With New Fund, Aurora Looks to Deepen Support for Health Startups

When Milwaukee-based Aurora Health Care announced plans invest $5 million in local startups over the next five years through its new InvestMKE fund, Aurora president and CEO Nick Turkal said the new fund will help the organization “deliver high-quality, cost-effective healthcare, ultimately helping people live well here at home.”

What Turkal’s comments accompanying last week’s InvestMKE announcement didn’t convey was that Aurora has in recent years been quietly investing in several healthtech startups, including some based in the Milwaukee area. The hospital and clinic network has provided more than just cash to the companies it has invested in; Aurora has also worked with them to develop, install, and test their products at sites within Aurora’s network, which it says comprises 15 hospitals and more than 150 clinics in Wisconsin and Illinois.

Aurora is also a partner of StartUp Health, a New York-based organization that helps connect its members—mostly small but growing healthcare technology companies—with larger, more established players in the industry. Unity Stoakes, co-founder and president of StartUp Health, calls Aurora “one of the most progressive health systems in the country.”

“Many hospitals are going out of business, or they’re focused on [mergers and acquisitions] and cutting costs,” Stoakes says. Through its use of, and support for, innovative technologies, Aurora is “setting themselves up to better serve their 1.2 million patients, and really lead the way,” he says.

One startup Aurora works with is Babyscripts, which develops virtual care software for pregnant women, as well as the obstetricians and other healthcare workers who care for them. The Washington, D.C.-based company’s mobile app and other digital services allow healthcare providers to assign weekly tasks, and provide educational materials and additional monitoring to their pregnant patients, says senior VP of sales Kerry Waltrip. Aurora is a Babyscripts customer, and has also invested in the startup.

An expectant mother visits the doctor an average of 14 times during a typical low-risk pregnancy, says Sarah Nicholson, VP of business development at Babyscripts. Some customers have used the company’s tools to decrease the volume of prenatal visits among women in this category, which can have a broader effect of making care more convenient and precise, she says.

For example, Nicholson says Babyscripts has worked with some of its 13 health system clients to provide pregnant patients with Internet-connected blood pressure cuffs that can be used at home. The startup’s mobile app sends them reminders to take their blood pressure throughout their pregnancy. These measurements are automatically uploaded to the Babyscripts app, and are visible to both patients and obstetrics teams at their health systems, she says.

“If anything was [beyond] clinical thresholds for healthy blood pressure, we would alert that patient’s physician as soon as possible, as it could be a detection of elevated risk,” and occasion for an in-person visit, Nicholson says.

In mid-2015, Babyscripts and Aurora began having conversations about implementing the startup’s software at one or more Aurora locations. The two sides later signed a contract, under which Babyscripts agreed to install its tools for managing low-risk pregnancies at Aurora West Allis Medical Center, Nicholson says. The project was a success, she says, and led Aurora to ask the startup if its software might be able to help improve outcomes in a different population of female patients.

“Aurora said to us, ‘Hey, we also have this clinic in Milwaukee [with] a high Medicaid population,’” Nicholson says, referring to Aurora Sinai Women’s Health Center in Milwaukee. “The pregnancies that were going through that clinic had very low … Next Page »

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