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Emerging health IT companies vie for VC at inaugural 'Start Me Up' meetup

The Midwestern health IT startup community doesn't get the press of its counterparts on the coasts, but it appears to be thriving and, in some cases, tackling more realistic healthcare problems than those in other parts of the country.

Eight emerging companies showcased their wares Monday to an audience of potential investors, potential customers in the form of healthcare CIOs and fellow entrepreneurs during the first-ever Start Me Up Emerging Healthcare IT Meetup Day, prior to the start of the 11th annual WTN Media Digital Health Conference in Madison. Most were beyond seed funding and were seeking Series A venture capital, and none came from farther away than Minneapolis.

The four judges, including venture capitalists Trevor D'Souza and Scott Button, as well as Dean Health System CIO Dave Lundal and Gene Thomas, CIO of Gulfport (Miss.) Memorial Hospital, were generally impressed with Wellbe.me. That Madison-based company has spent three years developing TotalCare, a cloud-based "guided patient experience," according to CEO James Dias.

The platform, called Patient Guidance System, helps automate the complicated process of readying patients for surgical procedures and making sure they receive proper follow-up care. Missed steps cost hospitals $2 billion a year in canceled surgeries and administrative hassles, Dias said. Plus, he added, unprepared patients often have higher hospital readmissions and poor satisfaction scores.

Wellbe.me sends send patients checklists and links tied to specific points in the process, focusing on administrative tasks. "What we're replacing is paper," Dias said.
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Currently, Wellbe.me is running pilots with Avera McKennan Hospital and University Health Center, in Sioux Falls, S.D., Butler Health System outside Pittsburgh and the University of Wisconsin's UW Health in orthopedics (total joint replacements), sports medicine (ACL repair) and bariatric surgery, Dias said. The company is looking to scale to other service lines, with an eye toward "high-volume, high-value" procedures, including obstetrics, other areas of orthopedics and diagnostic procedures like colonoscopy, he added.

Based on his five-minute presentation and his answers to panelists' question, Dias won a meeting with venture investors as he looks to close out a Series A round of funding.

Others earning some face time included Forward Health Group and SA Ignite.

The latter, a Chicago-based company that is hiring for a recently opened office in Madison, wants to be the "TurboTax for Meaningful Use reporting," according to CEO Tom Lee. SA Ignite's flagship product, MU Assistant, automates reporting for ambulatory providers participating in the federal electronic health records (EHR) incentive program known as Meaningful Use.

At an annual cost of $400 per provider attesting to Meaningful Use — with no setup fee — Lee said customers can expect a return on investment of 300 percent to 700 percent in the first year, from both increased office efficiency and acceleration of the attestation process. (The faster providers get their documentation in, the faster they get their bonus payments from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.) Plus, Medicare providers that first achieve Meaningful Use in 2013 earn an extra $15,000 than those that do not start until 2014, and penalties for noncompliance begin in 2015, Lee noted.

As incentives go away, Lee acknowledged that there might will be a drop-off in use of MU Assistant, but he said CMS and private payers alike will expect providers to report quality-related data directly from their EHRs going forward. He also said that SA Ignite has new products in the pipeline to address other aspects of healthcare analytics and data automation.

Forward Health Group, not to be confused with Wisconsin's ForwardHealth interChange Medicaid management system, is a Madison-based company that helps providers, payers and an emerging class of Accountable Care Organizations manage vast stores of data to help improve the health of populations.

"Healthcare is kind of broken because it doesn't have good metadata," said CEO Michael Barbouche. Forward Health's goal is to be the "best friend to IT" by adding the metadata and removing a huge reporting burden for healthcare systems, he said.

ForwardHealth is trying to tap the venture market after more than four years of operating the business with no external capital and after building out the Population Manager visualization platform in various forms for a decade. The company marked a recent success by inking a partnership with the MGMA/ACMPE, a national organization for group physician practices, formerly known as the Medical Group Management Association.

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