The pandemic doled out hard lessons for the healthcare industry. Among the challenges that needed to be reckoned with was the extent to which primary care is undervalued, as well as the inaccessibility of both primary and specialty care outside of metropolitan areas. This year’s Fast Company A list of the most innovative health companies is recognizing the organizations—from well-known multinationals to scrappy, innovative startups—that made real progress in keeping the country healthy.
These innovative health companies used technology to scale and bring care to places that are otherwise devoid of basic medical service. Walgreens teamed up with VillageMD to put primary care practices next to its pharmacies in underserved communities, expanding basic healthcare to more people. Gene sequencing company Illumina created a way for even small labs to run analysis on COVID-19 strains in order to more quickly identify new variants, which the US has been slow to do.
Several nimble startups on this list have used telehealth to spread speciality care to more corners of the country. Folx devised a telehealth platform to make it easy for trans Americans in most states to access hormone replacement therapy. Meanwhile Brightline launched a bevy of mental health services for children and parents, helping manage everything from prioritizing school work to treating depression, anxiety, and ADHD. Within traditional healthcare, companies have internalized an ethos of innovation, as evidenced by Northwell Health, which continually improvised solutions to healthcare supply chain issues so it could still deliver top-tier care throughout its health system.
Want more innovative ideas and trends? Explore the full 2022 list of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies, 528 organizations whose efforts are reshaping their businesses, industries, and the broader culture. We’ve selected the firms making the biggest impact with their initiatives across 52 categories, including the most innovative medical device, medicine and therapeutics, and wellness companies.
For making primary care a primary objective
In 2020, Walgreens teamed up with Village MD to get deeper into community care. The initial agreement was to open 500 to 700 co-located primary care clinics over the next five years. Last fall, Walgreens doubled down, with its parent company investing $5.2 billion into Village MD with plans to open 1,000 co-located primary care practices by 2027. To date, the companies have opened 81 of the co-located clinics. Village MD, which has 230 stand-alone clinics across 15 markets, works on a value-based care model, which means that insurers pay a flat fee for patient care rather than reimbursing for every single service that patients use. What makes this partnership so compelling is that creating a connection between the doctor’s office and the pharmacy can help to ensure patients with chronic conditions stay up on their medications. Putting clinics adjacent to Walgreens locations also means making primary care more convenient and accessible at a time when a dwindling number of Americans have a primary care physician.
Walgreens is No. 33 on the World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies. Read more about how the drugstore chain is increasing its focus on healthcare.
For giving children—and their caregivers—peace of mind
Launched in 2020 and expanding rapidly, Brightline offers behavioral telehealth services to children and families via virtual therapy sessions and online coaching programs. In the past year, the company expanded its Brightline Care therapy services beyond California to five additional states: Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Texas, and Washington. This includes behavior therapy, evaluation and medication support, and speech therapy, all delivered by licensed clinicians with experience helping kids and teens with anxiety, depression, ADHD, disruptive behavior, and more. Significantly, these services are becoming available in-network with major health plans, including Blue Cross of California, Blue Cross Blue Shield Massachusetts, Primera, and ComPsych. In 2022, the company will launch services for children with autism spectrum disorder and is expanding resources for children and teenagers who identify as LGBTQ. Brightlines says it’s currently servicing “thousands of families.” This behavioral health platform was founded and led by Naomi Allen, formerly head of growth at the startup Livongo, a successful digital diabetes care solution.
Brightline is No. 47 on the World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies. Read more about how its founder used her experience in telehealth and as the parent of a child with autism spectrum disorder to launch Brightline as a resource for families.
3. Northwell Health
For getting resourceful by 3D printing nasal swabs and repurposing sleep apnea machines into ventilators
Last fall, the health system put Amazon Echoes into patient rooms, so doctors could communicate with them quickly and remotely, reducing the opportunity for COVID-19 transmission. The move was in keeping with the various innovative approaches New York’s largest healthcare provider took throughout the pandemic. When nasal swabs were scant, Northwell Health 3D printed its own. When there was a shortage of ventilators, doctors and researchers figured out a way to convert sleep apnea machines for the task. To find other ways to detect illness among thousands of its employees, Northwell’s research arm ran a validation study of a Fitbit algorithm for detecting COVID-19 before symptoms started to show.
