Healthcare industry: top 10 most innovative companies for 2017

26 February 2017
The companies come from a wide variety of verticals: technology (like Apple), health Insurance (Kaiser Permanente) , life science (Verily), and also widely vary in size. The article on top innovative health companies is part of Fastcompany’s  coverage of the World's Most Innovative Companies of 2017. Here below are some remarks on the why Fastcompany believes these companies will be this years winners in innovative health technology or business models.

01. One Medical

For making primary care affordable and convenient
To identify the many ways that a doctor’s office can be improved, One Medical founder and CEO Tom X. Lee, an internist, spent the company’s early days serving in a variety of roles, from physician to accountant. He hit on a membership model that adds tech-enabled services to a high-tech foundation—allowing him to cut the administrative costs of traditional care by two-thirds, he says. One Medical now has 54 offices around the U.S., a 46% bump over 2015, and its model offers a template for a health care system in flux. “We’re doing more for less,” says Lee, “and always reengineering our processes.”

02. Apple

For mining data to build health apps
In March 2016, Apple announced CareKit, an open-source platform that makes it easier for developers to aggregate and share patients' medical information with their caregivers—all with consent. Since its launch, CareKit has already been used to make apps to help patients manage diabetes (One Drop), monitor depression (Iodine), track reproductive health (Glow), and record asthma symptoms (Cleveland Clinic). Apple's approach to health is to operate behind the scenes by helping researchers, patients, and developers to make use of the health data they're collecting via a smartphone.

03. AliveCor

For mobilizing heart monitoring
AliveCor developed the first smartphone-connected electrocardiogram, or EKG, called Kardia, which detects abnormal heart rhythms on a phone in much the same way that an EKG in a hospital records the electrical activity of the heart. What this means is that patients can check their heart health regularly and find out within 30 seconds whether their results are normal or they should seek medical attention. That’s particularly important for millions of Americans at risk for arrhythmias, which may be symptomless and can result in potentially fatal outcomes like heart failure and stroke. In 2016, the company announced a new version of its electrocardiogram for the Apple Watch, called Kardia Band, and it is the first to have an FDA-cleared blood pressure monitor and EKG in a single app. By November 2016, Kardia had recorded some 11 million EKGs, up from 2 million in March 2015. Also in 2016, AliveCor announced a collaboration with Mayo Clinic to use machine learning technology to better understand some of the hidden health indicators in all of the EKG readings it is collecting.

04. GE Healthcare

For reducing pain points at health care facilities
GE Healthcare works with partners ranging from the University of California San Francisco to Johns Hopkins to develop both hardware and software technologies that solve some of the most pressing problems in health care. Some are drawn from health systems; for example, UCSF needed a partner to develop machine learning algorithms for medical imaging, and Johns Hopkins needed a NASA-style command center to better manage patient flow in and around the hospital. Early results from Johns Hopkins have been promising: The hospital has reported a 60% improvement in the ability to accept patients with complex medical conditions from other hospitals around the region and country; its ambulances are able to get dispatched 63 minutes sooner to patients at outside hospitals; and its emergency department is assigning patients to beds 30% faster.

05. Kaiser Permanente

For investing in virtual office visits
To address the problem of long wait-times at medical offices, Kaiser Permanente has invested heavily in technology for patients to schedule a virtual office visit. While other physician groups have hesitated to embrace a novel technology, Kaiser Permanente views it as a means to reduce the cost and improve the quality of care. The health system has now conducted 59 million telehealth visits in the past year, and all of its doctors now offer secure messaging and have completed some video visits. Kaiser Permanente has been an example to other health players by driving awareness of the potential benefits of digital care. Moreover, it announced in 2016 that it is opening a new medical school to teach would-be doctors about how to leverage new technologies in local communities and care for an increasingly diverse patient population. The first class is expected to enroll in 2019.

06. Propeller Health

For helping asthma and COPD patients breathe easier
Propeller Health develops technology for patients and physicians to better understand asthma and COPD, which afflict millions of patients in the U.S. alone, with a goal of improving symptoms and reducing hospitalizations and ER visits. The Propeller Health system includes a sensor that attaches to inhaler rescue or controller medications; an app called Cards (launched in 2016) for patients to better manage their conditions; and tools for providers to proactively manage large groups of patients. This system is FDA-approved as a medical device, with eight separate FDA clearances obtained so far. Propeller Health’s technologies are now used in more than 45 programs across the U.S., including at large health systems like Dignity Health. Propeller has recently completed an analysis of 330 patients showing a 100% reduction in asthma-related hospitalizations and a 60% reduction in asthma-related ER visits over approximately one year.

07. Verily

For putting health data to work
Verily, formerly Google Life Sciences, has become an incubator of sorts for a variety of experimental health initiatives, including a smart contact lens that might someday monitor blood sugar levels and a stabilizing spoon for people with Parkinson’s disease. The company, which is a division of Alphabet, describes its unifying mission as “to make the world’s health data useful.” In 2016, Verily announced a variety of projects: a data management platform for people with diabetes called Onduo, in partnership with biotech giant Sanofi; Debug, which aims to alleviate mosquito-borne disease; Galvani, to create bioelectronic medicines with GSK; and Verb Surgical, which focuses on robotic surgery in partnership with Ethicon. One of Verily’s most advanced projects, Liftware, announced a second product alongside its tremor-stabilizing spoon: The Level, which is designed to help people with cerebral palsy and spinal cord injuries eat independently. Liftware’s devices have been used by more than 10,000 people in the past year.

08. Omada Health

For using technology to treat diabetes
Omada Health is among the first digital health companies to receive reimbursement from the U.S. federal government for its online diabetes prevention program. Omada is aimed at the roughly 86 million Americans with prediabetes. The government support is a big step forward for chronic disease prevention: The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has always reimbursed for screening diabetes, but not for companies and providers that help prevent the progression of the disease altogether. CMS's decision is also a big deal for other digital therapeutic startups, which essentially take established offline programs and bring them online to make them accessible for more patients.  Omada Health’s program has more than 85,000 users, making it the largest diabetes prevention program in the U.S.

09. Global Kinetics Corporation

For collecting data from wearables to treat Parkinson's
lobal Kinetics Corporation is the maker of the Personal KinetiGraph, a wearable that tracks movement in Parkinson’s patients. The device remind patients when to take their medications and even helps their doctors make an accurate diagnosis. The FDA-approved device is worn by 14,500 patients in more than 200 clinics around the world. It is intended to be worn for seven days, so physicians can identify important changes and trends. Global Kinetics in 2016 announced a randomized, controlled trial in partnership with the National Parkinson Foundation to study the impact of the device in 400 patients and determine how technology can be used in future clinical care. Going forward, Global Kinetics says its technology can be expanded to other diseases, including Huntington's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and epilepsy.

10. Levita Magnetics

For cutting down on surgical incisions
For common abdominal surgeries, like gall bladder removals and appendectomies, the holy grail is to minimize incision points and thereby reduce scarring and pain for the patient. Levita Magnetics has developed a new system that uses magnets in a novel way, with a goal of making it possible for surgeons to perform so-called single port surgery. In 2016 the system received FDA clearance in a new category: Magnetic Surgery. Also in 2016, the company published results from a 50-patient clinical trial that demonstrated no adverse effects. Already, Levita’s system has been used by top surgeons at Duke, Stanford, and the Cleveland Clinic for gall bladder removals, with far more surgeries being conducted in CEO Alberto Rodriguez-Navarro’s native Chile.