By Chris Price
During a 15-month deployment in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division in 2007, physician Darren J. Sommer developed an idea that could change the way health care is delivered in remote locations.
“I was fresh out of residency and caring for some very sick patients,” Sommer says. “The Army’s telemedicine infrastructure allowed me to provide better care in austere environments than I otherwise would have been able to do.”
Using his experience overseas, he formed his company, Innovator Health, in Englewood, Ohio, in 2015, and created a telemedicine technology that allows the physician to be in front of the patient by video in their life-size form, in 3D and with direct eye contact. The company moved to Jonesboro earlier this year after working with Sen. David Sanders, director of Innovate Arkansas. “His interest and enthusiasm for what we are trying to do had been infectious,” Sommer says. “We are very happy with the decision to be Arkansas-based.
While telemedicine has been around for more than 40 years, it only represents about one-one thousandth of a percent of US medical visits, he says.
“I believe this is due to the impersonal, Skype-like feel from today’s telemedicine technologies. By delivering the physician in their life-like form, the patient forgets their physician is not in the room with them.”
Innovator Health’s product line is supported by 13 patents and a proprietary low-bandwidth video-conferencing platform that allows the transmission of high-definition images on a fraction of the data required by any other technology on the market.
“Our systems run equally well on cellular as they do on a fiber connection,” he says. “We refer to it as ‘Bringing Telemedicine to Life.’ We are focused on ensuring the patient/physician relationship can still be preserved despite the physical distance that separates them.”
St. Bernards Medical Center in Jonesboro became the company’s first customer in 2016, and it has expanded since.
With Innovator Health’s telemedicine connection, health systems can export their physicians into communities of need, without requiring commutes by the patient or their physician. This opens up novel ways to gain new market share and be more competitive. Patients can receive care in the communities where they live, without long and financially burdensome commutes. It also makes a difference for the rural hospitals and clinics where the patient side technology resides, he says.
“These facilities are being marginalized by the expansion of specialty services, which leaves them without the patient base they need to remain financially viable.”
In addition to running Innovator Health, Sommer is an active hospitalist, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve and assistant professor of medicine at the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University.
“As an assistant professor of medicine and technology at the medical school in Jonesboro, I teach the only telemedicine curriculum for first- and second-year medical students in the country,” he says. “Specifically, we have integrated telemedicine into their curriculum to show how telemedicine can be an integral part of their practice. Today, practicing physicians cite a lack of education in telemedicine as the number one reason for not using it in their practice. We are changing that on the ground level.”
CHI St. Vincent Heart Institute
The world’s smallest pacemaker
In September, CHI St. Vincent Heart Institute interventional cardiologist Srinivas Vengala, M.D., performed one of the first procedures in Arkansas to implant the world’s smallest pacemaker. The Micra Transcatheter Pacing System (TPS) provides patients with the most advanced pacing technology, at about one-tenth the size of a conventional pacemaker.
Pacemakers help patients with bradycardia, a condition characterized by a slow or irregular heart rhythm — usually fewer than 60 beats per minute. At this rate, the heart is unable to pump enough oxygen-rich blood to the body during normal activity or exercise, causing dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath or fainting spells.
Comparable in size to a large vitamin, the Micra TPS is seen as an advantage over traditional pacemakers because it is wireless, completely self-contained and small enough to be delivered through a catheter and implanted directly into the heart with small tines. That eliminates the need for physicians to open the chest cavity, surgically create a pocket to hold the pulse generator and attach wires that deliver an electric impulse to the heart muscle. This reduces the risk of infection for patients. It is also designed to automatically adjust pacing therapy based on a patient’s activity levels.
“The Micra’s size and location of implementation make it easier to implant and are more comfortable for patients,” Vengala says. “The conventional pacemakers are still great products as well, and we will continue to use them for suitable candidates.”
The device was created by Medtronic scientists after a decade of research and development and was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in April 2016. It is the first and only transcatheter pacing system to be approved for both 1.5 and 3 Tesla (T) full-body magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans and is designed to allow patients to be followed by their physicians and send data remotely via the Medtronic CareLink Network.
“This is a great option for our population,” Vengala says. “I am very excited to be involved in this great technology.”
Web-based sales management
With the implementation of new, often time-consuming regulatory requirements affecting hospitals and clinics, Tracy Cornwell Simpson put aside a 16-year career in the medical device and pharmaceutical industry in 2014 to develop Clinicpass, a first-in-class web-based service that allows medical professionals to manage sales representatives’ credentialing, compliance, spending and access to their clinics and facilities.
“Due to governmental regulations, new measures needed to be put in place to keep medical facility doors open to pharmaceutical and device representatives,” Simpson says. “Our services are designed to keep clinic doors open for education and to have a positive impact on patient care. Clinicpass creates an avenue for those doors to remain open, increasing staff and rep efficiency, transparency and compliance for hospitals and clinics.”
