Triangle Tech Companies Tap Into Patient-Driven Healthcare Trends

As healthcare costs rise and doctor shortages loom, local technology companies are ramping up development of software to make physicians and treatment more accessible to patients nationwide.

TouchCare, a Durham, NC-based startup, launched an Android-compatible version of its telemedicine mobile app earlier this month. And Polyglot, a Morrisville, NC-based software company that simplifies prescription instructions and tracks medication adherence, raised a funding round in March. Both are working to form partnerships with more healthcare providers in North Carolina and other states.

The growth of these companies illustrates an important trend in healthcare IT: Providers are becoming more willing to adopt consumer-facing technologies, encouraging businesses to roll out technologies that give patients greater control over their healthcare treatment.

The HITECH and Affordable Care Acts, passed in 2009 and 2010, jumpstarted the growth of the healthcare IT industry by introducing incentives for providers to adopt electronic health records (EHR) systems and other cost-saving technologies. Companies such as TouchCare and Polyglot have benefitted from an increase in the adoption of products that have made healthcare more efficient for both patients and providers and given rise to variety of apps and services that weren’t available a few years ago.

“There’s been tremendous growth in the adoption of EHRs, so now the focus is moving toward telemedicine and connected health,” said Linda Dimitropoulos, director of the Center for the Advancement of Health IT at RTI International, a research institute based in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park. “Mobile and telemedicine are the next big things coming.”

Cost and privacy issues have slowed the healthcare industry’s adoption of telemedicine, but improvements in mobile technology and reimbursement programs have enhanced its safety and utility. The industry is expected to generate $584 million in revenue this year, up from about $400 million last year, according to data from IBISWorld.

The TouchCare mobile app reduces wait times and unnecessary doctor visits by allowing providers to make HIPAA-compliant video calls with patients. The company launched the first version of its application in July 2014 and tested it at institutions including the UNC School of Medicine and Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

Since its launch, thousands of providers and patients have started using the app, said Beverly Buchman, TouchCare’s senior vice president of marketing. The app costs between $149 and $199 each month for providers after an initial trial period.

Buchman said the company expects its user base to grow considerably this year, though she declined to provide exact projections. “We’re seeing that utilization just goes off the charts once a provider feels comfortable with the technology,” Buchman said. “We’re working to overcome preconceived notions about telemedicine.”

TouchCare secured a $4 million investment from Mosaic Health Solutions, a Durham-based funding arm of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, at the end of last year. The investment has enabled TouchCare, which employs about 20 people, to expand its staff and create the Android version of its application.

Tom Carleton, Mosaic’s senior director of business development, said the partnership reflects his company’s belief that consumer demand for telemedicine will promote the growth of the sector.

“Telemedicine is being driven by consumers, but the telemedicine industry has not caught on,” he said. “But trends are changing, and there’s going to be a network effect there.”

Mosaic was formed by BCBS North Carolina in 2014 to invest in companies developing technology to reduce healthcare costs. Beyond telemedicine, Carleton said he expects to see an increase in demand for technology that gives consumers greater control over their quality of care.

That consumer focus is also helping to drive Polyglot’s line of “Meducation” software, which attempts to improve healthcare quality by translating or simplifying medication instructions. Charles Lee, Polyglot’s president and founder, said healthcare providers are showing more interest in better serving patients with language or literacy challenges than they did when he founded the company in 2001.

“This is a population likely to come back to the hospital because of errors in taking medication,” Lee said. “It wasn’t a big issue for hospitals, but now, with the emphasis on reducing readmission and making sure patients are healthy, satisfaction and efficiency are on the radar.”

Polyglot raised about $1.2 million in equity funding in March, according to a regulatory filing.

In addition to its Meducation software, Polyglot offers TimeView, a tool that consolidates and visualizes a patient’s medication history. The program pulls prescription data from Surescripts, a national network of medication information, and distributes it to an EHR system for a care provider’s examination.

“The challenge we’re running into is disparate electronic medical record systems,” Lee said. “As a third-party player, we need to be able to convince them why they need to integrate with us.”

That’s an issue a lot of people have with the current state of electronic health records. But thus far Community Care of North Carolina has integrated TimeView into its system, and Carolinas HealthCare System and Duke Medicine might follow suit, Lee said. The company also has several partnerships with out-of-state networks, including the California HealthCare Foundation.

Lee said he expects the market for TimeView to expand as EHR interoperability improves. “Now, we’re working on our products and increasing awareness on a national level,” he said.

Other companies around the country are capitalizing on the shift toward consumer-focused healthcare, as illustrated by recent developments in telemedicine. This week, San Francisco-based Doctor on Demand teamed up with Tacoma, WA-based MultiCare Health System to create MultiCare Doctor On Demand, a video consultation service available to patients in Washington state. And earlier this month, Palo Alto, CA-based HealthTap unveiled DocNow, a telemedicine app for the newly released Apple Watch that connects wearers with a network of 68,000 care providers.

On the medication adherence front, Durham-based HAP Innovations is developing a device that tracks a patient’s prescriptions and dispenses the pills when he or she needs to take them. And companies such as Needham, MA-based MedMinder offer pillboxes that alert patients to take certain medications at the right times.

Katherine Blunt is a senior journalism and history double major at Elon University. Follow @katherineblunt

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