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Five medical problems ripe for investment

on November 21, 2011 Source:

Despite all the talk of an unfavorable IPO market, venture firms fleeing the space and an uncertain regulatory environment, there are still plenty of investment dollars sloshing around in the healthcare industry.

Healthcare investment may be trending down for the time being, but the industry did pull in $1.7 billion last quarter, and a number that large shows that there’s still lots of activity in the sector.

Still, that doesn’t mean that every investable company or idea is swimming in cash.

Here are five medical problems that could stand to receive more investment dollars — and a few of the companies tackling those problems.

Hospital readmissions: Rehospitalizations are a widespread and costly problem. A recent report found that 25 percent of Medicare beneficiaries discharged from the hospital to a skilled nursing facility were readmitted to the hospital within 30 days. Those rehospitalizations cost Medicare $4.34 billion in 2006. Some companies are using information technology to fight the problem. COMS Interactive has developed software whose backbone is a library of disease-based protocols and procedures that help nursing homes tailor their care to specific patients. Loopback Analytics employs proprietary software to calculate the likelihood of readmission for discharged patients, which enables hospitals to devote their resources to the most at-risk patients.

Feeding tube misconnections: These can happen when nutrients for the GI tract are accidentally delivered somewhere else in the body, or when inappropriate fluids are inadvertently delivered to the GI tract, which creates a life-threatening situation. Applied Medical Technology has developed what it calls an apple-shaped device that covers more surface area and minimizes leaks better than other alternatives. Another company, Veritract, is developing a “smart feeding tube” equipped with a live camera and steering mechanism that promises to enable doctors to place feeding tubes into the stomach with more accuracy than current technology.

MRSA infections: There’s no shortage of drug companies taking aim at drug-resistant infections such as MRSA, but there are other ways of attacking the problem. At least two startups — Sterionics and Plasma Technologies — are developing treatments for drug-resistant bacteria that use cold plasma technology. Plasma is a partially ionized gas that is sometimes used to disinfect and sterilize surgical equipment in cabinets, as well as for other industrial applications. The substance kills bacteria by interfering with their DNA, but it’s typically so hot that it would damage human tissue. That’s where cold plasma comes in.

Appointment abandonment: When patients skip, cancel or miss appointments, hospitals pay in missed revenue opportunities. 3Cinteractive sells a service that allows health systems to easily send text message reminders and confirmations to patients. Nationally renowned Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis is a recent customer. Another company, Patient Prompt, boasts similar technology that integrates with appointment schedules in electronic medical records systems to send reminders.

Needles and sharp objects: It’s well documented that lots of people have very real fears of needles, but sharp objects also pose hazards for healthcare staff and patients. Not only do they inflict cuts, but they can expose people to blood-borne pathogens and HIV. PharmaJet uses jet-injection technology to deliver liquid medication through the skin with no needles. Enable Injections is developing a painless injection for children’s vaccines and aims to pioneer a safer, faster and lower-cost drug-injection technology — but specific details of the product remain sketchy.

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