Google Glass is no longer being marketed to consumers, but its enterprise business continues to pick up pace, and today one of the more promising companies developing medical services using Google’s connected eyewear is announcing a significant investment in its technology, which aims to “rehumanise the interaction” between doctors and patients by pulling physicians’ faces away from their computer screens, according to its CEO.
Augmedix, a startup out of San Francisco that has developed a platform for doctors to collect, update and recall patient and other medical data in real-time, has raised $17 million in a strategic round.
The investment is significant because of who is making it: it comes from five of the biggest healthcare providers in the U.S. — Sutter Health, Dignity Health, Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI), TriHealth Inc., and a fifth that is remaining unnamed for now. Together, these groups — which operate hospitals and other facilities, and in other aspects compete against each other for business in the healthcare industry — cover about 100,000 doctors and other healthcare providers and millions of patients. The idea will be for Augmedix to supply these physicians and other staff with their connected eyewear.
This investment comes after a Series A but before a full Series B (which CEO Ian Shakil said in an interview is not being raised right now), and it brings the total raised by Augmedix to $40 million. After its last round of $16 million, Augmedix was valued at around $100 million, and while Shakil is not disclosing the valuation of the company, he told me that this was a “healthy up-round.” From what I understand, the valuation is between $120 million and $160 million, closer I think to the latter of the two.
One of the big criticisms of Google Glass (among other wearables) has been that devices that you put on your face can alienate you from people you are interacting with — both because they put people off, and also because they distract you, the wearer, from focusing on the person in front of you.
Ironically, it seems that the exact opposite of this is the reason behind Augmedix’s growth to date. Shakil noted that one of the big problems today in U.S. medical systems is the amount of data that doctors and others on the medical team are required to reference and input for each patient.
“When you are with doctors without Glass, they are charting and clicking on computers for a lot of the time, and not focusing on their patients,” he said. “When you put on Google Glass to collect and reference that information, it helps you engage with the patient better.” Shakil added that the Augmedix system “takes care of documentation in the background faster than you would. It humanises the process.”
This is also what attracted the strategic investors it seems, even to the point of putting in money alongside competitors.
“At Dignity Health, we are committed to developing partnerships that harness the great potential of technology and apply it in ways that help patients and providers make better day-to-day decisions about care,” said Dr. Davin Lundquist, chief medical information officer, Dignity Health, in a statement. “The use of Google Glass and Augmedix allows our doctors to spend more time with patients by eliminating the distraction of entering information into a patient’s electronic medical record on the computer. This enables our healthcare providers to give more focused attention to our patients and results in a better patient experience.”
“As we strive to create the high-quality, high-value healthcare experience our patients expect from Sutter Health, new technology tools and services allow us to innovate in ways that deliver a more efficient, affordable and personalized level of care,” said Dr. Albert Chan, Sutter Health’s vice president, chief of digital patient experience, also in a statement. “Wearable technology holds tremendous promise, especially for enhancing the office visit experience. We are committed to partnering with our patients, and value how our growing network of digital health innovators helps strengthen those patient-doctor relationships in new ways.”
Interestingly, the humanizing doesn’t end at the patient end of the system. The software that Augmedix currently uses relies on a large team of humans to help enter info and update records in the back end. “It’s almost more powered by humans than AI and speech recognition today,” Shakil said.
However, he added that part of the funding is going to build out more of the tech using some of the later innovations in the field: “We will be deploying more natural language processing in the future. It creates more efficiencies for us to do so.” That may be using tech from Google (which is ramping up in this space), but just as likely Augmedix will consider solutions from Nuance and others, he said.
Google Glass always felt and continues to feel somewhat like a niche play, so just how big is Augmedix today? Today there are “hundreds” of doctors already using Augmedix’s software on Glass, concentrated in Southern and Central California, Shakil said. That may not sound like a lot, but Shakil points out that each doctor pays “low-single digit thousands of dollars” each month, which works out to a “very reasonable” amount of annual revenue.
He said the company is on track to have thousands of doctors using this by next year, with the bigger target for 10,000 doctors within five years. Considering that these five new investors cover 100,000 doctors and other practitioners, and the amount of outlay that’s already dedicated to IT in the medical industry, a ten percent penetration rate doesn’t sound too outlandish.
Currently, Glass is at the center of what Augmedix does today, but it sounds like this isn’t something the company is necessarily wedded to for the long term. Indeed, while Google was something of an early mover with Glass (cleverly lowering the bar for building solutions with its Enterprise edition), the world has moved on when it comes to connected headsets that feed its users information. Hardware now includes other smart eyewear to full-on augmented reality and virtual reality gear from the likes of Facebook’s Oculus, Meta, Microsoft, Samsung and more.
Shakil says that for now its solution and business is focused on Glass (note: among other VCs like DCM and Emergence, Google itself has not invested in Augmedix). But it is also testing other alternatives in what Shakil refers to as “light AR.”
Down the line, Augmedix wants to add more services on to its platform to better complete the loop. This will include patient-oriented features, “so that the patient can go home and relive the visits and listen again to what the doctor said” or be taken through demonstrations for self-care.
Augmedix also wants to add more guidance for doctors, to help them remember different points for, say, smoking cessation regiments or other clinical work. Way further down, you could imagine how this might extend into other aspects of a doctor’s work, such as during procedures.