North Shore-based Health Monitoring Systems takes communities' pulse
By Thomas Olson
Published: Tuesday, April 16, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
When Superstorm Sandy slammed into New Jersey at the end of October, a young Pittsburgh company helped state health officials cope with the catastrophe and prepare for the next one.
With Health Monitoring Systems Inc.'s data collection and analytics, the New Jersey Department of Health learned many hospital emergency rooms were admitting power-starved patients suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. So, state officials created a public-awareness campaign on the safe use of diesel generators when the power goes out.
“It gave us a way to know if something was going on that might need public health intervention and gave us ideas for planning for future storms,” said Teresa Hamby, data analyst at the New Jersey Health Department, which adopted Health Monitoring's system in 2011.
Last week, the local company added the Pennsylvania Department of Health to its growing list of a dozen state-agency customers and about 550 hospitals nationwide using its health surveillance and monitoring service. The home-state deal adds to the company's claim as the nation's largest provider of community-health surveillance.
“We expect to have over 700 hospitals by 2014,” said Kevin Hutchison, CEO of Health Monitoring, based on the North Shore.
Founded in 2006, the company collects emergency-room admissions data on an anonymous basis, and its software analyzes it for patterns that suggest the start of an epidemic or other public health issue. It also is staffed with health experts who interpret the data collected.
For example, after California dropped dental visits from Medicaid recipients' coverage in 2009, the state found from Health Monitoring's analysis that residents turned to hospital emergency rooms for dental problems.
“What we give (health officials) is a dashboard where they can see what is happening across their entire state,” Hutchison said. “It's giving them the same thing as AccuWeather, but for public health conditions.”
Early-stage investors in Health Monitoring said the few competing systems on the market take weeks, if not months, to analyze emergency admissions data, which limits its value in responding to spread of infectious disease.
“But theirs is real-time data reporting for health professionals to look at what's happening today. That's why their product resonates so well in the market place,” said Richard Lunak, CEO of Innovation Works. The South Oakland organization invested $300,000 in Health Monitoring in 2008.
“Their technology is robust, and Kevin is a good CEO. He can get his message across to customers and investors,” said John Manzetti, CEO of Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse, South Side, which invested $200,000 the same year.
Health Monitoring was spun out of a research project at the University of Pittsburgh in 2002, when toxic anthrax letters were terrorizing parts of the United States. During that year's Winter Olympics, the project team enlisted Salt Lake City hospitals to collect emergency-room admissions data to look for abnormal patterns, especially signs of bioterrorism.
“It was obvious by 2006 that this wasn't something that was just a research project anymore, but a service that the public needed,” Hutchison said. “Now, it's other things, like the flu, or the impact of public policies on dental visits or the incidence of heat stroke.”
In the future, Health Monitoring hopes to expand its services to health insurers, Hutchison said.
Thomas Olson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached a 412-320-7854 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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