Well-known health tech entrepreneur Jonathan Bush has launched a new venture that aims to be a "Lego kit" for builders of digital health companies.
The company, which gained $34 million in series A financing backed by Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), provides a shared development platform to be the common layer digital health companies use to build their tools.
"It's a Build-a-Bear for EMR, patient relationship management and CRM (customer relationship management)," Bush told Fierce Healthcare. The company, called Zus Health, will provide a shared data record back end and a software development kit that enables digital health companies to build and scale quickly at a lower cost, he said.
Companies can instead devote more resources to the front-end technologies that differentiate them in the marketplace, Bush, CEO of Zus Health, said.
Digital health startups are trying to innovate in an industry that has highly segmented data and complex regulations while they are also trying to hire engineers to build technologies in medicine.
"Laying all that track before they can even start to build a unique app or design or service experience is painful, it’s expensive, time-consuming and hard to do well in a way that scales," Bush said. "What Zus is going to do is lay that track for what we’re calling the digital health builder community so that they can get right to work on things that are unique to their businesses, products and services."
A confluence of technological, regulatory and financial tailwinds makes the timing ripe to launch the new venture, said Bush, who is the founder and former CEO of medical IT giant Athenahealth.
Zus Health is launching as federal regulatory changes open up access to patients' health records. The 21st Century Cures Act, implemented over the next two years, will require data sharing among non-affiliated providers and provide individuals with electronic copies of their data.
"That's a big opportunity for the liberation of data," Bush said.
At the same time, there is an unprecedented level of investment in digital health, spurred by the shift to virtual care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The COVID-19 pandemic was a giant trial of all these new companies, and in that same year, $14.1 billion went into early-stage digital health companies. We have a very large and growing group of well-funded, brilliant entrepreneurs and engineers that weren’t there even five years ago," he said.
In contrast, when Bush launched his More Disruption Please marketplace in 2014, total venture capital into digital health companies topped $896 million.
"We also have compute today that we never dreamed of five years ago. We have a new era of companies that actually want to share information. They don’t do it because the law is making them; they want to because they need to be successful, and that makes for a willingness to use new technologies that work well in other sectors," Bush said.
The company plans to offer tools and capabilities across the tech stack including a growing library of software tools around patient relationship management, a data aggregation service that pulls together medical records to share across providers, a platform infrastructure that enables companies to unite their proprietary data with health records and a patient portal that lets users understand how their data are shared and accessed.
Zus collapses multiple layers of the tech stack—patient data retrieval, identity management and workflow automation—into a single platform and creates a community of digital health builders, said Julie Yoo, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz and newly added Zus board member.
"Zus will enable an entire generation of healthcare developers to spend their time building value at the clinical and experience layer, versus reinventing the infrastructure over and over again,” she said.
Startups Cityblock Health, Dorsata, Firefly Health and Oak Street Health are working with Zus as early adopters. The companies will initially use Zus as an “information sidecar” and with the aim of building proprietary apps for consumption over time, according to the company.
"Time and resources are the two most precious commodities that startups have. Spending either rebuilding 'dependencies' in the healthcare stack is a distraction at best or a death wish at worst," said David Fairbrothers, co-founder and CEO of Dorsata, in a statement.
"We need to spend every minute and every dollar innovating solutions to real problems facing providers, patients and health plans and not reinventing 50 individual wheels. Much like how Amazon Web Services ushered in an era of internet innovation where launching a company only required a single laptop and nearly zero capital, Zus Health will drastically lower the cost of health care innovation and will speed our ability to solve important problems facing our health care economy," Fairbrothers said.
F-Prime Capital, Maverick Ventures, Rock Health, Martin Ventures and Oxeon Investments also participated in the series A round.
Zus will use the fresh capital to grow its engineering team and invest in the platform, tools and products, according to a company press release.
It marks the second health tech company Bush has launched in more than two decades. Bush, a cousin of former President George W. Bush, co-founded Athenhealth in 1997 and ran the company until he was forced out in 2018 amid pressure from activist investor Elliott Management.
The company was sold to Elliott Management and private equity firm Veritas Capital for $5.7 billion in November 2018.
He reentered the health tech space in 2019 as executive chairman of Firefly Health, a primary care startup. He also holds board and advisory roles at several healthcare startups.