Forward Health Stays Aggressive in Healthcare Analytics, Snags $5.7M

Michael Barbouche has been helping hospitals and clinics crunch patient data since before many had installed electronic health records systems, and well before “population health management” became a buzz phrase in the industry.

In 2004, the statistician was tapped to help build a system to collect and analyze patient data for the Wisconsin Collaborative for Healthcare Quality (WCHQ), an ongoing initiative that publicly reports on healthcare quality and affordability in the state, based on information shared by healthcare providers, insurers, and other stakeholders. At the time of its launch, only one-third of the 21 participating healthcare organizations had installed software for tracking patient records, Barbouche says.

“Most of the practices were not yet starting that journey,” he says. “We were able to yield all the data for all the patients that the systems were measuring, independent of the electronic medical record.”

Today, that journey to a digitized patient records system is complete or in the works for most U.S. healthcare providers. But if step one was getting all that information into computer databases, step two is managing and better understanding these vast quantities of data.

That’s partly why Barbouche and a few of his colleagues from the WCHQ project started Forward Health Group in 2009, on the cusp of this wave of health records digitization that was driven largely by the federal government and healthcare reform. Forward Health, based in Madison, WI, makes Web-based software that gathers data on large groups of patients from disparate sources—electronic health records, labs, billing systems, and more. It analyzes all the information and presents it in a way that Forward Health says can be more easily digested, so that care providers and insurers can take actions to achieve the Holy Grail in healthcare: improving care while lowering costs.

Forward Health got a big boost this month, with the announcement that it raised $5.7 million in a round led by Minneapolis-based TT Capital Partners, an affiliate of banking and advisory company TripleTree, with participation by Wisconsin Investment Partners and the BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation. The news was first reported by the Wisconsin State Journal.

The money will primarily go toward product development and growing the company’s staff of around 30 people, CEO Barbouche says.

Forward Health might’ve been one of the early companies to focus on healthcare data analytics, but it can’t afford to sit on its laurels. The sector is filling up with bigger and better-funded rivals, such as San Francisco-based healthtech incumbent McKesson and Arlington, VA-based startup Evolent Health, which raised a whopping $100 million Series B round in 2013.

Forward Health, meanwhile, previously had raised about $330,000 from investors, SEC documents show. But the startup seems to have made a name for itself in the industry. Forward Health’s clients include large health systems and small clinics nationwide, as well as organizations like the American Cancer Society, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Heart Association. In December, it received one of the highest performance scores in a study of similar companies by industry researcher KLAS.

“I’m pleased we’re in the conversation,” Barbouche says. “Our street cred is pretty good.”

Taking care of patients one at a time is important, “but the game is shifting to taking care of populations of patients,” he says. The company says its software not only allows a doctor to pull up all the relevant information about the patient sitting in front of them, but also to aggregate data to identify groups of high-risk patients so that care providers can intervene before these people have an episode that lands them in an emergency room.

Let’s say someone has high blood pressure and keeps winding up in the hospital, but hasn’t been visiting the primary care doctor for routine check-ups, Barbouche says. The company’s software could help solve this issue by combining an insurance company’s billing data—which shows the patient’s emergency room visits—with the primary doctor’s office records. It gives “the whole picture of your patient,” he says.

Barbouche thinks there has been progress made in bringing good data analytics to healthcare, but the industry is still behind other sectors. “Healthcare doesn’t have an Oracle or an SAP,” he says. “It’s like 1973 for healthcare. So, we’ve got a long way to go.”

Jeff Engel is a senior editor at Xconomy. Email: jengel@xconomy.com Follow @JeffEngelXcon

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