On the 12th floor of Chicago’s historic Merchandise Mart, you will find the sleek new digs of MATTER.
The surroundings, in which tech entrepreneurs tap on laptops and chat about the progress of their ventures, may seem more Silicon Valley than senior living. But MATTER is a hotbed of innovations that could help shape the future of the industry, and some of the sector’s biggest names already are involved in the work being done here.
MATTER opened its doors in February 2015, providing a 25,000-square-foot workspace for its roster of entrepreneurs to work on their promising health care-related tech innovations. Modeled on the type of tech incubators common on the West Coast, which draw startups and investors together, MATTER helps connect its members with leading health care organization partners for mentorship and networking.
Among those partners is Health Care REIT, Inc. (NYSE: HCN), the largest non-provider owner of senior living properties in the country. HCN’s Director and CEO, Thomas J. DeRosa, sits on the MATTER board.
“At HCN, we are working with our seniors housing operators and health system partners to enhance connectivity along the health care continuum,” said DeRosa, after being elected to the MATTER board in April. “I … look forward to working closely with [MATTER] CEO Steven Collens and his team to more closely align innovation to the objective of improving health care outcomes while driving down costs in health care delivery.”
As HCN’s involvement suggests, some of the 80-plus startups that have been accepted to MATTER have the potential to make a significant impact on senior care. Providers that want to be on the leading edge of tech are looking to MATTER for opportunities to get in on the ground-floor with these potentially transformative innovators.
Best of Breed Solutions
CareTree is one such promising startup. Among its investors: the owner of a private duty home care company, and Cantata Adult Life Services, a Brookfield, Ill.-based family of organizations that include a business performance services arm and a senior living campus offering independent and assisted living and rehabilitation.
Founded in 2012 by Carl Hirschman, who previously started Silverfox Broadband to provide Internet and TV to senior housing communities, CareTree is a single platform that acts as a hub for a person’s health care information, including data from electronic medical records and wearable fitness devices.
“What we’ve ultimately built is a HIPAA-compliant Facebook,” Hirschman told SHN during a recent interview at MATTER. “Someone can create a patient record and invite anyone else in to access it. It’s one place where all of the communication and coordination is happening. It can push out reminders about appointments, therapy, all the medications coming from different doctors. And if people have questions, they can post them in one place and everyone can respond in one place.”
The idea for CareTree grew out of Hirschman’s own experience — or, to be precise, his mother’s experiences.
She has consistently been an informal caregiver for family members and other people in her Iowa community, Hirschman explained, and she talked about the difficulties of communicating with different providers and keeping track of important information, such as appointment times and medication instructions.
At first he assumed this was a “small-town Iowa issue,” but upon talking with his contacts in the senior housing sector, he realized the problem was much larger, Hirschman said.
For example, this was a common scenario: A caregiver in a senior living community has a resident with six children spread around the world, and they all want regular updates on how their parent is doing. So the caregiver is crafting an email each day, and then getting individual responses from each of the recipients, and it becomes time-consuming and difficult to keep track of all the responses.
As this anecdote highlights, there is a pressing need for a technology like CareTree in the senior living space, where residents frequently have numerous care providers and complex conditions requiring vigilant monitoring. The good news is that senior living, more than the acute care sector, is a good environment in which to launch CareTree.
The major electronic health records vendors in senior living and home care are amenable to working with innovators like himself, said Hirschman. That’s in stark contrast to the major names in the hospital and physician world, such as Epic, Cerner and McKesson.
“As I refer to them, they’re the ‘Axis of Evil,’” Hirschman said. “They don’t play nice in the sandbox. They don’t facilitate information sharing. They’re creating data siloes.”
CareTree does have a workaround that enables one-click access to records from systems such as Epic, and potential changes to the government’s Meaningful Use program could facilitate direct integration with these systems.
In the meantime, CareTree represents a “best of breed” solution that is a “vast improvement” over the status quo, Hirschman said.
CareTree’s ambitions — to fundamentally transform key aspects of health care delivery — are shared by many of the startups that now have a home at MATTER.
For instance, there’s Eazy Scripts, which can be used both by physicians and other prescribers as well as patients who are the medications.
A doctor can use the app to order a prescription with a few taps and also can gain greater visibility into pricing. A patient can access features to more easily and effectively manage medications, such as daily reminders and the ability to request refill requests with the touch of a button.
The Senior Living Opportunity
A senior living operator interested in the latest technology has plenty of opportunities these days to be a testing site, given that entrepreneurs are eager to pilot their innovations.
A major part of the appeal of an organization such as MATTER is that it cuts through some of the “white noise” created by startups that are clamoring for pilots, said Hirschman. Providers can come to MATTER with the assurance that all the startups have been vetted for a certain level of achievement and credibility, and can efficiently connect with numerous potential technology partners in a single day, he says.
And the opportunities for senior living companies go beyond simply being pilot sites.
As the CareTree example shows, some provider organizations are investing in the technologies that they most believe in, to help bring them to market and also to share in the upside should they catch on within the industry.
Senior living providers also can bring their specific needs to a place like MATTER.
“We literally built the product based on hundreds of interviews with caregivers and operators,” Hirschman said of CareTree. “We’ve built our product hand-in-hand with them. We’re drawing from the expertise of the operator to make sure [CareTree] fits their workflow. We understand that if it doesn’t fit, it’s not going to be adopted.”
Senior living companies have the potential to derive substantial benefits from investigating incubators like MATTER, but working with startups at this early stage is not for everyone. There’s a certain amount of risk involved, and a provider organization needs to be comfortable with that at a minimum — it’s even better is to be committed to pioneering new technology.
“I think the No. 1 thing is that when a company comes to MATTER, they’re coming with an innovative mindset,” said Hirschman. “They say, ‘I’m going to adopt one of these technologies. I recognize [the startups] don’t have a thousand other reference customers, but I’m coming in with that open mind.’ That’s the most critical aspect in coming here.”