med tech

TMCx medical software company taps Houston for first U.S. market

TMCx company BetterConsult is premiering its software in Houston as its entrance to the U.S. market. Getty images

Long hours, high-stress situations and overwhelming college debt contribute to burnout among physicians. But so does something you might not have pondered: record keeping.

The clerical burden triggered by electronic medical records, or EHRs, "has become a leading cause of physician burnout," according to a 2017 article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. That declaration is backed up by a 2014 survey of 6,375 physicians in the U.S.

Technology from a startup called BetterConsult Inc., which recently planted its roots in Houston, aims to help diminish clerical burdens and physician burnout. BetterConsult is one of the latest entrants in the $31.5 billion global EHR market.

Through an online questionnaire, BetterConsult's software captures a patient's symptoms, medication, and other clinical information before an office visit. It then translates the data into concise medical notes available for a doctor to review.

BetterConsult says its technology can:

  • Decrease administrative tasks.
  • Enable doctors to see more patients.
  • Offer better insight into a patient's condition.
  • Improve patient outcomes.

Chris Barakat, senior vice president of BetterConsult, says Houston is the first U.S. market for the startup's offering. BetterConsult already is up and running in Australia, where parent company HealthShare Pty Ltd., a provider of healthcare technology, is based.

Barakat seeks to sign up at least 5,000 doctors — primary care physicians and medical specialists — in the Houston area by January 2023, which he says would result in about 400,000 patient e-consultations per week.

"BetterConsult has a vast database of symptoms and concerns available for patients to select which provides additional actionable information to the physician," Barakat wrote in a post on Medium.com. "In addition, the application can be used to support the continuum of care by updating the patient information for future visits. The solution has potential applications to provide value in emerging areas including telehealth, mental health, and population health."

Telehealth alone holds massive potential. A recent report from Global Market Insights forecasts the worldwide telehealth market will reach $130.5 billion by 2025, up from the current $38.3 billion.

"Telehealth is part of a larger digital transformation in health care. The electronic health record, omnipresent mobile devices, and faster internet connections have provided new ways for patients and providers to interact," the American Hospital Association says.

At this point, Barakat is BetterConsult's sole employee in the Houston office, but the company plans to add an untold number of sales, marketing, and support professionals. The startup graduated in June from the TMCx business accelerator at the Texas Medical Center Innovation Institute.

BetterConsult's technology is slowly being rolled out in the Houston area. Barakat says the BetterConsult software will be piloted at two major healthcare systems in Texas.

Dr. Rajat Bhatt has installed BetterConsult's software at his three rheumatology clinics in the Houston area. Bhatt says the technology has cut documentation work by 40 percent. In addition, he says, it has decreased diagnosis errors, thanks to taking into account a patient's full medical history rather than just a current condition.

"The time I am saving is allowing me to increase the number of patients I see per day, helping to reduce the extensive wait times for Texans to see a rheumatologist," Bhatt says. "Because of the volume of patients I can now see, it has made my business much more economical. I can now see new patients within a week."

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Building Houston

 
 

Houston-based imaware, which has an at-home COVID-19 testing process, is working with Texas A&M University on researching how the virus affects the human body. Getty Images

An ongoing medical phenomenon is determining how COVID-19 affects people differently — especially in terms of severity. A new partnership between a Houston-based digital health platform and Texas A&M University is looking into differences in individual risk factors for the virus.

Imaware, which launched its at-home coronavirus testing kit in April, is using its data and information collected from the testing process for this new study on how the virus affects patients differently.

"As patient advocates, we want to aid in the search to understand more about why some patients are more vulnerable than others to the deadly complications of COVID-19," says Jani Tuomi, co-founder of imaware, in a press release. "Our current sample collection process is an efficient way to provide longitudinal prospectively driven data for research and to our knowledge, is the only such approach that is collecting, assessing, and biobanking specimens in real time."

Imaware uses a third-party lab to conduct the tests at patients' homes following the Center for Disease Control's guidelines and protocol. During the test, the medical professional takes additional swabs for the study. The test is then conducted by Austin-based Wheel, a telemedicine group.

Should the patient receive positive COVID-19 results, they are contacted by a representative of Wheel with further instructions. They are also called by a member of a team led by Dr. Rebecca Fischer, an infectious disease expert and epidemiologist and laboratory scientist at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health, to grant permission to be a part of the study.

Once a part of the study, the patient remains in contact with Fischer's team, which tracks the spread and conditions of the virus in the patient. One thing the researchers are looking for is the patients' responses to virus complications caused by an overabundance of cytokines, according to the press release. Cytokines are proteins in the body that fight viruses and infections, and, if not working properly, they can "trigger an over-exuberant inflammatory response" that can cause potentially deadly issues with lung and organ failure or worse, per the release.

"We believe strongly in supporting this research, as findings from the field can be implemented to improve clinical processes-- helping even more patients," says Wheel's executive medical director, Dr. Rafid Fadul.

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