winner, winner

2 startups win big at Accenture's ​Houston-based health tech competition

For the first time, Accenture hosted its HealthTech Innovation Challenge finals at the Texas Medical Center's Innovation Institute. Photo courtesy of Accenture

Two health tech companies walked away from Accenture's HealthTech Innovation Challenge with awards. Regionals took place in Boston and San Francisco, and Houston was selected to host the finals last week.

New York-based Capital Rx was selected as the 2020 Innovation Champion of the Accenture HealthTech Innovation Challenge, and Minneapolis-based Carrot Health was given the second-place award for Top Innovator. The program, which was first launched in 2016, aims to pair startups with health organizations to drive innovative solutions to real challenges in health care.

"The submissions we received this year demonstrate the momentum of discovery and digital innovation in healthcare," says Brian Kalis, managing director of digital health and innovation at Accenture, in a news release. "Healthcare organizations continue to advance their digital transformation agendas — enhancing access, affordability, quality and experience to drive innovation that improves the lives of consumers and clinicians. We look forward to working with these companies and others to continue to help advance solutions that address the industry's toughest challenges."

Capital Rx, a pharmacy benefit manager, won for its product, the Clearinghouse ModelSM, which connects pharmacies and employers for a more efficient and transparent way to coordinate prescriptions.

"Receiving the designation as Innovation Champion is a validation of our mission to change the way drugs are priced and administered, and it represents the broad support across the country to transform the antiquated and opaque pricing model for prescription drugs," says AJ Loiacono, CEO of Capital Rx, in the release.

Carrot Health, which took second place, has created algorithms to use consumer data analytics to predict and determine health issues. Its MarketView platform weighs in factors including social, economic, behavior, and environmental information.

"It's been a great opportunity to be with Accenture and a broad spectrum of health care players," says Kurt Waltenbaugh, CEO and founder of Carrot Health, in the release. "Being recognized as the Top Innovator will help us expand our footprint toward our goal to change health and serve every person in the U.S."

A total of 11 finalists pitched in Houston at TMCx on Feb, 6. The other finalists included: San Francisco-based Cleo, Boston-based DynamiCare Health, San Francisco-based InsightRX, United Kingdom-based Lantum, Washington, D.C.-based Mira, Denver-based Orderly Health, New York City-based Paloma Health, St. Louis-based TCARE, and Seattle-based Xealth.

It was the first time the challenge was hosted at the Texas Medical Center, and William F. McKeon, TMC president and CEO, took the stage at the event to share the medical city's vision for the future.

"The opportunity to host the HealthTech Innovation Challenge in Houston for the first time re-enforces our city's prominent and ever-expanding designation as a major hub for healthcare innovation nationwide," McKeon says in the release. "As Texas Medical Center heads into a new era of collaborative healthcare research on our forthcoming TMC3 campus, we look forward to maintaining a fruitful long-term partnership with Accenture."

The new tech hub at Houston Methodist has trained hundreds of physicians in telemedicine practices. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Houston Methodist's recently opened its new Center for Innovation's Technology Hub in January, and the new wing has already been challenged by a global pandemic — one that's validating a real need for telemedicine.

The 3,500-square-foot tech testing ground was renovated from an 18-room patient wing and showcases new digital health technologies like virtual reality, ambient listening, wearables, voice control, and more. The hub was focused on giving tours to medical professionals and executives to get them excited about health tech, but in the middle of March, Josh Sol, administrative director of Innovation and Ambulatory Clinical Systems at Houston Methodist, says they saw a greater need for the space.

"We turned the technology hub into a training center where physicians could come on site and learn telemedicine," Sol says. "We had some foresight from our leadership who thought that telemedicine was going to be heavily utilized in order to protect our patients who might go into isolation based on the outbreak."

The hub has trained over 500 physicians — both onsite and digitally. Sol says that at the start of March, there were 66 providers offering virtual care, and by March 25, there were over 900 providers operating virtually. On March 12, Houston Methodist had 167 virtual visits, Sol says, and on March 25, they had 2,421. This new 2,000-plus number is now the daily average.

"Telemedicine is here to stay now with the rapid adoption that just happened," Sol says. "The landscape will change tremendously."

Another way new technology has affected doctors' day-to-day work has been through tele-rounding — especially when it comes to interacting with patients with COVID-19.

"We are putting iPads in those rooms with Vidyo as the video application, and our physicians can tele-visit into that room," Sol says.

It's all hands on deck for the tech hub so that physicians who need support have someone to turn to. Sol says the hub used to have a two-person support team and now there are eight people in that role.

Sol says the iPads are a key technology for tele-rounding and patient care — and they are working with Apple directly to secure inventory. But other tech tools, like an artificial intelligence-backed phone system, an online symptom checker, and chatbots are key to engaging with patients.

"We're looking at how we can get our patients in the right place at the right time," Sol says. "It's very confusing right now. We're hoping we can streamline that for our patients."

The hub was designed so that in case of emergency, the display hospital rooms could be transitioned to patient care rooms. Sol says that would be a call made by Roberta Schwartz, executive vice president and chief innovation officer of Houston Methodist Hospital.