Experts band together to offer pro-bono consulting to digital health startups helping the poor

By Jonah Comstock
09:24 am
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Brad Bradley Merrill Thompson testifying before Congress last year.

Bradley Merrill Thompson, a partner at Epstein Becker Green who specializes in consulting with mobile health startups about FDA clearance, is launching a new venture called Aventor that aims to bring discounted regulatory consulting and advocacy services to companies that use mobile health and connected health to help the poor.

"In a nutshell, we want to attack the issue of poverty and healthcare," Thompson, a longtime contributor to MobiHealthNews, said in an interview. "Those who really don’t have access to the healthcare they need, because of their economic circumstances. We want to use technology to really bridge the gap."

Thompson said that even with Medicare and Medicaid, there are a number of different ways economically disadvantaged people are cut off from healthcare: they often lack transportation to get to doctors' appointments, they can't take the time off work to seek care at the same time a provider is available, or they're just more at risk for conditions from asthma to substance abuse to mental health disorders.

"In a lot of these cases where technology can help, it is very disruptive," Thompson said. "That’s a good thing, but disruption also means swimming upstream of rules and regulations and policies. So you have things like FDA, FCC, a whole range of state licensing laws and so forth. You have reimbursement issues, really a whole range of public policy issues that become obstacles to companies that want to do something about these barriers to healthcare."

Aventor has set up a website where experts, advocates, and consultants can volunteer to help and social entrepreneurs can apply for assistance. The experts -- a panel that currently numbers around 30 -- will gather together shortly after the February 1 application deadline and choose between two and four companies that both have a high likelihood of success and have significant regulatory hurdles that the panel is well-equipped to handle.

Once the first group is chosen, Aventor lawyers and consultants will work for a discounted rate in the range of $30 an hour, all of which will go to Aventor's administration costs -- the experts will work pro bono. They will either guide the company in navigating existing regulatory pathways, or, if necessary, work to pioneer new pathways.

"Some folks, we’ll be able to help navigate really complicated regulatory schemes and that will be great," Thompson said. "Some, we’re going to have to figure out a way to change the regulatory schemes, because it isn’t consistent with what the company is trying to do. So we’ll do both, counseling and advocacy."

In addition to Thompson, former AdvaMed EVP Ted Mannen, whose area of expertise is reimbursement, will sit on the Aventor panel. He also designed the Aventor website. Other members include some former government employees, a group Thompson is interested in courting as the program expands.

"There are a lot of people with a good pension, but they’re not ready to just play golf the rest of their lives," he said. "What I’m offering them is a chance to hone those skills they’ve earned the last 30 or 40 years to really change healthcare to the core."

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