The patent-pending program provides efficient, customizable, web-based access for reps to verify and upload proof that they have completed required health quality measures, including being up-to-date on inoculations, as well as HIPAA and product training. Once approved, reps may then book appointments based on a clinic’s availability and preferences. This record meets the HIPAA guideline of keeping track of who was in a clinic and when.
Because many sales reps bring lunch to meetings with physicians and nurses to discuss their products, another feature allows clinics to identify their favorite types of cuisine from partnering restaurants so sales representatives can order meals through the site and get expense reports for both parties.
“Upon a rep confirming their appointment, they can see what your clinic has had for educational lunches in the past, therefore creating more variety for your staff,” she says. “Once the rep selects a restaurant, that rep will continue to work directly with the restaurant, maintaining control on what is ordered and staying within their budget.”
After each event involving food, sales reps must report the details of the event, including how much was spent, which doctors were present and a numeric value of goods for non-physicians in attendance within 30 days for clinic accounting. Clinicpass records this information so it may be compared to what is reported to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ Physician Payments Sunshine Act, which requires applicable manufacturers of drugs, devices, biologicals or medical supplies to report certain payments or transfers of value made to physicians or teaching hospitals.
“For compliance with the Sunshine Act, this management tool gives the ability to cross-check monies reported by pharmaceutical and device manufacturers to ensure proper representation of the educational benefit provided to the physician,” she says.
Clinicpass is free to clinics; the cost is covered by pharmaceutical and device reps, who pay an annual fee of $295 for access to clinics that utilize the service.
Pharmaceutical Risk Management
As a pharmacist, Tery Baskin strove to ensure his customers got the right medication at the right price, even if it meant personally calling prescribers to discuss potential pharmaceutical options to the orders they’d written. He believed that the customers had a right to know what their options were, especially if there was a low-cost choice that was equally effective as higher-priced medicines. As he thought about the hundreds of prescriptions he was able to fill with generics, he thought about ways to eliminate wasteful pharmacy plan spending on behalf of the employer and employee. His thinking grew bigger, and he wondered if he could help pharmacy benefits plan providers save money by offering the same services he provided his pharmacy customers. His mission was to improve patient care and reduce prescription expenditures to the lowest net costs for healthcare payers while ensuring quality clinical outcomes for patients. He developed a business plan that would give independent insight and guidance to businesses with the thought that the cost savings in their plans would help the company and be passed on to the individual. With that, RxResults was born.
RxResults provides pharmacy risk-management services to healthcare payers, such as large self-funded employers, insurance providers, government-based employee benefits programs and state Medicaid programs. Services include prescription claims analysis and consultation, drug formulary management, medication therapy management and specialty/biotechnology pharmacy services. RxResults is not a pharmacy benefit manager (PBM). Instead, it manages and supplements PBM services as an advocate for healthcare payers.
Baskin says RxResults has helped organizations consistently identify prescription cost savings of 10 to 15 percent.
“When it comes to patient care, it’s not about whether you’re taking the name-brand drug,” Baskin says. “It’s about taking the right drug for a condition, at the right price, for the best results.”
Angel Eye Camera Systems
NICU video streaming
Pregnancy and the prospect of a new child bring joy and excitement, but for parents of premature children, their anticipation can change to trepidation in an instant. Instead of being able to bring their baby home, the infant has to spend days, sometimes, weeks or months in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) while making the transition to life outside of the womb.
While parents have access to their child in the NICU, some are not able to be at the hospital at all times. That led Steve Bethel to create Angel Eye Camera Systems, a communication platform that allows parents and family members to see and interact with their baby in the NICU around-the-clock via live video streaming and direct one-way audio. The Angel Eye system is Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)-compliant and uses a camera placed at the baby’s bedside so that parents and other family members who can’t be at the NICU can view the baby 24 hours a day by logging into a secure account from their laptop, tablet or smartphone.
“The camera system provides the opportunity for a virtual visit any time of day, which was previously not an option,” Bethel says. “It promotes bonding with families and alleviates stress and anxiety. It also increases trust and transparency of care between caregivers and families.”
Members of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ (UAMS) Angels Program, NICU and IT department began development of the Angel Eye Camera System in 2006. The first prototype had webcams mounted on IV poles next to infant beds. A second generation of the technology using a bed-mounted camera unit was developed in 2009.
Angel Eye Camera Systems was founded in 2013 with the support of the UAMS BioVentures and its Technology Licensing Office. Angel Eye Camera Systems was organized in January 2013 to license this proprietary technology from UAMS exclusively. Today, the technology can be found at 40 partner hospitals across the country, with several pending installations. Angel Eye is headquartered in Little Rock, with offices in Nashville, and is exclusively distributed by International Biomedical.