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DearHealth Turns to AI to Develop Disease Management Tools

Physicians and health management experts have long complained that electronic medical records systems are unwieldy and have yet to reach their full potential to manage care for individual patients.

Now DearHealth Inc., a Venice-based health-tech disease management firm, is trying to do something about that. The company has used artificial intelligence algorithms to develop a disease management app that crafts structured care and treatment programs tailored to individual patients.

On May 27, DearHealth achieved a major milestone, announcing that its app had been accepted onto the marketplace operated by Verona, Wisc.-based Epic Systems Corp., one of the nation’s largest electronic medical records companies.

Epic’s local hospital customers include Oakland-based Kaiser Permanente and Beverly Grove-based Cedars-Sinai Health System.

“This greatly reduces our barrier to entry into the medical marketplace,” said DearHealth Chief Executive Daniel Hommes. “It’s a channel for us to scale up distribution and sales of our health technology software while avoiding having to market to physicians and hospitals individually.”

It’s a significant breakthrough for DearHealth, which started nine years ago as a program developed by UCLA health specialists — led by Hommes, who was then working in UCLA’s auto-immune disease center — to manage chronic disease treatments and keep a lid on costs.

In 2015, the UC Board of Regents granted the specialists — led by Hommes — a license to spin out the program as a separate company. Armed with $500,000 in seed money, Hommes opened the company nearby in West Los Angeles.

DearHealth spent the next four years developing and refining its technology to facilitate remote monitoring of disease-specific symptoms and treatment outcomes through telehealth portals, applying it to patients with diabetes or inflammatory bowel diseases.

The program also allows for adjustment to treatment regimens for higher-risk individuals, such as the elderly or those with compromised immune systems.

In July, the company raised $6 million in a round of financing led by Philips Health Technology Ventures, the venture capital arm of Amsterdam-based health technology company Royal Philips. Hommes is from the Netherlands.

That funding infusion allowed DearHealth to open a second corporate office in Amsterdam; the company’s executives are now evenly split between offices in Venice and Amsterdam.

The funding also enabled the company to start marketing its disease management software to hospital and physician customers and to seek admission to Epic’s electronic medical records system marketplace. (In exchange for getting their apps onto the Epic marketplace, companies such as DearHealth pay a fee to Epic.)

“Up until now, when it comes to disease and treatment management, it’s mostly been confined to 15-minute patient appointments with their physicians every few months,” said Joshua Cohen, assistant professor at the department of obstetrics and gynecology at UCLA, who worked with DearHealth to test its system on ovarian cancer patients.

“DearHealth’s program allows for more real-time feedback with patients daily entering data and describing how they are feeling, which, in turn, gives physicians a much better idea of the condition they are in and how effective a particular treatment program is,” Cohen said. “Are they able to get up and button their clothes? Are they able to cook? To drive?”

But the real key is to integrate a program like this into an electronic medical records system so that this patient input comes up at the same time as the physician diagnosis notes and medication prescriptions, according to another UCLA specialist, John Stern, director of the epilepsy clinical program. Stern has also used DearHealth’s program.

“Having that patient input on frequency and severity of seizures or side effects they experience with various medications — when combined with the electronic medical record — allows me, as the treating physician, to come up with a more effective, customized treatment plan,” Stern said.

Howard Fine
Howard Fine
Howard Fine is a 23-year veteran of the Los Angeles Business Journal. He covers stories pertaining to healthcare, biomedicine, energy, engineering, construction, and infrastructure. He has won several awards, including Best Body of Work for a single reporter from the Alliance of Area Business Publishers and Distinguished Journalist of the Year from the Society of Professional Journalists.

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