Health IT

A health tech accelerator takes root in Amish country to support clinical validation

The Smart Health Innovation Lab is designed to serve as a test lab for entrepreneurs so they can get the validation they need for wider adoption.

Smart Health Innovation Lab

This month the Smart Health Innovation Lab, a late-stage accelerator in Lancaster, Pennsylvania backed by a $300 million fund managed by Aspire Ventures, officially opened. The program’s goal is to help healthcare startups with market-ready connected devices and digital health technologies validate their products through pilot programs with Lancaster General Health, which is part of Penn Medicine, insurer Capital Blue Cross and Clio Health, which are partners of the Innovation Lab. LG Health is also a partner in the fund.

The development reflects the steadily evolving accelerator model as well as the interest by payers and health systems in collaborating with venture firms to help them shift to value-based care.

The Lab’s first cohort includes two companies — Philadelphia-based behavioral health startup NeuroFlow and Emovi, a Canadian medical device company that developed a knee pain assessment device geared for primary care settings. NeuroFlow previously took part in the Bunker Labs program in Philadelphia and Emovi was part of the Canadian Technology Accelerator for Health IT, also in Philadelphia. The goal is to have four to five companies in each cohort and host two groups of startups per year.

One of the first thing one notices about the space, aside from the outdoor conference room, which feels like it was transported from an incubator on the West Coast, are the theme rooms. One is designed to look like a patient’s room in a hospital, another a studio apartment, an exam room and a maker space. It’s not something one frequently sees in an incubator setting. The idea is to better visualize the health technology where it will be put to work.

In an onsite interview, Kim Ireland, the CEO of the Smart Health Innovation Lab,  said the goal of the program is to serve as a test lab for entrepreneurs so they can get the validation they need for wider adoption or, conversely, go back to the drawing board, with more insight on what they have to do to improve.

“This is a very critical point for these companies,” Ireland said. “Once you have that product, you have done the clinical trials, you have FDA approval, how do you get that first customer to bite? How do you get someone to believe in your product and clinically champion that product? How do you get a payer behind you with [reimbursement] codes that will pay for it? That was Essam Abadir’s vision behind this lab.”

Abadir, the CEO and founder of Aspire Ventures, offered one example of the commitment of its partners to the innovation lab. LG Health provided hard commitments in the innovation lab’s charter to give access to doctors’ time. In the case of the two startups in the lab’s inaugural class, that includes access to specialists from the Neuroscience Institute, sports medicine practitioners, and other physicians and specialists that are relevant to the startups’ technologies.

NeuroFlow was co-founded by CEO Chris Molaro with an eye to veterans struggling to cope with stress and depression. Molaro, who is also a veteran and a Wharton grad, developed a program that serves patient engagement and remote monitoring functions by recording when patients do their journal entries, relaxation exercisesand monitoring heart rate between appointments. Therapists can track their patients remotely and check in with them when they see they’re not completing assignments or notice other departures from their baseline.

Molaro said the advantage of the certification program is that it gives the startup access to a large healthcare system and a payer.

“We are in 75 hospitals and clinics around the country and doing pilots with Lancaster General, with Penn adds a lot of validity and proves the model in a large healthcare system. In a similar fashion, Medicare came out with two brand new insurance reimbursement codes for which we received a validation that we fit under — behavioral health integration. With Capital Blue Cross partnership we are working with them to figure out how to optimally bring this system to their provider network.”

The behavioral health integration classification means clinicians can get reimbursement if they use NeuroFlow’s program can be used to treat depression as a comorbidity, alongside other chronic conditions such as chronic pain.

Although Emovi is much older than NeuroFlow, CEO Michelle LaFlamme said she hopes the certification program will help the company expand its presence in the U.S. Emovi received FDA 510(K) premarket approval for its KneeKG device in 2009. The orthopedic device is designed to be used in primary care settings to assess knee joint pain and its potential underlying causes. The device, which has electromagnetic markers, is placed around a patient’s knee. As the person walks on a treadmill, a 3D projection of how their knee joint is performing can be viewed on a screen. The idea is that primary care physicians can use the device to make referrals to orthopedic physicians, depending on the severity of the problem.