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Startup emocha to make push into chronic disease next year

Sebastian Seiguer, CEO of emocha Mobile Health. (Maximilian Franz / The Daily Record)

Sebastian Seiguer, CEO of emocha Mobile Health. (Maximilian Franz / The Daily Record)

Following the announcement of a trial partnership to help diabetes patients, Baltimore telemedicine startup emocha Mobile Health plans to expand its scope into chronic disease.

With a three-month trial with University of Maryland Health Partners working primarily with low-income diabetes patients, emocha will look to prove that its telemedicine platform can work across a broad spectrum of diseases.

“In general, we are more interested in proving and helping patients change a behavior pattern … and that behavior pattern is not unique to only one disease,” Sebastian Seiguer, emocha’s CEO, said. “It will be very very interesting from the get-go, and we intend to launch similar partnerships with patients with other diseases.”

Emocha launched in January 2014 with four employees as a pilot program with the Baltimore City Health Department to help tuberculosis patients increase their rates of taking medication.

Directly observed therapy has been used as the standard for tuberculosis patients. Medical professionals watch patients take every dose of medicine.

With the emocha app, users can instead take a short video of themselves taking the prescribed dosage of their medicine, normally around 45 seconds, and tap submit.

In prior iterations of the platform, the videos were submitted to a patient’s health care provider. But with the diabetes trial, emocha will be using their own “adherence coaches.”

The diabetes trial is a push by emocha to show that its platform can be useful in a wide range of cases, not just instances where a patient has to take a medication under the watch of a health care provider.

The trial will focus on getting diabetes patients in the habit of taking their medicine every day. The University of Maryland Health Partners covers mostly elderly and low-income patients, people often at the most risk of falling behind on their medication.

James Davis, vice president of external affairs at University of Maryland Health Partners, hopes the trial can help diabetes patients stay healthier as they develop good habits for taking their insulin.

“Sometimes medication, health care in general, is the last thing they are worried about if they are feeling good on that particular day. The problem is a disease like diabetes really stacks up,” he said. “This technology helps there be sort of a daily engagement with a clinical person by being able to send videos in.”

In addition to diabetes, emocha plans to look at how its platform could help with other chronic illnesses. Catering to a wider portfolio of diseases would help emocha improve its viability as a startup.

Chronic disease would be added to a portfolio including tuberculosis, hepatitis C and opioid use disorder.

“For HIV or diabetes, these are diseases where you have to manage them for a very long time. If you take medication regularly you can manage those diseases,” Seiguer said. “It’s definitely doable, but you need to have those habits in place. … What we’ve seen in the other populations is that it takes a few weeks to build a habit. We believe a three-month habit is a great starting point for building those habits.”

An expansion into chronic disease is not the only benefit emocha will carry into the new year. The company also celebrated a recent decision by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to add some telemedicine services to the 2019 fee schedule for Medicare.

The change allows Medicare to reimburse providers for things like reviewing videos of patients taking their medication.

“Providers can get compensated for their work in reviewing videos,” Seiguer said. “It is a huge landmark shift for Medicare to encourage providers to treat patients where they are and help patients where they are.”

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