The rise of digital physical therapy - 3 companies to watch
As Sword Health, a musculoskeletal care provider based in the US announces its $85 million fundraise to grow the business, we look at 3 companies to watch in this space.
Kaia Health's digital platform offers treatments for musculoskeletal (MSK) disorders such as back pain and osteoarthritis, as well as chronic conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Since the pandemic began the company has grown its business by 600%, evidence of a huge, new market for digital physical therapy while people stay at home to avoid the virus.
The platform offers a combination of digital therapy, personalised health coaching and advice from medical providers, which they say achieves better outcomes than conventional care.
Around 60 million patients around the world can access the platform, making it one of the largest digital MSK healthcare companies around, and following a recent Series C fundraise of $75 million there are plans to expand further in the US and Europe.
Fern Health is a virtual pain management platform available to people in the US through their employers.
Fern's digital therapies focus on addressing the underlying causes of persistent pain, through guided exercise programmes as well as sleep and mental health support. Every member gets 1-1 coaching as part of its programmes.
The programmes have been developed in consultation with experts at Mass General, the largest teaching hospital at Harvard Medical School. This relationship is ongoing, with clinicians at the hospital advising on new scientific approaches to pain management, including the use of artificial intelligence and predictive analytics.
Sword Health offers digital physical therapies for acute and chronic pain, as well as preventative care, with a particular focus on the back, shoulder, neck, knee, elbow, hip, ankle and wrist areas.
Sword's solution combines a wearable sensor with virtual consultations with a physical therapy doctor. Patients are matched with a doctor who designs an exercise programme for them; this evolves as their condition progresses. They are guided through the exercises via Sword's app, while a physical therapist monitors them virtually and gives live feedback.
It is currently available in the US, Europe and Australia, and the company has been steadily growing through the acquisition of new clients and increasing its user base. The latest round of investment brings its total funding to $135 million, with which the company aims to "lead the shift of the MSK industry to value-based care".
Advances in health "must ensure self-sovereign identity"
The UK government has announced that from September onwards COVID-19 vaccine passports will be necessary to gain entry into places with large crowds, such as nightclubs.
This has reignited the debate between those who believe having proof of vaccinations will enable people to gather in public places and travel safely, and those who view the digital certificates as an attack on personal freedom.
The arguments have increased in intensity since the recent announcement to drop COVID-19 restrictions in England, in a move to reopen the economy that has attracted fierce criticism both domestically and overseas.
Cross-party ministers are set to defy the government’s latest plans to introduce vaccine passports over civil liberties concerns. A number of MPs have already signed the Big Brother Watch declaration against “Covid status certification to deny individuals access to general services, businesses or jobs” in recent months.
However Mark Shaw, CEO of Tento Applied Sciences, says the Big Brother Watch campaign is based on false assumptions. “Big Brother Watch puts forward a compelling argument based around civil liberties, but some of the assumptions they make are simply incorrect” he says.
“For example, the BBW campaign claims that all Covid passes are discriminatory, counterproductive and would lead to British citizens having to share personal health information with anyone in authority, from bouncers to bosses. However, there are already privacy-first digital wallets that give individuals the freedom to store and share anonymised medical documents, work credentials and other types of documentation quickly, simply, and securely.
“I wholeheartedly agree that individuals should not be required to share their own personal health information with unknown third parties or with anyone in authority who demands it" Shaw adds. "But I strongly disagree with the suggestion that ‘events and businesses are either safe to open for everyone, or no one’. It creates a false dichotomy that either everyone is safe, or nobody is safe. If employers or event organisers don’t take action to properly manage workplace or venue safety, then they risk curtailing the safety and freedom of movement for the majority."
The subject of personal health data is under scrutiny in the UK at the moment, following controversial plans for the NHS to share patient data with third parties. These have been put on hold following public criticism.
Meanwhile a new report has found that the majority of the British public is willing to embrace digital healthcare tools such as apps and digital therapies prescribed by a trusted healthcare professional.
Shaw adds: “The vital point to make is this: innovations in health technology must ensure self-sovereign identity. This means the data held about an individual is owned by the individual and stored on their device. And, in the case of medical data, that data can be delivered from healthcare professionals to the device in an encrypted format, and the user chooses how they share their information."