team work

GE, Microsoft tap Houston startup's technology for virtual COVID-19 treatment initiative

Houston-based Decisio's virtual care technology has been paired with GE Healthcare and Microsoft technology in a new initiative for hospitals dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak. Photo via decisiohealth.com

Houston-based health tech startup Decisio Health Inc. has been enlisted in the war against the novel coronavirus.

Chicago-based GE Healthcare Inc. has tapped Decisio's AI-powered DECISIOInsight software, which enables health care providers to remotely monitor patients, for an initiative involving Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft Corp. that's designed to help treat COVID-19 patients.

The coronavirus-targeted Mural Virtual Care Solution, which was introduced April 15, marries Decisio's virtual monitoring software with GE Healthcare's telehealth technology and Microsoft's Azure cloud-computing platform. It's designed to offer hospitals a broad view of COVID-19 patients who are hooked up to ventilators in ICUs. This platform merges data from ventilators, patient monitoring systems, electronic health records, labs, and other sources.

This special technology package is a stripped-down version of the Mural Virtual Care Solution, which pairs Decisio's and GE Healthcare's technology to virtually track hospital patients. GE Healthcare invested in Decisio in 2019.

Until January 31, 2021, the Mural coronavirus bundle is being provided at no cost to hospitals. Among the users is Oregon Health & Science University in Portland.

"We're trying to carry as much of the cost burden to make this as sustainable as possible for our hospital partners that we know are hurting economically right now," says Bryan Haardt, CEO of Decisio.

"There has to be a moralistic compass," he adds. "You have to be driven by something more than just profit."

GE Healthcare, which contributed to Decisio's $13 million Series B round in December, was already partnering with the startup on the Mural Virtual Care Solution. Microsoft was brought into the mix to speed up delivery of the platform in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

"This relationship did not exist prior to this initiative," Haardt says. "We all came together and said, 'Guys, we've got to do our part. It is absolutely a moral imperative that we get together.' And we said, 'OK, well, what are the parts?'"

Haardt says this project equips hospitals to adhere to the best standards of care when it comes to treating COVID-19 patients who are relying on ventilators. In a COVID-19 treatment setting, one of the key benefits of the Mural Virtual Care Solution is that a health care clinician can monitor a patient's vital signs and other data without physical contact, he says.

Founded in 2013, Decisio built its virtual health platform using technology licensed from and developed at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. Coupling real-time clinical surveillance with data visualization, the DECISIOInsight software can pinpoint risks and guide clinicians toward better decisions about patient care.

Haardt says Decisio's software aims to reduce the rate of hospital deaths, length of hospital stays, and burden on hospital resources by helping health care providers decrease the severity of hospital-acquired infections, pneumonia, the flu, and other conditions. Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center in Houston is among the customers for Decisio and GE Healthcare's broad-based Mural Virtual Care Solution, which was rolled out last year.

Also, Decisio has teamed up with professional services firm Deloitte to deliver virtual patient monitoring at U.S. Department of Defense hospitals. This technology is being piloted at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio and Naval Medical Center San Diego.

"We look at doctors and nurses as heroes, because they're really good at getting people out of trouble," Haardt says. "And we like to think of our solution as keeping people out of trouble, because if you can keep them out of the trouble, then these heroic, herculean efforts [by doctors and nurses] are not required as much … ."

Haardt explains that Decisio's technology can monitor patient activity and detect patient trends in not just one area of a hospital (such as an ICU) or throughout an entire hospital but across a commonly managed group of hospitals. Those insights help hospitals ensure all of their health care professionals are following the same treatment protocols.

The No. 1 economic detriment to hospitals "is doing things different at all their different facilities," Haardt says. "If you can reduce the variability of care, we know the cost to provide goods and services goes down, and we know the outcomes improve."

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Building Houston

 
 

Cheers Health has expanded its product line as it evolves as a wellness-focused brand. Photo courtesy of Cheers

Houston-based startup Cheers first got a wave of brand devotees after it was passed over by investors on Shark Tank in 2018. In the years since, Cheers secured an impressive investment, launched new products, and became a staple hangover cure for customers. When the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted businesses, the company rose to the occasion and experienced its first profitable year as drinking and wellness habits changed across America.

Cheers initially started its company under the name Thrive+ with a hangover-friendly pill that promised to minimize the not-so-fun side effects that come after a night out. The capsules support the liver by replacing lost vitamins, reduce GABAa rebound and lower the alcohol-induced acetaldehyde toxicity levels in the body. The company's legacy product complemented social calendars and nights on the town, providing next day relief.

With COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing measures, the days of pub crawls and social events were numbered. Cheers founder Brooks Powell saw the massive behavior change in people consuming alcohol, and leaned into his vision of becoming more than just a hangover cure but an "alcohol-related health company," he says.

