British company Babylon, known for its AI-based chatbot, is leading a $30 million series B funding round in health kiosk operator Higi.
The Chicago-based company launched in 2012 and now operates 10,000 self-service "smart health stations" in grocery stores, drug stores, and community centers throughout the U.S. and Canada. Higi's medical devices, which track users' blood pressure, pulse, weight, and BMI, have received Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearance.
Higi’s series A investors 7Wire Ventures, Flare Capital Partners, Jumpstart Capital and Rush University System for Health. William Wrigley Jr. also participated in the funding round.
Higi's health kiosks are located within five miles of 73% of the U.S. population and free to use. The company partners with Kroger, Giant Eagle, Rite Aid, and other groceries and retail pharmacies. More than 62 million people to date have conducted over 335 million biometric tests using the kiosks, according to the company.
The company sees itself as the "front door" to healthcare, providing access points that can help people learn about health conditions, assess their risks, and receive personalized recommendations for local care services. Higi's digital programming focuses on awareness, prevention, and condition management, the company said.
Higi also partners with digital health companies to leverage their tools and programs. Through a partnership with Livongo, users can determine their risk for chronic conditions and enroll in Livongo’s chronic condition management programs. The company also collaborated with startup Papa to provide health screenings and support to elderly seniors.
Babylon’s investment will support the expansion of Higi’s station network and further development of its digital capabilities and assessments, the companies said.
Higi and Babylon have a shared focus on democratizing access and affordability in healthcare, Brian Skiba, vice president of corporate development at Babylon, told FierceHealthcare.
The U.S. healthcare system is simply too expensive and it's hard for consumers to access care, Higi CEO Jeff Bennett said. Higi's stations make healthcare more accessible to people by providing services in locations that are part of people's day-to-day lives, such as visiting the grocery or drug store, he told FierceHealthcare.
Babylon will integrate its digital services, such as symptom checking and remote digital health tools into Higi's stations to better support consumers with acute medical problems or those with chronic conditions like hypertension, diabetes, and obesity, he said. It also provides a more end-to-end solution for payers, providers, and retailers.
"Babylon and Higi’s offerings place greater emphasis on prevention and tackling issues earlier, helping millions of people proactively tend to their health and connect them to the information and medical support they need," Babylon CEO and founder Ali Parsa said in a statement.
Health systems such as Rush University System for Health partner with Higi to support health education and access to healthcare services in their communities. Consumers can use Higi's health screening to identify potential medical issues and then schedule follow-up appointments with Rush clinicians, Bennett said.
"On average, people see their doctors once or twice a year, but they are going to the grocery store once or twice a week. It's a way to reach patients and gathers important biometric data in between doctor's visits," he said.
Health plans also work with Higi to support health risk assessments for their members and identify care gaps. The platform enables payers to get longitudinal biometric data on those members.
As an example, Centene and Higi have a joint program to provide prenatal care for underserved women, according to Skiba.
Health startups that focus on virtual care are getting an injection of cash from investors amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Venture capitalists also are showing an increased interest in startups that offer direct-to-consumer healthcare services as a lower-cost alternative to more traditional services. Tyto Care, which provides an at-home medical exam and telehealth device kit, raised $50 million in its latest funding round in April.
The COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home orders in local communities have driven rapid adoption of virtual care and shifted digital health from a "nice to have" to a "need to have," Bennett said. This adoption will drive the need for virtual care services combined with the collection of biometric data, he said.
Moving forward, Higi plans to add more sensors and devices to its stations to expand its capabilities for health risk assessments and chronic disease management.