Hinge Health offers up digital health platform for back, shoulder, knee pain

By Jonah Comstock

Hinge HealthFollowing a small initial study, a UK-based startup reports that its digital health platform can decrease pain and stiffness in patients with musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Hinge Health's platform decreased pain by 52 percent on average and stiffness by 56 percent over 12 weeks, among a group of 20 patients.

CEO Daniel Perez founded the startup in October 2014 with co-founder Gabriel Mecklenburg, the company's COO. Perez says that MSDs, which can include lower back pain, knee pain, and shoulder pain, are an interesting area in healthcare because, while there's a broad consensus on best practices for care, the infrastructure for delivering that care is lacking from healthcare systems in both the US and the UK.

"Luckily there’s a pretty solid agreement among the medical community about what best practice care is," Perez told MobiHealthNews. "It starts with education, physical therapy, weight loss, and social support. However, this process is very complex, very onerous, it’s difficult to scale. Less than one in five employees with a musculoskeletal disorder is actively seeing that best practice care. So if you look at the problem, it’s quite large, it’s quite expensive."

Hinge Health is targeting self-insured employers in the United States primarily, despite being based in the UK. That's because the company has two value propositions -- decreased healthcare costs and increased productivity costs. Only one of those is applicable in the UK, where a single payer healthcare system covers healthcare costs.

The company uses a combination of wearable devices and software to address the four key treatment aspects. Education is provided through a 16-week curriculum delivered via mobile devices. This includes articles for the patient as well as their spouse or partner to help them understand their condition. The company tracks to make sure patients are keeping up with the curriculum and follows up if they're not.

"If you compare our digital strategy to the status quo, the status quo in education is that less than a third of patients with a MSD even get any kind of condition-specific education," Perez said. "And if they do, it's usually just 'I’ll hand you a pamphlet, just go read this', and that’s it."

The same software also guides patients through their physical therapy, but it's paired with special wearable devices developed in house by Hinge Health. It guides them through stretching and strengthening routines and provides near-realtime feedback to ensure exercises are being done correctly.

The app also includes a behavior change-based weight loss program if the patient is overweight, since weight loss is correlated with recovery from many MSDs. It also provides social support by connecting the user with a dedicated coach.

"This is particularly something we take seriously because [MSDs] can be socially isolating," Perez said. "If your knee hurts, you might be more likely to take lunch at your desk. If you have some lower back pain, you might be less likely to go out with your friends. The data shows that 29 to 60 percent of people with a musculoskeletal disorder can be clinically depressed. We take social support very seriously."

The company has raised about $1.5 million in seed funding from independent investors in the UK. It's planning a larger efficacy study with 100 to 150 people, and has an eye on FDA clearance, which they anticipate securing within the next three to weeks.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated Hinge's seed funding amount and FDA clearance timeline.