For developing a library of applications for hospitals to use
Olive AI designs software healthcare systems to help improve operations and enhance patient care. Last year, the company’s technology was in 650 US hospitals, driving $100 million in on-going efficiencies in care. In 2021, it expanded to 1,000 hospitals and launched an app store for them. The new Library is a developer platform that allows third parties to create new applications for hospitals, vetted by Olive. In July, the company closed a $225 million round of funding, growing its valuation to $1.5 billion.
For developing COVID-19 sequencing tests to track the spread of variants even at smaller labs
Being able to detect new variants of COVID-19 is crucial to understanding the virus and our ability to combat it. Illumina is a genetic sequencing powerhouse. During the pandemic it developed the COVIDSeq Assay to help even small labs in under-resourced countries decode genetic sequences of COVID-19 variants. In January of 2021, it also launched Connected Analytics, a platform for exchanging sequencing data and analyzing it in the cloud, giving these labs a better way to manage their data.
For using liquid biopsy to track whether cancer patients are responding to immunotherapies
Blood-based tests are the future of cancer detection. Not only can they help screen for new cancer, they can also play a role in detecting recurrent cancer. Natera has developed a personalized test called Signatera that detects circulating tumor DNA, tiny fragments of a tumor that may remain even after treatment. It’s a custom test designed around the genetic signature of an individual’s cancer. A study published in Nature, showed that Signatera was able to identify whether Genentech’s immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab was benefiting patients. In the second quarter of 2021, Natera processed 376,000 of its Signatera tests, a year-over-year increase of 61%.
For scaling COVID-19 testing and vaccination infrastructure
Over the past two years, the cancer genomics and counseling company has switched its focus to delivering COVID-19-focused tech solutions at scale. The company already had access to a Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments-certified lab, the only labs that were able to do COVID-19 testing in the early days of the pandemic. Color then developed a COVID-19 test which has since delivered 9 million results across 16 states. It has also delivered 1.2 million vaccinations in California and Massachusetts. Over the course of the last 18 months, Color has provided testing to more than 100 employers and universities, and oversees testing for K-12 schools in California and Texas, with support coming to schools in Ohio, Louisiana, and North Carolina soon. Finally, it supports 6,500 test sites and 500 vaccination sites across the US With $100 million in new funding (and a $4.6 billion valuation), Color plans to expand its “last-mile” healthcare offerings, including vaccination and preventive services, to schools and employers.
8. Folx Health
For improving access to trans healthcare
Folx launched in early 2021 to provide the trans community with access to telehealth services. It is now available in 33 states. The company offers access to hormone replacement therapy on a cash pay basis, starting at $59 per month. The company does not yet take insurance, though it provides a small number of patients with free care; it also accepts money from health savings accounts. While some have argued that the service is not an affordable option, with such a dearth of available healthcare options for trans Americans, having more services is ultimately a boon. Many trans Americans face difficulty finding medical professionals who are competent in trans healthcare, especially outside of major metropolitans. Folx offers an alternative.
9. Johnson & Johnson MedTech
For developing online training for surgeons
Johnson & Johnson MedTech, the company’s recently rebranded medical devices division, has heavily invested in surgical innovation, creating comprehensive planning software, training, and surgical robotics for health systems. Following FDA approval in January 2021, the company launched a new table-mounted robot for operating on knees that can integrate into any operating room. In addition to this breakthrough robot, the company has grown its various training tools. Its C-SATS platform, which offers surgical training content for physicians (regardless of device), has now amassed a library of 30,000 videos, in which 350 surgeons teach other surgeons new techniques. Meanwhile, in the past year, Johnson & Johnson’s Visible Patient platform, which allows surgeons to model surgeries in 3D, expanded to 11 countries in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. More than a million healthcare professionals accessed the company’s online courses about COVID-19 protocols.
10. K Health
For helping parents treat their kids without leaving home
K Health uses artificial intelligence to triage patients in an effort to reduce doctor workload, and cut costs. In 2021, the urgent care platform launched a pediatric program, which gives parents the ability to text with a doctor at any time of day, saving a trip to the doctor’s office, where they could pick up some other illness. Doctors can diagnose and prescribe, sending scripts directly to the pharmacy. It offers the service with per-visit fee of $29 or as part of a monthly package that starts at $19 a month and can include services for adults as well. K Health signed a deal last year to provide care to 80,000 students in Baltimore City Public Schools beginning in May 2021. In addition to caring for kids, the platform is expanding into managing chronic conditions for adults. The company said it had 5 million users, and raised $132 million in 2021 as part of a Series E round, bringing its total funding so far to $271 million.