Children’s Health has begun offering patients an ingestible microchip and digital patch that can track whether an individual takes his or her medicine and monitors their diagnostics afterward. The technology is part of the health system’s initiative to expand its telehealth programs and bolster the portfolio of its investment arm, which now includes relationships with four companies.
“We have a percentage of medically fragile children, and it’s imperative they take their medication,” said Julie Hall-Barrow, Children’s vice president of virtual health and innovation. “We’re now driving the care plan to see if it’s in action.”
The technology comes from Proteus Digital Health, a Silicon Valley-based company founded by Mark Zdeblick, Dr. George Savage, and CEO Andrew Thompson in 2004. Proteus places the prescribed pill and a microchip the size of a minced garlic flake into a capsule, which the patient then swallows. The capsule communicates with a patch that is worn on patients’ torsos, letting the software system know that the medication has been ingested. The patch then continues to monitor the patient’s diagnostics, reporting real-time data that can be accessed by a patient, care team, or attending doctor via a digital platform. Children’s is providing its patients iPad minis for monitoring.
The partnership represents the healthcare system’s fourth technology relationship developed through Children’s Health Ventures, which supports startups that offer innovative ways to deliver healthcare. This arrangement differs in that Children’s did not invest in it like it did the others: the urgent care startup Mend, the analytics platform Pieces, and the physical activity software company GoNoodle.
“Your ZIP code shouldn’t determine whether access [to care] is available or not,” Hall-Barrow said. “What we’re focused on is how to remove the barrier of distance and the barrier of access to the provider.”
Children’s solidified its partnership with Proteus in May and is launching the program with liver and kidney transplant patients initially. The first patient to use the technology is a 5-year-old girl who recently received a kidney transplant from her father. It has already identified 75 patients to serve as its first cohort for the treatment. While Children’s is not investing in the company, it is planning to rollout the technology across its departments, subject to usage regulations outlined by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. It expects to eventually develop the technology, which is currently being provided to the targeted patients for free, as a billable service.
Proteus, which has about 200 employees and has raised more than $400 million, spent the last several years developing the technology and getting approval from the Food and Drug Administration. With clearance as a sensor technology, children can safely consume up to 30 microchips daily; they are made of copper, magnesium, and silicon. Microchips pass through the normal bowel cycle. Proteus introduced its product to the market last year and has since rolled out to three health systems in California. The Dallas healthcare system represents the first children’s organization to adopt the technology.
“Over the last four years, we have been working to identify where this technology will create the most value for physicians, care teams, patients, and their families,” said Molly O’Neill, Proteus’ chief commercial officer. “The pediatric use is really the next evolutionary step for the company.”
It’s the next step for Children’s, too. Children’s made big strides with its telehealth program in 2015, expanding its telemedicine program across 57 schools throughout Dallas-Fort Worth. It then invested in GoNoodle, which provides interactive videos to keep children active, and Dallas-based Mend, a startup that offers on-demand home healthcare services. Its most recent investment was in Pieces Technologies, which provides healthcare systems and community organizations data analytics for better care.
Children’s only makes partnerships with companies that develop technology that it is willing to implement in its healthcare system.
“We don’t want to just be a partner; we want to be a user,” Hall-Barrow said. “We want to … be a leader in the country for how we use them and how we co-develop them.”