service allows people to track health and create cash incentives related to following-up with health goals.
    • Hm. I can’t see my elderly patients using such a service, but perhaps this kind of gamification-incentivization of health will end up being more powerful than I realize.
    • Do we really want health to equal money? And will equating it to money result in lasting behavior changes?
  • Lively: “Activity-sharing” service, uses passive activity sensors in the senior’s home, and makes it easy for families to send pictures and news by snail-mail to their older loved one.
    • Hm. If one wants to keep an elder health, safe, and independent for longer, I don’t know that a passive physical activity monitor is the first thing I’d recommend. (I’d consider wiring up the medication box and arrange for daily social/physical activities instead.)
    • I recently wrote about whether passive activity monitors will help elders remain safe at home longer. It certainly seems that these devices might provide some reassurance to family caregivers, and there’s something to be said for this. Also, although there are lots of benefits to having a live person visit a senior regularly, it’s true that many seniors resist the idea. (Plus it can be expensive to pay someone, if there is no friend/family member available.) So a passive activity monitor might be seen as a cheaper and more acceptable alternative. I just don’t know that it will allow older people to remain safe at home for longer though.
  • SoundFest: Creator of RealClarity, which uses a smartphone app and a special bluetooth earpiece to provide hearing assistance. In other words, a hearing aid that doesn’t look like a hearing aid. Reportedly more affordable than conventional hearing aids.
    • Cool! If the product actually provides good hearing assistance, this will be a huge improvement over the current cumbersome process of referring patients for audiology and hearing aids.
  • Veristride: High-tech shoe insole which pairs with smartphone app to provide user with feedback on gait and mobility. “We seek to allow older adults to evaluate, track, and improve mobility and stability in the comfort of their own homes and communities.”
    • Hm. Obviously gait problems and mobility issues are very common in older adults, and primary care clinicians could use some help with evaluation and management. However, a high-tech insole can’t complete an evaluation on its own — it won’t identify problematic medications for instance, although clinicians often don’t identify these either. Also unclear to me how the assessment of the insole would compare with the assessment of a trained physical therapist.
    • What is this company’s strategy for relaying information from the insole back to clinicians?
    • Seems the product was originally developed to help people — presumably younger — after amputation. Remains to be seen how helpful this product is in the average elderly person, who often needs a multi-modal intervention in order to improve safe ambulation and reduce fall risk.
  • Wello: Online service allowing people to work with a fitness trainer via video, from the comfort of their home. Sessions can be one-on-one or small groups.
    • I have many older frail patients who no longer drive but need exercise. Unclear from Wello’s website if their trainers offer exercise programs tailored to the needs of the elderly. Could be useful for younger seniors however.
    • Would be interesting if some of these video-based trainers developed expertise in remotely helping on-site caregivers do an exercise program with an elderly person. Many elderly people have a family caregiver or paid caregiver present in the home, but this person doesn’t quite know how to help the older person with an exercise program.

What I’m most interested in

Definitely AdhereTech, provided the technology is affordably priced. Keeping track of whether a patient is taking medication, and how much he/she has taken, is a *huge* issue in primary care of older adults.

Blood pressure too high? Well, is he taking his prescribed diuretic? (Often no, because older people are already struggling with frequent urination issues). Still complaining of pain? Well, has she been taking the acetaminophen 500mg three times a day as I suggested last time? Hm, let’s look at the bottles. Ma’am, show me what you take. Oh wait, you’ve been taking aspirin three times a day for pain? (This actually happened to me the other day.)

And if AdhereTech can figure out how to track how much insulin a patient has been taking, that would be hugely helpful. I have come across so many patients who have been told to give themselves a little extra insulin when their sugar is high, and then when they come to the visit and we discover occasional hypoglycemia (or chronic hyperglycemia), they are unable to relay just how much insulin they’ve been taking and how often. A dangerous and difficult situation that we sorely need technology to help us with!

Next most promising to me is SoundFest’s RealClarity hearing product. Many older adults struggle with their hearing, and historically getting them an audiology evaluation and possible hearing aids has been a considerable hassle. So it would be terrific if a smartphone-based product made it easier for patients to have their hearing evaluated and assisted.

And which companies won at LivePitch?

The same company won the judges award and the audience award: LabDoor.

The judges, one should note, have experience in healthcare tech entrepreneurship and business investment. (See here for the list of judges and their bios.) As with the first LivePitch event, there were no clinicians, geriatric care managers, or other front-line health and aging problem-solvers invited to judge these innovations in healthcare technology.

This is a little disappointing to me, but not surprising as no start-up can succeed unless it’s promising from a business perspective. Although older people — and those of us who serve them — face lots of important health problems that tech could solve, the business case is often very difficult.

As for LabDoor, what can I say. Supplements are very popular, so a good service helping people with supplements should be appealing to consumers and to investors, who care more about whether people buy than whether something is objectively helpful to their health.

Maybe LabDoor will eventually consider helping consumers and clinicians connect over what supplements a patient is taking? Even enabling patients to bring in a printout of what supplements they are taking would be helpful to clinicians, and could improve healthcare for the patients.

In the meantime, I’ll be keeping an eye out for AdhereTech and SoundFest in particular, and look forward to seeing how all these companies’ products evolve over the coming year.

Comments

  1. When I look at startups like these, I try to distinguish between
    1. their goals about what problem to solve
    vs.
    2. the conceptual solution they are proposing
    vs.
    3. the execution of their concept into an actual product or service.
    .
    Many startups have great sounding pitches about what problem or concept they'd like to tackle (eg preventing falls, integrating data, etc), but what differentiates the best are the ones that actually DO what they claim — and in an easy to use way and at the right price point.

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