3 Companies With a Headstart on Healthcare Reform

Identify a problem, and solve it -- that's what these companies are doing in the complex healthcare field

   

Say, like 49% of Americans, you have one of the top three risk factors for heart disease. One day, you might be looking at bypass surgery.

It’ll run you about $100,000 in the U.S.  If you can afford medical tourism, the price ranges from $45,000 in Australia to about $9,000 in Argentina. But at one innovative  hospital in India, it’s under $1,600 — and the hospital is looking to halve the price in the next 10 years.

Dr. Devi Shetty, founder of the Narayana Hrudayalaya hospital, calls it “the Walmart approach.” The hospital focuses on efficiency and bringing medical care to those who normally could least afford it — and it has been successful. Rural farmers are able to buy insurance from the hospital for pennies.

However, as noted in a recent Quartz article, it’s not easy to retrofit innovations like these on existing hospitals. Change costs both time and money, and it’s just not likely to happen without some kind of catalyst. Even when a faster, smarter way of doing things exists, resistance to change slows progress. For example, HIPAA privacy regulations have long kept doctors using pagers rather than cell phones, which wastes time and costs billions.

Open enrollment for the government health insurance marketplace opens on Oct. 1, which is supposed to make things cheaper over the long haul, although in the short-term, individual policy buyers could see some sticker shock.

But for the thousands of patients and doctors who can’t wait that long, several healthcare companies have taken innovation into their own hands:

AthenaHealth

Fast Company listed Athenahealth (ATHN) as one of the top 10 most innovative companies in healthcare for 2013. Why? It’s constantly evolving its electronic medical records, billing and practice management software based on what physicians actually need and want.

The company began in 1997 as a physician practice management company for obstetrics, but shifted to software-as-a-service when founders Jonathan Bush and Todd Park couldn’t find an easy solution to the mountains of paperwork involved in insurance claims. Now, their software streamlines many of the administrative backlogs inherent in today’s healthcare system.

Athenahealth has continued to look to its customers for innovation, as well as analytics from the software itself, making its products a favorite in the crowded EMR space.

Advisory Board

Half of Advisory Board’s (ABCO) entire business is data-driven consulting for healthcare with an eye to the future (the other half is higher-ed consulting).

In 2008, ABCO acquired Crimson, a platform that analyzes vast amounts of data about doctor performance, cost of care and more. Doctors were less than enthused about the oversight of their performance, but some argue that the technology could improve patient outcomes. The Advisory Board has continued to grow its analytics tools since then, with its most recent being the July acquisition of a technology firm to supplement its existing physician referral programs.

IBM

Doctors aren’t perfect. But you’d be surprised to know just how imperfect they are: according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, 10%-20% of diagnoses are incorrect, which accounts for 40,000 to 80,000 deaths annually and an average of $386,849 per misdiagnosis malpractice claim.

The Watson supercomputer project from IBM (IBM) seeks to lower those costs with more accurate diagnoses, and that’s why IBM landed on the Fast Company 10 most innovative companies list in 2012. Watson can search and analyze vast amounts of medical research to make super-fast diagnoses, and is currently in testing and development in partnership with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and WellPoint (WLP), an insurer serving 65.3 million people.

Though it’s uncertain whether doctors will embrace yet another system to learn and another screen to click through, Watson is the most powerful tool in existence right now to search through thousands of pages of research that a human doctor would never have time to consult.

I’m sensing a common theme here: listening to customers and solving their problems. It’s not a new insight, but it might just be lifesaving for efficiency in healthcare.

As of this writing, Carla Lake did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.


Article printed from InvestorPlace Media, http://investorplace.com/2013/09/3-companies-that-cant-wait-for-healthcare-reform/.

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