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Mobile health care fills new need

Ting Shih was hesitant at first. She didn’t want to get on the bus.

But last month, at the urging of a mentor, the 34-year-old Rockville resident climbed aboard the red, yellow and black Startup Maryland bus, sat in front of the video camera and recorded a three-minute business pitch for ClickMedix, her Gaithersburg-based mobile health care company.

A few weeks later, ClickMedix was a winner — of the 2013 Pitch Across Maryland business competition, which began last year as a way to showcase startup entrepreneurs and encourage innovation.

Now, ClickMedix, which sells mobile software that lets health care providers connect with patients, is in a position to get more than just exposure. The Pitch Across Maryland winner is automatically entered as a semi-finalist in a different competition, the state’s InvestMaryland Challenge, which awards four $100,000 grants to early-stage companies.

ClickMedix creates software for smartphones and computers. It configures the software to meet the clinical and workflow needs of each client, Shih said.

As a result, physicians may be able to make a remote diagnosis based on information sent in by patients, such as images and descriptions of their symptoms. But the software can also be used during house calls by nurses, who bring along a mobile tablet that’s hooked up to equipment that collects vital signs. The nurse can then send information back to the doctor over the company’s secure network, Shih said.

“We’ve established a service we think could literally help doctors serve four to 10 times more patients than they are today,” Shih said. “That’s how we think we can bridge the gap between the shortage of doctors and the shortage of health care.”

ClickMedix is further along in its development than many other competitors in both contests, Shih said. The firm now has 14 clients, including major universities and corporations, Shih said, and became profitable this year. The company brings in about $200,000 in annual revenue and employs six other people, who work out of the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship, a business incubator in Columbia.

Ryan Carag, a mobile strategist for the company, helped Shih see mobile platforms as the future of health care delivery, she said. The two met at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; both had immigrated to the United States as children, Shih from Taiwan and Carag from the Philippines.

For three years, they ran pilot programs in nearly a dozen developing countries, serving as many as 600,000 patients before officially patenting the technology, Shih said.

The majority of the firm’s revenue has come from those pilot programs, Carag said, adding that some clients are not only renewing their licenses for the software but are signing larger contracts for the coming year.

“So we expect to see a lot of growth this coming year from those existing clients as well as from courting new clients,” Carag said.

The InvestMaryland Challenge wraps up in April, and the winner in each of the four categories (life sciences, information technology, cybersecurity and general industry) will receive $100,000. Competitors also vie for smaller grants (the total available prize money is $600,000) and receive a host of other perks, such as opportunities to meet with investors.

ClickMedix is not unfamiliar with InvestMaryland. ClickMedix was a finalist in the InvestMaryland Challenge last year, but the company has come a long way since then, Shih said.

“We’re definitely stronger as a business,” she said. “We have a way better understanding of how to position ourselves and bring more value to the state of Maryland.”

Experts say telemedicine and mobile health are rapidly changing the health care landscape, and both sectors are buzzing with investment activity.

That could bode well for ClickMedix and other tele-health companies in InvestMaryland. But just because mobile health is a hot field doesn’t mean investors will automatically favor such companies, said Todd Hixon, founder and managing partner of Reston, Va.-based New Atlantic Ventures, which is one of several venture capital firms chosen by the state Department of Business and Economic Development to distribute money from the InvestMaryland fund (which is related to but not the same as the InvestMaryland Challenge). Under that program, venture capital firms must invest in early-stage companies based in Maryland, and the state gets 80 percent of any profits of those investments.

“Mobile health to me is not the theme; mobile is a tool to solve a problem,” Hixon said. “It’s right for some problems, but it’s wrong for other problems — like you wouldn’t use [a mobile platform] for the insurance exchange.”

Hixon, whose firm invests in a variety of technology companies, including those in health care, e-commerce and online education, said that although he expects telemedicine to become more popular, there are barriers to its becoming as widespread as many entrepreneurs would like.

“In today’s world, doctors don’t get paid for reading emails; they only get paid if you come to the office,” Hixon said. “So unless you change that aspect of the model, sending them something by email isn’t going to have much effect. There’s also a liability question: If you have this device automatically taking data and sending it to the doctor, what if, for some reason, he doesn’t look at it right away, and then the patient dies?”