Digital Tools, Online Community & More: Patient Partnership Award Finalists

Xconomy Boston — 

Patients are supposed to be at the center of medicine, but the sheer size and complexity of the healthcare and life science industries often makes it challenging to maintain focus on patients. The finalists in this year’s Patient Partnership category of the Xconomy Awards are trying to change this, by finding innovative ways to work with patients to improve drug development and patient care. Here are the finalists. The winner will be announced at our awards gala on Sept. 5 in Boston.

(Check out more stories profiling the Xconomy Award finalists in the CEO, Startup, Digital Trailblazer, Innovation at the Intersection, Big Idea, Contrarian, NewcomerYoung Innovator and Commitment to Diversity categories, as well as the winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award.)

One way to put patients at the center of healthcare is to help get them to their medical appointments in the first place—which doesn’t always happen, because of transportation issues. Circulation’s software aims to tackle this, by connecting healthcare providers with transportation services like Uber and Lyft to coordinate rides for patients, many of whom are elderly, disabled, or low-income. Patients and hospitals use the software to schedule rides for non-emergency visits and track them in real time. The company, led by CEO Robin Heffernan, says more than 1,500 healthcare facilities across the country are using its software to ensure fewer people miss their appointments. Heffernan says she plans to expand the company so that it will help transport prescription drugs, medical equipment, and even home care providers.

Iora Health
Iora Health partners with patients by building a team of healthcare providers around each patient at its network of primary care centers. The team consists of doctors, nurses, behavioral health specialists, and health coaches who do home visits and help patients (mainly those over 65) live healthy lifestyles. The company, co-founded and led by Rushika Fernandopulle, says that this method of care has reduced ER visits and hospitalizations of its Medicare patients by 30 to 40 percent.

Iora makes deals with health insurers and employers, which pay Iora a flat monthly fee rather than paying per service, the dominant method of payment in healthcare. Iora says this saves healthcare dollars while also improving patient care. The company has raised more than $223 million since it was founded in 2011, including a $100 million round announced in May.

Magenta Therapeutics
Even before Magenta (NASDAQ: MGTA) launched in late 2016 to develop better bone marrow transplant therapies, the biotech company had been talking with Be The Match, the world’s largest registry of bone marrow donors. For more than 30 years, the nonprofit registry has been matching bone marrow donors with patients (with blood cancer and other diseases) who need bone marrow transplants. Be The Match has also been building a community of patients and collecting data on how patients have fared with their transplants. Since mid-2017, Be The Match and Magenta have been formally working together on clinical trial design, strategies for getting insurers to reimburse the treatments, and, as Christina Isacson, Magenta’s chief business officer says, ensuring that Magenta understands the patient perspective as it develops its treatments.

Magenta is currently in a Phase 2 trial testing its technology that increases the number of stem cells in donated umbilical cord blood. The goal is to improve the success rate of the cord blood transplant in people with an inherited metabolic disease. The company is using the registry’s historical data on similar patients treated with current approved therapies as a comparison. Be The Match has also invested in the company, and its president, Amy Ronneberg, sits on the company’s board of directors.

Partners Connected Health
From step counts to heart rate, patients are gathering an unprecedented amount of their own health data outside of the doctor’s office, using digital devices. Partners Healthcare, which runs dozens of hospitals and clinics, launched a new program across its system this year to let patients collect data at home and transmit it through a smartphone app to Partners’ electronic health records system. The initiative is run by a group at Partners called Partners Connected Health, which is studying and implementing new ways of incorporating digital and mobile technologies into patient care.

Patients can use a device such as a Fitbit or a blood pressure cuff to send step count, blood pressure, blood glucose levels, and body weight data via Bluetooth to their smartphone. An app then sends the data to Partners’ system. Doctors can review the data to see, for example, if a patient’s blood pressure medication is working well. The aim is to give doctors a better picture of what’s going on with the patients, beyond just a five-minute snapshot at the clinic, says Kelly Santomas, senior director of Partners Connected Health, who is spearheading the project. The hope is that patients, who can also look at their data, will feel more engaged in their care, Santomas adds.

Santomas and her team are focused on getting the word out to patients, and also want to target a wider range of patients such as pregnant women and those recovering from certain orthopedic surgeries.

Taking into account real-world data reported by patients on diseases and treatments has become a trend in the increasingly “patient-centered” world of drug development. That could explain why PatientsLikeMe, which touts itself as one of the largest repositories of patient-reported data across multiple diseases, has become a go-to source for many drug companies. PatientsLikeMe is a community website with more than 600,000 members—patients with over 2,800 conditions who share their experiences and medical data (including symptoms, treatments, and drug side effects), while connecting with each other and learning about their disease on the site.

PatientsLikeMe collects the patient-reported data and sells it to clients: drug makers, patient groups, and academic researchers. It also allows clients to gather data from its patient community, and does research of its own. For example, a survey conducted last year of more than 2,500 of its patients showed that those with certain diseases, like Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis, were among the most satisfied with their provider or care, while others with conditions like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder were the least satisfied. Another study of more than 200 volunteers resulted in a checklist intended to help patients evaluate the quality of their care.