Mpirik Expands Orthopedic Software Suite, Aided by $1.7M Investment

It’s a dilemma that many tech startups face: How quickly should they expand beyond their first product? Adding new products and services might help grow sales, but young, small companies need to be careful that they don’t bite off more than they can chew.

Milwaukee healthcare technology startup Mpirik wrestled with that question, and decided to waste no time in pushing ahead with multiple products at a relatively early stage. “It made more and more sense” as company leaders realized their three software products are “very much symbiotic,” CEO Sue Ela says.

Mpirik, originally known as Medical Companion, was founded in 2013 by Milwaukee-area orthopedic surgeon Joe Kohli, who came up with an idea for a mobile application that doctors and other medical staff could use to communicate with patients before and after surgery, as well as to send real-time updates during surgery to patients’ family and friends in the waiting room. The company quickly recruited Ela, former chief operating officer of Milwaukee-based Aurora Health Care, a network of hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies.

The communication software, now dubbed Ori, is used in eight Wisconsin hospitals, says Jake Bartnicki, who handles business development for Mpirik.

Buoyed by this early, albeit small, traction, Mpirik intends to roll out two additional products this year: ClinicCompanion, which uses the Xbox Kinect’s motion-detecting camera and Mpirik-developed software to assess patients’ recovery after surgery; and Joint Registry, which will crunch all of that patient data after a joint replacement.

The company will be able to juggle three products, Ela says, for several reasons. Having a seasoned hospital executive at the helm and a practicing orthopedic surgeon as a founder certainly helps the company understand its target market and makes it easier to get in the door of potential customers.

Mpirik also got a boost from a recent $1.75 million investment by the BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation and a group of undisclosed angel investors. The company has raised $2.5 million to date, Ela says. The new money has allowed it to hire three software developers, which means the company can advance its products more quickly than it could when it was using only outside contractors, Ela says. “We’re much faster in development and can be immediately responsive to customers, which is great.”

Mpirik now has 12 employees and several local contractors and business partners, including Madison, WI-based startup Catalyze, which hosts Mpirik’s data on its servers.

There’s been a big push lately to build a strong healthtech cluster in Wisconsin, particularly in the Madison area, which is home to Epic Systems, the leading provider of health records software for hospitals and clinics nationwide. A steady stream of ex-Epic employees have gone on to form healthtech startups in Madison, and local and national investors are starting to pay more attention to the sector there.

Milwaukee has generated less buzz around healthtech startups, but there are pockets of activity, such as companies like Mpirik and Geppetto Avatars, as well as university-led initiatives like a healthcare app development partnership between University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Mpirik CEO Sue Ela

Sue Ela

Ela thinks it’s a good time to be a healthtech startup in Wisconsin. “There’s just not the saturation that there is in other parts of the country,” she says. “There’s openness and excitement here and willingness on the part of the healthcare systems to … support companies like ours.”

That may help Mpirik establish a foothold among orthopedic practices in Wisconsin and the greater Midwest, where the company has initially set its sights, but it could be difficult to gain mass adoption around the country. Mpirik is certainly not the only company developing these types of products. There’s been an explosion of software startups that say they can help hospitals and clinics achieve the ultimate ambition of improving the quality of care while lowering costs—an imperative with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act.

Ela recognizes Mpirik has its work cut out in trying to expand, but she thinks the company’s combination of communication and data-tracking tools for a targeted field like orthopedics could help it stand out. “There’s a strong business case for each of the three products, but together they provide this very powerful orthopedic care management tool,” she says. “Ori is out there now. It’s meeting a need around patient communication and satisfaction. As the other ones come, they increase the overall potential of the company.” All three products are designed to be secure and HIPAA-compliant, she adds.

The ClinicCompanion software will take the video feed from a Kinect device and measure things like range of motion and gait. This, combined with information from patients’ self-assessment surveys, will allow doctors to more objectively measure their recovery post-surgery, Mpirik says. All of this data will be incorporated in the Joint Registry product, which hospitals and clinics could use to draw broader conclusions about the decisions doctors are making during surgery. For example, a hospital could look at a group of patients that exhibit improved strength and range of motion, and try to understand if those outcomes might be a result of certain surgical approaches or the type of implant used, Bartnicki says.

Ori, the communication tool, is being further developed so that it better complements the other two products.

Right now, healthcare providers use Ori to interact with patients before surgery by sending text messages or e-mails reminding the patient, for example, to stop taking certain medications before surgery and to fast the night before the operation.

During the procedure, loved ones in the waiting room are given a tablet device that receives electronic messages sent by a doctor or nurse from a smartphone in the operating room. These messages are written ahead of time so they can be quickly and easily sent out every 15 minutes at the push of a button, so as not to impede the surgery. The messages might mark the stage of surgery and indicate how the patient is doing, Ela says. “It takes away the anxiety around waiting,” she adds.

It also increases efficiency because nurses don’t have to make a phone call from the operating room to the waiting room, and loved ones are free to move about the hospital or clinic. Family and friends who aren’t present can also receive the surgery updates via text message or e-mail.

Patients continue to receive electronic messages after the surgery, such as notes of encouragement or reminders to schedule a follow-up appointment.

Next, Mpirik intends to turn Ori into a two-way communication program, so patients could send texts to the doctor’s office. “Every hospital and healthcare system is looking to enhance their communication with patients,” and text messaging is “the way most people prefer to communicate right now,” Ela says.

Jake Bartnicki

Jake Bartnicki

But won’t doctors and office staff be inundated with messages? Mpirik says it will be manageable because the plan is for an administrative employee at the hospital or clinic to serve as the gatekeeper of messages coming through Ori. That means routine pre- and post-operation communication, like filling prescriptions or scheduling appointments, would go to the appropriate staff member, while clinical questions would get flagged for a doctor, physician’s assistant, or nurse, Bartnicki says. “Doctors and nurses are only notified when they have to be,” he says. Ori “will make it much easier for office staff to manage the patient communication that they’re now getting via phone,” Ela adds.

The bigger picture is that Ori would become another source of data to help hospitals and clinics improve patient care, Ela says. For example, if a doctor’s office frequently receives complaints of nausea a couple days after surgery, the doctor could begin to proactively prescribe anti-nausea medication for patients, Bartnicki says. “It will help physicians more efficiently manage their practice while increasing patient satisfaction,” Ela says.

Mpirik is targeting orthopedics first because of its founder’s expertise and because the number of orthopedic surgeries is expected to rise with an aging population, Ela says. But the company’s technology could be applied to other areas of healthcare. Mpirik is “trying to stay focused” and make its products “work flawlessly for orthopedics, and then explore the other market opportunities,” she says.

Jeff Bauter Engel is Deputy Editor, Tech at Xconomy. Email: jengel@xconomy.com Follow @JeffEngelXcon

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