It’s early days for Google Glass, and an almost absurd minefield of challenges lie ahead of it. But that’s not stopping a small number of startups from springing up around healthcare-related applications that can arguably cut costs, provide doctors more time with patients, and improve health outcomes.
Augmedix — a 20-month-old, San Francisco-based startup that’s announcing this morning that it has raised $3.2 million led by DCM and Emergence Capital Partners — calls itself the “first and largest Google Glass startup” focused on healthcare. Its complicated task put simply: It beams electronic health record information to doctors while they’re meeting with patients, so doctors can, say, query someone’s white blood cell counts in real-time without having to traipse back to their computers in the middle of that patient’s visit or in between patient visits.
Whether or not Augmedix is the biggest company focused on turning Glass into a physician’s tool “by every metric,” as its CEO, Ian Shakil tell me, its claims can’t be far off. According to the research firm Datafox, only a handful of startups are dabbling in any kind of Glass-related healthcare applications at the moment, partly because there’s still too much uncertainty about Glass’s widespread uptake, and largely because Glass isn’t protected under federal information privacy rules, meaning that each patient has to give his or her written consent – an effective but inelegant workaround.
So why is Augmedix treading where few startups are ready to go yet? Shakil, who cofounded Augmedix a few weeks after graduating from Stanford Business School (which is also where he met his cofounders), talked with me about it the other day.
You’re announcing new funding but you closed it in August. Why share the news now?
We just wanted to be out of the media’s eye and focus on execution and on hitting more milestones and making more progress before talking to media.
What sorts of milestones can you share? How many doctors are using Augmedix?
We’re selling to large groups of doctors, rather than doctor to doctor, and so far we have several health systems and doctors groups [as customers] and we’re generating revenue. As healthcare continues to consolidate, our job becomes easier because there are fewer people to sell to. Enterprise sales is also the bread and butter of Emergence Capital, so it’s great to have them [as an investor].
How do you address privacy concerns?
Patients don’t walk in the door to see their doctor wearing Google Glass. They’re handed a laminated FAQ and are educated about [the process] and can opt out of having the doctor wear it.
We’ve also created an entirely separate [from Google] cloud-based service that’s on pipes that we control, and we’ve signed business associate agreements with customers, saying, “We’re doing all the [protected health care information] just like other electronic healthcare companies.” We’ve hardened the device in lots of ways, too, such that it’s even more secure than a smart phone in a health care environment.
As a third-party developer, you’re always at the mercy of the platform. How do you mitigate that risk?
I don’t think the risk is as great as some people think. Also, though our materials are all about Google Glass, we’re hardware agnostic; [our tech] also runs on [the Android-based] Vuzix M100. And there are many other smart glass technologies out there, some operating in stealth mode; it’s becoming a competitive space.
I think Glass is the best right now and that it has the best software environment and hardware, so it’s our go-to. But over the long run, I think we’ll be protected no matter what happens.
You have 36 employees working on creating this technology and getting it into physician offices. Is it safe to say you’ll be raising money again soon?
Yes, actually, we’ll look to raise another round, bigger than the amount we’ve raised thus far, later this year.