Health Tech, Startups, Payers

Digital health startup Kaia hopes to win over insurers with results of back pain study

Kaia Health, a startup making an app to help users manage back pain, touted the results of a large, randomized controlled trial using its app. The company currently markets its system to employers, but hopes to make it available as a covered benefit in the future.

Kaia Health’s app offers exercises and educational resources for patients with back pain and COPD. Photo credit: Kaia Health.

Digital health startup Kaia Health hopes the results of a recent clinical trial will help it gain a foothold with insurers. The company, which has offices in Munich and New York, designed an app to help walk users with back pain through physical therapy exercises, using a smartphone’s camera to track movement and ensure proper form.

A large randomized, controlled trial published in the Journal of Pain Research on Friday tested the use of digital tools for the treatment of low back pain, including Kaia’s app, compared to the standard of care. A total of 1,245 patients participated in the study, with 111 general practitioners in southern Germany randomly selected for their patients to participate in the control group or the intervention group.

Patients in the control group received the standard of care, as deemed appropriate by their GP. Patients in the intervention group consulted with their GPs, pain specialists and had access to Kaia’s app. The study was not blinded.

Patients in the intervention group reported stronger pain reduction than the control group (33.3% versus 14.3%) and also reported improvements in anxiety, depression, stress and functional ability.

The study was funded by the German Innovation Fund, though one of the researchers disclosed they had received consultancy fees for data analysis from Kaia, and another had received options from the company.

Kaia Founder and President Konstantin Mehl said the study was a “really big milestone” for the company, which currently is evaluating its technology in 11 different trials. This was the largest of the bunch.

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“We are happy about those results because our goal is to be reimbursed as a medical claim,” he said in a phone interview.

Currently, Kaia’s app is available to users whose employers cover it as a benefit. The company also has a self-pay option, but at $250 per month, it’s a bit pricey.

The company has grown to 70 employees since it was founded in 2016. Two months ago, Kaia closed a $26 million series B round, led by Optum Ventures, Idinvest and capital300.

Mehl said the company has seen increased interest from business partners during the Covid-19 pandemic. It also made the platform available for free to workers in industries that had been most affected, such as hotels, airlines and hospitality.

“During this lockdown, the adoption of digital therapies went from an early adopter phase to mass market, just because there was no alternative,” Mehl said.

As a whole, interest in digital health tools for musculoskeletal therapy appears to be picking up. Hinge Health, a startup that offers virtual physical therapy visits, raised $90 million in funding earlier this year. More recently, digital health company Omada Health acquired a competitor, Physera, for a reported $30 million.