Vocera CEO on mVisum acquisition and smartphone strategy

By Brian Dolan
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Brent Lang Vocera Brent Lang, President & CEO, Vocera Communications

As MobiHealthNews reported last week Vocera Communications, one of the few public companies working in digital health, acquired alarms management company mVisum for $3.5 million. At the end of last week MobiHealthNews caught up with Vocera President and CEO Brent Lang to discuss the deal.

mVisum was looking to raise money: Lang said Vocera first began talking to mVisum two years ago to discuss business development opportunities,including reselling the companies products or potentially integrating pieces into Vocera's platform. More recently mVisum was in the process of trying to raise venture capital. Lang said the company had done a good job building out its technology but hadn't yet built a real sales and marketing team, so it was looking for funds to do that: "Actually, at one point they even asked us if we were interested in making an investment," Lang said. "Rather than making a partial equity investment, we wanted to actually incorporate this into our platform and make a part of the company." Lang noted that Vocera has more than 60 quota-carring sales people who sell directly into hospitals. The company also has relationships with more than 850 healthcare customers.

Joint Commission guidelines on alarm management made for nice timing: "The timing of the Joint Commission [guidelines] ended up [making this acquisition] even more compelling for us, because it's hard to breakthrough all of the noise that's going on at hospitals. Having the Joint Commission create a set of guidelines like this puts the issue of alarm fatigue at the forefront and creates a great opportunity for us to come in with a very specific solution to that," Lang said.

Vocera looking to push more aggressively into smartphones: "A major focus for the company right now is expanding our solutions out to smartphones," Lang said. "We historically have been a company known for our badge, but these days we have a software platform that is really device agnostic. We've been promoting non-badge devices on the platform for a while, but this was really an opportunity to upgrade the offering on the smartphones. The goal here is that the mVisum capabilities as a module will be rolled into our collaboration suite, which is a software app running on those smartphones. It delivers both voice communications as well as secure messaging and now will deliver the clinical context and alerts associated with the mVisum products as well." 

mVisum to help make Vocera more clinically relevant: "If you think about Vocera's vision, it is really about integrated, intelligent communication that allows mobile workers to be more productive -- as well as to increase patient safety and patient satisfaction," Lang said. "This felt like a really nice connection to that because of the ability to bring more clinical relevance to our solution. A lot of these alarms are just being broadcast to everyone without any contextual information. The thing that I was most intrigued by was the ability to tap into not just the monitoring pieces but also potentially the EHR and some of the archiving systems to deliver an experience that is really value added. We really view the platform as focused on alarm management but also capable of distributing a whole range of content, whether it be PACS images, pictures of a burn victim, or these waveform snippets that are not real-time. [Much of our interest in mVisum was an] interest in wanting to add this to our platform and making ourselves more clinically relevant."

On mVisum's patent issue settlement with AirStrip: "It really wasn't a factor for us," Lang said. "We obviously were aware of it and we did some research into it to ensure we understood the issue... the patent is kind of interesting and [MobiHealthNews] did a nice job of covering it, because the reality of the patent is that it was around real-time streaming and some compression aspects of some of the early AirStrip products. mVisum felt that, that isn't even a core element of their offering. The reality is the value for the patient monitoring and alarms is not so much the real-time, it's really more about getting a ten second clip of the waveform around the particular alarm. Even AirStrip themselves have really moved away from this idea of continuous real-time streaming. Their original product [AirStripOB] focused on that, but they've moved on into other areas. [MobiHealthNews] had a quote [from Orion Armon at Cooley]  in one of your previous articles that said: 'If the allegedly infringing features were unimportant or unused, the agreement may simply reflect that mVisum doesn’t care about them, or that it has a different/better approach that it intends to implement as a design-around.' I think that really is the case here."

On other existing smartphone products from Vocera: "Over the past year or so, there has been a lot of attention around preventing hospital readmissions," Lang said. "The government isn't going to reimburse hospitals for readmissions that occur within 30 days for particular conditions. We really capitalized on that in the past year with a product offering we call the Good to Go discharge communications solution. It is really targeted at preventing these readmissions from occurring by actually allowing the provider to record the discharge instructions right on their iPhone or iPad with audio -- and even video. When the patient returns to their family, they can actually play back these discharge instructions. Their loved ones, or whoever is providing that home care, can then listen directly to those instructions and not have the patient to try to remember what was said to them or what the paper work is saying."