Wearable startup raises $26M to tackle musculoskeletal pain
Hinge Health, the San Francisco-based startup that offers a tech-enabled platform to treat musculoskeletal (MSK) disorders — things like knee pain, shoulder pain, or back pain — has raised $26 million in Series B funding.
Leading the round is Insight Venture Partners, with participation from the company’s Series A backer Atomico. In fact, I understand that the London VC firm has doubled down on its investment and has actually increased its stake in Hinge.
The new round of funding brings total raised by the company to $36 million since being founded in 2015 (and originally based in London). Hinge Health founders Daniel Perez and Gabriel Mecklenburg still maintain majority control of the board.
Billing itself as digitising healthcare, Hinge Health combines wearable sensors, an app, and health coaching to remotely deliver physical therapy and behavioural health for chronic conditions. The basic premise is that there is plenty of existing research to show how best to treat MSK disorders, but existing healthcare systems don’t do a very good job at delivering best practice, either because of cost and the way it is funded or for other systematic reasons. The result is an over tendency to fall back on the use of opioid-based painkillers or surgery, with sub-optimal results.
The startup’s initial target customers are self-insured employers and health plans, with the pitch being that its platform can significantly reduce medical costs associated with chronic MSK conditions.
To that end, Perez tells me Hinge Health now has 40 enterprise customers in the U.S. and has partnered with 10 of the largest health plans. This is off the back of improved results, with 2 in 3 patients who go through the program avoiding the need for surgery, up from 1 in 2 at the time of the startup’s Series A. “[We’re] aiming to bump that to 80 percent soon,” he says.
Just don’t call Hinge a “software as a drug” or so-called digital therapeutic. Perez isn’t a fan of either term, and certainly not when applied to the work Hinge Health is doing.
“Both seem to imply you just pop one easy pill and that’s it,” he says. “While software, connected hardware, and behavioural health support (e.g. education, coaching, targeted notifications, gamification/rewards) can help scale the labor intensive processes involved in chronic care, it’s not akin to just popping a pill and you’re done. That’s why I really dislike the term “digital therapeutic” when applied to chronic conditions, and I wish it was retired”.
Instead, Perez considers Hinge Health to be a “Digital Care Pathway” as patients are still required to carry out a lot of work in order to tackle their chronic condition. In other words, it goes well beyond just passively popping a “digital pill”.
I ask the Hinge Health founder if perhaps it is access to a one-to-one health coach via the app that makes all the difference, especially related to adherence, rather than technology. That depends, he says, revealing that some patients rely very heavily on having access to a coach, while others need very little or zero coaching support, and instead rely on Hinge’s wearable motion sensors to guide them through their exercises and to track progress.
Adds Perez: “The clinical literature is very compelling; when you have a relationship with a real person on the care team, it boosts adherence to the care plan. Critically that person doesn’t have to be a doctor or even a nurse, but it must be someone you trust”.