SmartLink Raises $2.5M for Mobile App Linking Patients, Physicians
[Updated 1/13/15, 4:55 pm. See below.] The telephone is a wonderful device for doctor/patient communication except for one drawback—both the doctor and the patient must be on the line at the same time.
Cary, NC, startup SmartLink Mobile aims to overcome that hurdle with a mobile app that shows patients the familiar interface of a text message while giving their doctors a powerful tool to manage communication across all of their patients without the need to be on the line with any single patient at the same time.
SmartLink plans to announce Tuesday that it has raised $2.5 million in seed funding, which will be used for further product development, as well as sales and marketing. The company is entering a field crowded with mobile health app choices, but SmartLink founder and CEO Siu Tong says there are few apps that are helpful to both the doctor and the patient.
“In today’s mobile health, there’s a lot of excitement but not a lot of adoption,” he says.
The idea behind SmartLink’s app, called Pocket HealthNet, is that many people use smartphones as their primary electronic device, and their favored method of communication is the text message, Tong says. But the app does not use text messaging functions offered by mobile phone providers, who are not compliant with patient privacy requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
Instead, health communication travels on SmartLink’s secure, HIPAA-compliant platform, which translates text from a patient into information interpreted by enterprise software at a medical practice. Patients can use the app to ask questions, such as instructions about their medication. Doctors can use the platform to communicate with one or more patients, sending, for example, a flu shot reminder.
The simple text message interface makes the SmartLink app easy to use—patients won’t need to learn different software for different physicians, Tong says. The software can also be used for appointment scheduling and communication about lab results. The SmartLink app does not yet connect with electronic health records, though that capability is in development. The software is available to physicians by subscription; patients can download the app for free from both the Google Play and the Apple App Store.
SmartLink pilot tested its app with doctors in late 2014. The company is now planning to market the software nationwide, aiming to win over doctors, who would in turn introduce the app to their patients.
Tong says SmartLink’s biggest opportunity might lie in the changing rules governing how doctors treat Medicare patients requiring chronic care. A new fee kicked in on Jan. 1 for doctors who treat Medicare patients outside of office visits. Chronic care management methods, such as a telephone check-ins, have historically not been covered by Medicare, but starting this year, the Center for Medicare & Medicaid services will pay $42.60 for chronic care management of patients with two or more chronic conditions. This communication cannot be handled by electronic health records or by fax, but Tong says SmartLink’s software complies.
Doctors may bill for this new charge once per month, per patient. And the potential market is large. Tong says that of the more than 50 million Medicare beneficiaries, up to 35 million have multiple chronic conditions that would qualify for payment under the new chronic care management payment rule, opening up a new window for physician revenue.
SmartLink is a spinoff from Infina Connect, another North Carolina health IT startup founded by Tong. Infina developed and commercialized software that helps physicians make decisions about patient referrals, taking into account costs and health outcomes. In 2013, Infina was one of the startups featured in the Wall Street Journal’s “Startup of the Year” competition, making the final five.
SmartLink’s software originated with Infina Connect. Tong says the idea for a mobile offering came from physicians who had had invested in Infina and decided that it should be spun out as a separate company. Smartlink’s angel investors include some of the physicians who had intially invested in Infina. But Tong says the two companies are now completely separate, each employing its own management and staff. [A sentence was added to clarify the investors in SmartLink.]
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