Google Glass startup Augmedix raises $17M from Sutter, Dignity, others

By Jonah Comstock
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Augmedix, a San Francisco-based startup that uses Google Glass to reduce the time physicians spend on documentation, has raised $17 million in strategic investments in a round that includes some of its largest health plan customers: Sutter Health, Dignity Health, Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI), TriHealth Inc. and one other which chose to remain anonymous. Some traditional VCs also participated: Redmile Group led the round; Emergence Capital and DCM Ventures also contributed. The round brings Augmedix's total funding to $40 million.

"I don’t want this to be perceived as some kind of boring funding announcement," CEO Ian Shakil told MobiHealthNews. "It’s something very different. ... They’re literally putting their money where their mouth is."

When Google Glass hype was in its heyday, a number of startups were eyeing the healthcare field, but in 2016 most have turned their attention to other less heavily regulated fields. Wearable Intelligence, for instance, is now Parsable and is focused on communication tools for industrial teams -- all mention of healthcare is gone from its website. Pristine, similarly, lists insurance, inspection, fieldwork, and customer support as its focus areas, with no mention of healthcare. Meanwhile, Remedy is still in healthcare, but seems to have abandoned Google Glass. Augmedix, though, hasn't changed its mission much.

"We’re like the pivotless startup," Shakil said. "If I showed you our pitch deck from three years ago, we could still use it today. What we do today is exactly what we did a year prior, except more of it and [we do it in] a more refined way."

Augmedix's offering includes a Google Glass headset that doctors wear while they see patients. Rather than spending time entering information into the EHR during a patient visit, a remote scribe watches the visit via Glass and enters the necessary information in the chart as they go. The doctor approves and signs off on the information at the end of the visit. (Shakil has spoken in the past about some day automating the back-end, but there are no immediate plans on that front).

The one thing that has changed, Shakil said, is the startup has changed its primary marketing focus from the independent doctor to large enterprise health systems, at least for now. 

"We still sell to independent doctors, a lot of them, but we’ve become much more aligned with the Dignitys and the Sutters of the world," he said. "It’s just, for a startup, once you’re through the information security and compliance and bureaucratic hurdles, once you get passed that, it’s just a lot more efficient for you to sell through and operationally scale if you do [work with larger players]."

Augmedix has also grown considerably since its last funding round. The company now has nearly 400 employees and serves hundreds of doctors in almost every state. The technology is used with a combined 5,000 patients a day, according to the company. 

"We’re a capital-intensive business," Shakil said. " We have a lot of employees all around the world. [The funding] is really going toward continuing product development, technology refinement, and, in particular, scaling."

Shakil said that although the vast majority of deployments active today use Google Glass, Augmedix is a service and software company, not a hardware company, and they are regularly experimenting with Glass alternatives from other companies. He even hinted -- though he couldn't comment specifically -- that they've had access to Google's as-yet-unreleased Google Glass version 2.

"We’re really excited about the next generation stuff that we’re seeing," he said. "I’ll go as far as to say that you can Google around and see that Google has said they’re working on a next-generation [device] and they’re committed to the platform."

Google killed the consumer version of its Glass project last year, leading to widespread speculation that the whole project was dead. (More recently, Google deleted all social media accounts connected with Project Glass). But as we reported last year, Google has no apparent plans to kill its enterprise operations, which is how healthcare-focused companies like Augmedix get Glass into the market.