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At Healthsense HQ, Brian Bischoff, CEO & Co-founder of Healthsense points out the bed sensor on a wall of sensors used to monitor patients via wi-fi .

Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune

Healthsense has eye on growth

  • Article by: JAMES WALSH
  • Star Tribune
  • September 29, 2012 - 4:30 PM

Since 2007, Healthsense, a Mendota Heights-based provider of remote monitoring for senior living communities and care centers, has built a growing business out of letting caregivers know when doors were opening, toilets were flushing and beds were being slept in.

Now, the company that monitors 15,000 people in 18 states is planning to provide more comprehensive, care-relevant detail to its customers. Drawing upon an additional $7 million in financing from new investors Merck Global Health Innovation Fund and Fallon Community Health Plan, Healthsense plans to use the data collected by its motion detectors and pressure sensors to better detect and analyze emerging health concerns before they become emergencies.

The idea, said Healthsense president and CEO Brian Bischoff, is to allow seniors to live as independently as possible, while still providing peace of mind to families and caregivers.

"It's all about using that technology, using that information, for better care," he said.

Toilet sensors show how often a resident is going to the bathroom and lots of times indicates a possible urinary tract infection. Motion sensors can let staff know if a resident is wandering during the night. Bed pressure sensors showing restless nights can be a harbinger of more serious health problems. A contact sensor on a cabinet door could show how often medication is being taken.

Healthsense can even help clients track seniors' vital signs over time.

But, instead of just feeding raw numbers about the number of flushes or times in and out of bed to the owners of senior living facilities and their care staff, Healthsense will provide analysis based on a person's care history.

The plan is for raw data, analyzed by Healthsense's own medical staff, to be transformed into detailed and timely "health notes" that direct staff can use to ensure proper care.

Sue Horvath, Healthsense's chief financial officer, said such analytics can help assisted care and managed care facilities respond more quickly, effectively and efficiently to health issues. That can head off more expensive care in a hospital or nursing home.

In a world where the difference in cost-of-living between a senior apartment and an assisted-care unit can be thousands of dollars per month, "months matter, a lot," she said.

That is what makes the technology not only helpful, but relevant in a new world of health cost containment, Bischoff said. "You've always got to blend the technology with some sort of care intervention."

Healthsense got its start thanks to grants from the National Institutes of Health, beginning in 2003, and from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. That money, about $2.5 million total under the umbrella of the Small Business Industrial Research Program, helped develop the platform that led to Healthsense going commercial in 2007, Bischoff said.

The private company now employs 43 people full-time, with a 44th added this week, and another nine part-time workers. It monitors its systems around the clock, flagging care staff day and night to concerns indicated by an array of sensors, call buttons and detectors.

Bischoff would not give details about the company's bottom line, other than to say it is revenue-producing and that it cleared due diligence of its investors in order to secure new financing.

Healthsense works on a business-to-business model, meaning it provides its services to companies that provide contract care and housing to seniors. The company does not work with families directly. However, Horvath said more senior living communities and agencies are using Healthsense technology for people still living in single family homes -- "beyond bricks and mortar," she said.

While there have been some Big Brother-type concerns regarding privacy -- Healthsense equipment does not include microphones or video -- company officials say the bottom line is that they continue to grow. They credit the peace of mind that customers gain from spotting problems before they become life-changing.

Besides, Bischoff asked, "What's more intrusive -- someone coming in and shining a light in your face in the middle of the night to see if you're breathing? Or some technology?"

James Walsh • 612-673-7428

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