When the pandemic first hit, Powell and his team noticed an immediate dip in sales — a relatable story for businesses in the grips of COVID-19.

"There is a three day period where we went from having the best month in company history to the worst month in company history, over a 72 hour stretch," he remarks.

He soon called an emergency board meeting and rattled off worst-case "doomsday" scenarios, he says.

"Thankfully, we never had to do any of these strategies because, ultimately, the team was able to rally around the new positioning for the brand which was far more focused on alcohol-related health," he says.

"We found that a lot less people were getting hangovers during 2020, because generally when you binge drink, you tend to binge drink with other people," he explains.

He noticed that health became an important focus for people, some who began to drink less due to the lack of social gatherings. On the contrary, some consumers began to drink more to fill the idle time.

According to a JAMA Network report, there was a 54 percent increase in national sales of alcohol for the week stay-at-home orders began last March, as compared to the year prior.

"All of a sudden, you have all of these people who probably aren't binge drinking but they're just frequently consuming alcohol. Their drinks per week are shooting up, and they're worried about liver health," explains Powell.

Outside of day-after support, Cheers leaned into its long-term health products to help drinkers consume alcohol in a healthier way. Cheers Restore, a dissolvable powder consumers can mix into their water, rehydrates the body by optimizing sodium and glucose molecules.

For continued support, Cheers Protect is a daily supplement designed to increase glutathione — an antioxidant that plays a key role in liver detoxification — and support overall liver health. Cheers Protect, which was launched in 2019, became a focus for the company as they pivoted its brand strategy and marketing to accommodate consumer behavior.

"The Cheers brand is just trying to reflect the mission statement, which is bringing people together through promoting fun, responsible and health-conscious alcohol consumption," says Powell. "It fits with our vision statement, which is a world where everyone can enjoy alcohol throughout a long, healthy and happy lifetime,."

At the close of 2020, Cheers had generated $10.4 million in revenue and over $1.7m in profit — its first profitable year since launch.

During the brand's mission to stay afloat during the pandemic, the Cheers team was also laying the groundwork for its entry into the retail space. When Powell launched the company during his junior year at Princeton University, bringing Cheers to brick-and-mortar stores had always been a goal. He envisioned liquor and grocery stores where Cheers was sold next to alcohol as a complementary item. "It's like getting sunscreen before going to the beach, they kind of go hand in hand," he says.

"When we spoke with retailers, specifically bars and liquor stores, what we learned is that a lot of these places were hesitant to put pills near alcohol," he says. Wanting an attractive and accessible mode of alcohol-support, the Cheers team created the Cheers Restore beverage.

Utilizing the technology Cheers developed with Princeton University researchers, the Cheers Restore beverage incorporates the benefits of the pill in a liquid, sugar-free form. The company states that its in-vivo study found that the drink is up to 19 times more bioavailable than pure dihydromyricetin (DHM), a Japanese raisin tree extract found in Cheers products and other hangover-related cures.

"What we figured out is that if you combine DHM — our main ingredient — with something called capric acid, which is an extract from coconut oil, the bioavailability shoots way up," says Powell. He notes the unique taste profile and the "creaminess" capric acid provides. "Now you have this lightly carbonated, zero-sugar, lemon sherbert, essentially liver support, hangover beverage that tastes great in 12 ounces and can mix with alcohol," he explains.

The Cheers Restore beverage is already hitting the Houston-area, where its found a home on menus at Present Company. The company has also run promotions with Houston hangouts like Memorial Trail Ice House, Drift, and The Powder Keg.

Currently, the beverage is only available in retail capacity and cannot be ordered on the Cheers website. As Powell focuses on expanding Cheers Restore beverage presence in the region, he welcomes the idea of expanding nationally in the future to come. While eager customers await the drink's national availability, they can actively invest in Cheers through the company's recently-launched online public offering.

Though repivoting a company and launching a new product is exciting, the process did not come without its caveats and stressors. While Cheers profited as a business in 2020, the staff and its founder weren't immune to the struggles of COVID-19.

"I think 2020 was the first year that it really became real for me that Cheers is far more than just some sort of alcohol-related health brand and its products," says Powell. "Cheers is really its employees and everything that goes into being a successful, durable company that people essentially bet their careers on and their family's well-being on and so forth," he continues.

"It really does weigh on you in a different way that it's never weighed on you before," says Powell, describing the stress of the pandemic. The experience was "enlightening," he says, and he wants others to know it's not embarrassing to need help.

"There is no lack of great leaders out there that at long periods of their life they needed help in some way," he says. "For me that was 2020 and being in the grinder and feeling the stress of the unknown and all of that, but it could happen to anyone," he continues.

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