Mobile health CEOs look back on acquisitions, forward to new features

By Jonah Comstock
04:35 am
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iTriage EmployerAt the "3 CEOs" session at the Health 2.0 event in Santa Clara, California this week, two CEOs of famously acquired digital health companies, Christine Robins of BodyMedia and Pete Hudson of iTriage-maker Healthagen, talked about their respective mergers. Also, Hudson and Doximity's Jeff Tangney expounded on recently launched products, while Robins merely hinted at a big move to come.

Hudson, interviewed by health economist Jane Sarasohn-Kahn of Health Populi, said Aetna, which acquired Healthagen in 2011, impressed him from the start by not acting like a traditional insurer.

"When we first started working with Aetna I was struck by two things. One was how committed they were to working with the consumer and making everything helpful and accessible. I thought that was unique and forward thinking two years ago," he said. "The other thing is they were really interested in being a consumer health technology company. We have a lot of innovation going on in that part of Aetna, which is fun to be a part of."

When Sarasohn-Kahn asked Hudson about the company's "secret sauce" for attracting and retaining users, he cited Healthagen's responsiveness to customer feedback.

"From the very beginning, while we had good ideas, our users had great ideas," he said. "We read every review. Between the two app stores we have close to 90,000 reviews. I've read every single one of them. We use that to really give us intelligence about what people want next. Seeing patients for 5 years, we saw a lot of really good things and a lot of really bad things. We like to say there's a face behind every feature."

The company's latest feature is a new map made of iTriage aggregate data, currently in beta, called iTriage trends. Clicking on a specific location on the map shows the most prevalent health issues there. He said the map will become more personalized as the company develops it.

Bodymedia's Robins told independent journalist Sarah Reistad-Long that Bodymedia's acquisition by Jawbone was unsolicited and somewhat unexpected.

"When the management team and the board set out to plot out the future of the company several years back, [we plotted] out who might be interested in the space," she said. "I tell you, Jawbone was nowhere on that piece of paper."

Robins admitted that one of Bodymedia's key distinguishing factors in the market -- its FDA registration and clinical support -- was something of an accident for the company.

BodyMedia Fit Armband"The company early on was trying to find the market and the sense was that the medical community would be ready to grab on," she said. "We learned 10 years later that wasn't going to be the case."

Now, she says, the goal for body sensors is to find the ultimate consumer use case, which could be more nuanced and complicated than just quantified self tracking.

"You could wear these physiological sensors, walk into your front door, it would know you were stressed, and some how adjust the environment," she suggested. "The sensors could pour the martini for me and it's ready for me on the counter when I walk in the door," she joked.

Nonetheless, the robustness sets BodyMedia apart and, combined with Jawbone's consumer experience, makes for interesting prospects from the collaboration. Robins said that Jawbone CEO Hosain Rahman "has a keen interest to make a bold statement" about the merger, a statement which is "weeks, not months away."

Jeff Tangney, Doximity CEO and Epocrates veteran,  spoke with Forbes' Dr. David Shaywitz.  Tangney described Doximity as a way to empower individual physicians to collaborate with each other, rather than looking for interoperability on the facility level.

"We don't have a hospital administrator shortage, we have a physician shortage," he said.

Tangney shared some stories about Doximity in action: one doctor used the network finder to find "one of five qualified physicians in the country" to deal with a very specific case of a bite from an infected lab monkey. Another was able to use the software to more quickly determine the medication regimen of a coding 6-year-old girl in the ER, saving her life.

Doximity recently opened an API for a Doximity login, similar to Facebook Connect. Because Doximity manually authenticates its doctors, the company hopes a Doximity login will be used on all kinds of physician websites to help improve security -- and also to incentivize even more physicians to use the platform.

"We cannot make it profitable to hoard patient information," Tangney said, an insight he attributed to Health IT National Coordinator Farzad Mostashari. "And yet, in the market we're in today, it is profitable to hoard. We're [looking to support] the power of the individual. The individual doctor who wants to do the right thing for their patient."

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