Information is power--and in healthcare IT, it's power that's worth billions. The 2009 economic stimulus package allocated $20 billion to the cause, and consultancy Global Markets Direct has forecast that spending in the healthcare technology sector will easily surpass $10 billion by 2015.
"Internet-enabled health care is a huge area of spend, and massively inefficient, so there are many opportunities to apply technology to fix it," says Scott Sangster, head of consumer healthcare company HealthinReach.com and former president of the Los Angeles chapter of investor group Tech Coast Angels. "A lot of money was put into consumer-directed care and wellness and biometric data collection in 2011, and I expect that to continue."
Reaping the rewards is Tonic Health, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based software-as-a-service company founded in 2010 with the simple idea that getting people interested in filling out dull medical forms--with greater detail and accuracy--would lead to better care.
Tonic's answer to the boring clipboard? Survey questions asked on an iPad or online, via a colorful, gamelike interface. "More data and fewer errors means better diagnoses and treatment," says Tonic co-founder and CEO Sterling Lanier, adding that the company owes much to the popularity of gamification and mobile devices that allow for meaningful, interactive user experiences.
With Tonic's platform, which launched last year, healthcare providers can build more appealing questionnaires from scratch or from templates, "designed to make you want to give up your information," says Lanier, who previously founded Chatter, a market research firm with ties to the gaming industry. Some early users have reported that patients are filling out 30 percent more questions than they do using pen and paper.
"We think of health care as the ultimate consumer product, and patients [as] consumers of games," he says. "Tonic takes marketing principles that are used to separate people from their money and translates them into a way to separate people from their information."
Tonic has 11 full-time employees; major clients like the five University of California medical school campuses, the Mayo Clinic and Georgetown University Medical Center; and a contract with the University of California's statewide Athena Breast Health Network, which conducts cancer screenings and follow-ups for 150,000 women. With low hardware costs, a simple license and fees based on survey volume, the affordability has ratcheted up demand, too, and Lanier expects Tonic to be a multimillion-dollar company by this time next year.
"Digitization is so 1997," he says. "Just because you can collect medical data on a computer doesn't mean it will improve health care. It's about engagement."
More Health Brilliance
Ringadoc: Connects patients to licensed physicians 24/7, via phone or videoconference (on average, within five minutes) for medical advice, diagnoses and prescriptions.
Foodzy: Gamification for healthy eating. The app and website let you keep track of your habits to reach your goal weight.
Lark Technologies: Makers of a silent "un-alarm" clock, currently sold in Apple Stores, that uses a sleep sensor to monitor, analyze and improve sleep habits.
Sickweather: This social health network sifts through status updates on social media and posts illness trends to a map. Users can also add symptoms to the site or search in their area for illnesses, down to the street level.
6dot Innovations: Created a portable device that makes embossed Braille adhesive labels to help the blind better maneuver in their own environments.
GTX Corp: Developed a shoe with a miniature GPS tracking device embedded in the heel for wandering Alzheimer's patients.
CareZone: A subscription service that provides caregivers with a secure online area to organize information such as medical files and emergency contact information. A profile for each patient can be created and shared with relevant contacts.
Mobi: Maker of Mobilegs--ergonomic crutches designed for comfort, greater stability and a reduced risk of secondary injuries.
WhichDoc: This New York City startup digitizes word-of-mouth recommendations by tapping users' social networks for doctor and dentist referrals.