Aurum Dx: Using health IT to boost primary care

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Aurum Dx's mobile computing platform

Though they earn salaries most recession-battered Americans would be grateful for, primary care physicians often seem to have grasped the short straw in American medicine.

At under $200,000, primary care doctors typically earn less than half of some of their specialist counterparts, such as cardiologists who earn an average of $442,000. Add to that long hours, hectic work schedules, reimbursement hassles and loads of paperwork, and it’s not hard to understand why fewer and fewer med students want to enter primary care.

It’s all added up to a well-documented shortage of primary care doctors that could reach up to 40,000 in the next decade.

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Akron Health IT startup Aurum Dx LLC likely can’t staunch the flow of doctors choosing other specialties over primary care, but the company hopes to provide a little help to primary care docs where they need it most: the bank account. By using Aurum’s Clinical Decision Support IT platform just a few times a week, primary care doctors could substantially boost their fee-for-service income, while helping identify patients at-risk for peripheral artery disease (PAD) and peripheral vascular disease (PVD).

As company executives explain it, Aurum takes three existing tests and packages them together in a technology platform that’s easy for a doctor or any clinical staffer to use.

“There’s no technology in the physician’s office that’s combined all three of these tests,” said Mark Krohn, an Akron lawyer who co-founded the company with Craig Hartz, an IBM veteran. “Nobody has put it all together in an IT platform that will educate [a doctor’s] staff on how to use it, submit the billing electronically and enter the results into the physician’s electronic medical record system.”

The tests measure blood flow and blood pressure, and indicate if a patient is at risk for atherosclerosis, an accumulation of fatty deposits that often are a precursor to PAD or PVD.

Hartz hopes to lease the units to physicians’ offices for $700-to-$900 per month. Based on existing reimbursement rates, he estimates that performing about three-to-five procedures per month would cover the unit’s cost and staff time to perform the testing — and anything beyond that would represent positive cash flow to the physician’s practice.

But before any of that can happen, Aurum needs to get its system on the market. The company is looking to raise $2 million from angel investors to cover the costs of producing its first five units, and to begin on the path to obtaining clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Bill Timmons, a former biomedical engineering professor at the University of Akron who’s now president of CGK Consultants LLC in Hilliard, said Aurum is an idea whose time has come. The company is representative of a major trend in healthcare over the last decade or so — leveraging technology at the point of care to enhance efficiency and cut costs — something that’s particularly needed in medically underserved rural areas, Timmons said. (Timmons has worked with Aurum to identify potential grant opportunities and other nondilutive funding for the company.)

And if the company does get going, it has a clear path to growth. Aurum’s IT platform can easily be expanded to accommodate other tests, such as lung capacity or hearing ability, Hartz says. First, though, the company will tackle PAD and PVD, which are estimated to affect about 10 million Americans each.

“We wanted to target some of the largest chronic diseases that create such a high cost to our economy,” Hartz said.

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Brandon Glenn

By Brandon Glenn MedCity News

Brandon Glenn is the Ohio bureau chief for MedCity News.
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