A Seattle-based startup, Sentinel Healthcare, is developing a platform combining software and wearable medical devices that it believes can help healthcare providers monitor patients who have high blood pressure—and perhaps one day predict their risk of heart attack or stroke. In the United States, about 75 million people, or one in three adults, have hypertension, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On Thursday, Sentinel announced it raised a $2 million round of financing. Company CEO Nirav Shah, a physician-turned-entrepreneur who founded Sentinel in 2017, says it plans to use some of the new money to add more patients and clinicians to its community of users. Pioneer Square Labs, an early-stage business incubator in Seattle, led the funding round. Sentinel’s other backers include Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley startup accelerator, and the Seattle Angel Conference.
Sentinel is among the newer entrants to the growing digital health field, in which technology is deployed to try to improve patient care and lower healthcare costs. Venture capital investors worldwide put $9.5 billion into digital health startups last year, up 32 percent from $7.2 billion in 2017, according to estimates from the research firm Mercom Capital Group.
Sentinel works with clinics across the U.S. to provide patients with high-tech monitors that record their blood pressure and heart rate. These monitors, which are typically cuffs designed to be worn around the arm, are sold by iHealth, MultiCare, and other manufacturers, Shah says. They can be programmed to automatically send readings to patients’ smartphones over a wireless Bluetooth connection, he says.
Then, Sentinel’s software, which patients can download using Apple and Android mobile devices, analyzes the readings. The startup’s tools compare a patient’s blood pressure to past readings, and evaluate the new reading in the context of his or her medical history, Shah says. Ultimately, Sentinel makes recommendations to patients and the clinicians who care for them, he says.
“We have information about their [prior] care: medications, labs, pharmacology, metabolic state,” Shah says. “By combining all of that data, we can make decisions quicker about what medication adjustments need to be made, what lifestyle adjustments need to be made.”
Currently, more than 500 hypertensive patients are using Sentinel’s software to share blood pressure readings with their doctors. The startup says it has worked with clinics in Arizona, Tennessee, Florida, and California to provide patients with blood pressure cuffs.
Many healthcare providers are eligible to receive reimbursement from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and other health insurers for the remote monitoring services Sentinel’s technology provides, according to the startup’s website.
Shah says CMS and other government agencies have in many cases indicated a willingness to cover or offset the cost of chronic care management and remote patient monitoring. He describes the money that could be used for such potential reimbursements as “big allocations from the government that no one is utilizing.”
Sentinel “helps clinicians access those revenues, and then we participate in those revenue streams,” he says, describing how the clinics the startup has worked with typically pay the fees that Sentinel charges.
The blood pressure monitors that are compatible with Sentinel’s software have all received FDA clearance, Shah says, though his company has not yet needed to seek clearance from the agency for its software.
However, that could change as Sentinel continues to develop its digital tools, Shah says. He describes Sentinel as currently being a sort of data “broker,” but adding features to the software that predict heart attack, stroke, and other conditions would require Sentinel to obtain an FDA clearance.
“The moment at which we start manipulating the data to make decisions, then we would cross the regulatory threshold for FDA approval,” Shah says.
Sentinel is first concentrating on high blood pressure, a decision Shah says resulted from his background as a stroke neurologist. Hypertension is the biggest risk factor for stroke, as well as the “biggest epidemic” in healthcare, he says.
But Shah envisions Sentinel’s software eventually being used to remotely monitor and help care for patients with other chronic conditions, like sepsis and heart failure.