What’s next in health tech? 4 Boston startups share their predictions

Justine  Hofherr

Boston’s health tech scene is at the forefront of some pretty incredible trends right now, including modernizing the pharmacy, developing “chips” that mimic human cells and creating communities for patients with life-altering diseases.

While the technology developed by local startups is diverse, they all share a vision of a better healthcare system and healthier, happier patients. We caught up with four Boston tech companies to catch a glimpse into the future of health tech — in 2017 and beyond.

 

At the intersection of design, biology and engineering is Emulate, a startup working to develop new products that emulate living human biology. Their products, like “Organs-on-Chips” that mimic human cells and tissues, are enabling a new era of precision medicine and personalized health apps.  

Responses via Stanley King, PhD, Senior Director of Business Development 

Why did you decide to get into health tech?

During my graduate work at the University of Virginia in the field of neuroscience and behavior, I knew I didn’t want to become a professor, but I was interested in staying close to science. So, that’s what got me interested in the health tech space.

What are the most exciting developments in health tech today?

I’m not in a position to call out the most exciting developments in the field. From my vantage point, I am working on an innovative technology, called ‘Organs-on-Chips,’ that aims to improve the development of new medicines — as well as other products — by offering a human-relevant platform to predict how disease, medicines, chemicals and foods affect human health. 

Where do you think health tech is headed over the next 10 years?

I think one of the major industry trends in the next 10 years will be creating new technologies that make the drug development process more successful, efficient and cost-effective. There is no doubt that the drug industry continues to make remarkable contributions to improving human health. And yet, the cost and complexity of developing a new medicine continues to spiral at an unsustainable pace. Advanced technologies can offer new solutions and the potential to shift the paradigm for how new drugs are discovered and developed.  

The adoption of new technologies will require another trend to continue: collaboration among the many stakeholders in the healthcare community. It will take a ‘meeting of the minds’ between multiple teams and organizations to find new solutions. 

Is there something unique or special about working in health tech in Boston?

There is no doubt that one of the special things about working in Boston is that it is an innovation ecosystem, which offers unique opportunities for us to grow within a connected biotechnology and healthcare ecosystem. Many of the organizations in the Boston area have an entrepreneurial culture, a spirit of collaboration and a commitment to improving human health for patients and consumers. It is tremendously energizing and inspiring to work within Boston’s innovation community.

 

Wellist provides healthcare clients with the insights, analytics and tools they need to address the whole patient and their non-clinical needs inside and outside the hospital. For example, Wellist offers patient experience assessments and analytics, call center navigators and tools that connect patients and their families to supportive communities.  

Responses via Erik Hjortshoj, CTO 

Why did you decide to get into health tech?

It was more of a reaction to a fabulous opportunity than a determined decision. I had been on the periphery of healthcare with natural language processing and search technologies that were sold into many markets, including healthcare and working with benefits vendors. In 2007, I was given the chance to join American Well on day one to found their technical platform and software product.  

What are the most exciting developments in health tech today?

The proliferation of connected devices and the deep learning that can be applied to the resulting abundance of data will increasingly drive insights in medicine and treatment. This is exciting because both will inevitably mature into a significant platform for consumer-oriented software products and services.

Where do you think health tech is headed over the next 10 years?

I don’t think we have yet finished the work of the last 10 years: to achieve the benefits of consumer-driven health care promised by the health 2.0 movement. I’m excited to be involved as some of the fundamental problems are falling away (e.g., digitization of medical records and systems) making way for slow acceleration of meaningful solutions. The importance of transparency, agency and communication of all the players in modern healthcare cannot be stressed enough.

We are facing some scary challenges to parochial institutions of care and while I’m not happy about the instability it’s causing I’m optimistic that health tech companies can help in building more distributed, inclusive and resilient services.

Is there something unique or special about working in health tech in Boston?

The combination of such strong research hospitals, universities and software companies is great. I personally put a lot of importance on being in a socially progressive community and that’s very true of the Boston/Cambridge/Somerville area, and is very special. I’ve noticed that healthcare startups often clear a higher bar to engage with payers and provider networks, than those in other industries. New England’s grit and the 128 legacy may add some unique and valuable ingredients towards that end.

 

 

Medisafe is a personalized medication management platform that helps patients stay on top of all their medications. More than just a pill organizer, Medisafe connects users to their family (and soon, their doctors) for support and expertise, and delivers custom notifications for appointments and refills.

Responses via Omri Shor, CEO

Why did you decide to get into health tech?

In 2012 when Medisafe’s co-founders' (myself and Rotem Shor’s) dad accidentally took an extra dose of his insulin medication and ended up in the hospital, they were driven to build a solution that would not only help individuals and caregivers avoid similar scenarios, but that would also solve the multi-billion dollar adherence issue that plagues the healthcare and pharma industry today. From the very beginning, Medisafe’s mission was to utilize technology and technological innovation to improve people’s health. The mission and surrounding culture permeate our organization. It is the foremost reason people join and choose to stay at Medisafe.

What are the most exciting developments in health tech today?

One of the more exciting developments in health tech today is the move toward putting patients back at the center of the healthcare experience by leveraging big data for better approaches to treatment and condition management. For instance, Medisafe helps 3.5 million users take their medication as prescribed and can also indicate to providers, payers and pharma who might have the most trouble with their medication or which medications have the lowest adherence rates.

Where do you think health tech is headed over the next 10 years?

We believe that the following trends will be significant to our business in the near future:

  • IoT / wearables — we predict significant advancement and adoption of wearables and connected health devices and greater cooperation and interaction between devices and software platforms. Medisafe has integrated with TimerCap, a connected pill cap, GoogleFit and AppleHealth, allowing users to more actively track not only their medication adherence but also the effect of adherence on their health.

  • Big data and AI — at Medisafe we acknowledge the strategic, population and public health value of health data and invest in developing algorithms that enable us to leverage the vast amounts of data that we collect.

  • Autonomous agents  — as autonomous agents develop, we believe they will replace the way we currently interact with digital and mobile devices (i.e. menus/traditional navigation requiring click/touch). As a nearer term example, Medisafe is looking at integrations with devices like Amazon Echo.  

Is there something unique or special about working in health tech in Boston?

Boston has a very high concentration of health tech companies, pharmaceutical companies and hospitals, which makes the exchange of ideas highly productive. Many potential Medisafe partners, like pharmaceutical companies, also have offices in Boston, making it easier to work on new projects for medication adherence. For Medisafe, this is a great place to be in terms of business and development.


 

Sober Grid is a free mobile app that connects people in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, as well as those trying to get sober.

Responses via Beau Mann, President and CEO 

Why did you decide to get into health tech?

I wanted to help people struggling with addiction. It is an issue near and dear to my heart. Every four minutes a person dies from addiction and I wanted to see if I could help this health epidemic.

What are the most exciting developments in health tech today?

I see using artificial intelligence and machine learning to help diagnose and treat illnesses as the most exciting developments in healthcare.  

Where do you think health tech is headed over the next 10 years?

I believe healthcare is positioned to see enormous advancements. I believe that with genome mapping we will be able to treat more illnesses than we would have ever imagined.

Is there something unique or special about working in health tech in Boston?

Boston has enormous talent. With Harvard and MIT and the strong biotech industry, the city is filled with many brilliant people to work with — Working in this city is a true privilege.

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Photos via companies and Shutterstock.

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