Johns Hopkins spinout Emocha Health closes $6.2M series A for video-based medication adherence

Emocha Health has patients record videos of themselves taking a medication and asking questions about their treatment, which are then reviewed by a live team to ensure adherence and resolve any issues. CEO Sebastian Seiguer said it's a more effective approach than others that rely on financial incentives or prescription refill rates. (emocha Health)

Emocha Health, a Johns Hopkins University spinout tackling medication adherence with an asynchronous video platform, has announced a $6.2 million series A round led by Claritas Health Ventures.

Like many other health technology startups recently, the company’s latest raise comes after months of pandemic-boosted growth. Emocha said in its announcement that revenue has increased 300% over the last year alone, due in part to the accelerated acceptance of virtual technologies in healthcare.

“When we started in 2014 … we were actually considered completely crazy [for thinking] that a patient would video record themselves saying how they’re doing, saying how the medication is making them feel and then taking it on camera,” CEO Sebastian Seiguer told Fierce Healthcare.

“I’d say what broke down barriers were the social media applications like Snapchat and Instagram where people videoing themselves no longer was actually that insane,” he continued. “By the time the pandemic hit, we were already established as the standard of care in public health, and we had launched validation studies with health systems and health plans. So it wasn’t that we just put some company together to do asynchronous virtual visits—we’re experts in this, and without a doubt we’ve done more asynchronous video visits than anyone else in the market.”

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Emocha’s approach to medication adherence looks to scale directly observed therapy (DOT), the gold standard approach to ensuring medication adherence. But rather than require patients to meet in person with nurses or other practitioners on a regular basis, the company allows patients to record themselves taking a medication and send it off for review.

Seiguer stressed that the approach does not completely remove the person-to-person engagement of DOT. Alongside human-led onboarding conducted by emocha, videos are reviewed by a clinical team that can reach out to the patient to answer questions, correct technique or provide other support.

The CEO said their tech-based implementation hits the same 95% adherence rate of DOT but at a lower cost than in-person monitoring. He also drew attention to the company’s focus on monitoring the adherence event itself as opposed to other tools and programs that may rely on financial incentives or prescription refill rates alone to drive outcomes.

The latter of those approaches was a particularly sore spot for Seiguer, who questioned whether federal reimbursement programs built around refill rates alone were best for patients and the industry.

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“I find it absolutely mind-blowing that medication non-adherence would continue to exist as dramatically as it does,” Seiguer said. “It is a significant problem that costs millions of people their lives … so the fact that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services would continue to push drug dealing, essentially, [through] refill rates is not necessarily helping. In some cases, patients should refill their medication—that’s a great thing. But the amount of confusion, the number of medication errors that happen, it’s unbelievable to me. It’s an urgent problem.”

Emocha has primarily worked with public health organizations over the years to deliver and measure its service. Alongside its continued relationship with Johns Hopkins, Seiguer named the public health departments of Maryland, Texas and Tennessee as key partners among the 450 that the company currently supports across the nation.

More recently, Seiguer said the company has been working with health systems, health plans and other institutions to deploy its service and conduct validation studies focused on clinical areas such as asthma medication, diabetes management and—as he said will be described in an upcoming study—post-operative medications for pediatric heart transplant patients.

Emocha will be employing its new funding “across the board” as the company continues to grow the business. However, Seiguer did highlight new staff hires and development efforts focused on the more recent provider and payer customers.

“Really what we hope to do is bring on more clinical personnel to the team—and this is on the product side—to support many of the studies we’re running, to support some of the conversations we’re having with large plans and health systems,” he said. “And as we go deeper into various disease states, we need to enhance the product to get more and more specific and bring in more and more automation. We believe that human engagement is the key to patient engagement … but we will use artificial intelligence where possible for routine situations to improve processes and to be faster and more precise when having conversations with patients.”

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Seiguer said emocha currently works with more than 120 customers and named Warby Parker, LifeBridge Health, CareFirst BCBS and Clark County School District among the most prominent. The platform supports more than 20 conditions and launched a COVID-19 symptom monitoring service during the pandemic.

“The team at emocha is purposeful and passionate about challenged populations with chronic conditions, reducing the barriers to accessing high-quality care and leading the expansion of health equity,” Theresa Sexton, managing partner of Claritas Health Ventures, said in a statement. “We are committed to supporting the growth of emocha and its team—there is an incredibly strong alignment between our two groups as it relates to a dedicated mission to impact care.”

Claritas Health Ventures was joined in the round by CareFirst BCBS’s Healthworx, Kapor Capital and PTX Capital.

Poor medication adherence has long been a focal point for payers footing billions per year in preventable care costs.

However, the space has also been the site of one of digital health’s most notorious flops: Proteus Health, maker of a Food and Drug Administration-cleared ingestible system for monitoring medication adherence.

The company had raised nearly $500 million dollars over its lifetime but filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year and saw its assets acquired by investor and partner Otsuka Pharmaceutical for $15 million.