While Silicon Valley’s technological breakthroughs have transformed the way people live, work, and play, health care remains an arena bogged down by archaic technology and inefficient paperwork. At the 2017 Forbes Healthcare Summit, executives from startups Color, Virta Health, Honor and Collective Health gather to discuss how they apply the hallmarks of their industry — user-friendliness, big data, virtual communication — to everything from caring for elderly parents to managing your employees’ health insurance plans.
Seth Sternberg, who cofounded non-medical homecare company Honor, recalls getting the idea for the startup during a visit with his mother. The California transplant, whose mom lives in Connecticut, noticed that she was driving much slower than he’s used to. “Mom, why are you driving so slowly?” Seth remembered asking. “Well, driving is harder than it used to be,” his mom replied.
The incident got him thinking about his mother’s future, when she may not be able to drive at all. “I don’t want to be the kid that says, mom, sorry, you now have to move to California to be with me,” Sternberg says. As it stands, if a person loses the ability to perform a few necessary tasks — such as cooking, bathing or getting groceries — they will no longer be able to live independently in their homes. Sternberg started to look into non-medical homecare for seniors — services that provide caretakers who help with daily activities — and found an extremely fragmented industry that has over 30,000 players but no one owning more than 0.5% of the market.
The serial entrepreneur, who cofounded web messenger Meebo before selling the app to Google in 2012, decided to start Honor. Unlike traditional homecare services that require advance booking and minimum number of hours per visit, care professionals booked through Honor’s app can show up in as little as two hours, and stay for only an hour. Some people use it for just a couple weeks — say, right after a knee surgery — while others use it to find long term, around-the-clock care. The app is easy to navigate and allows caretakers to quickly view allergies, favorite activities, medications and more, while children can see who’s coming to the house and when they arrive and depart.
Health insurance manager Collective Health uses the same ethos to bring transparency to insurance plans and medical bills. Cofounder Rajaie Batniji, who was a physician at Stanford Medical Center, recalls family and friends coming to him with complicated and confusing medical bills that even doctors couldn’t decipher. Then one day, his now-partner, a former executive at Yahoo, Microsoft and Goldman Sachs, needed an emergency small intestine surgery, but was left holding the bag when his insurer decided some of his treatments were unnecessary and refused to cover the costs.
The duo decided to start Collective Health, which provides a platform for companies that manage their own health care plans. Many large firms administer health insurance themselves instead of outsourcing the tasks to traditional insurers like Anthem or Aetna, but uses outdated tools such as spreadsheets to keep track of benefits and claims. Instead, Collective Health provides an all-in-one portal that allows companies to pull up data on their spending and peruse available medical and dental services, including new-age options like telemedicine. Employees access easy-to-read bills and benefits statements online, and get concierge support that answers questions in seconds via live chat. The platform makes it easy to track expenses and payments, and reminds employees of plan benefits that may be especially useful for them.
Much of the technology that can improve health care already exists but the implementation is lacking, says Tony Wang, chief operating officer of genetic testing company Color. For example, Color found that only 30% of the time that genetic counselors spend with patients is dedicated to patient care. The other 70% is spent on tasks like explaining payments and taking down patient information — tasks that can be performed by software. Despite the fact that genetic testing has been available for decades, its prohibitive cost (often $5000 or more per test) makes it inaccessible to the masses.
Color differentiates itself by providing affordable genetic testing — a hereditary cancer test only costs $249 — then giving patients personalized screening guidelines and free genetic counselors. The approach allows patients to turn results into actionable insights, whether it be more frequent mammograms or informing family members of potential risks. “If you move detection of cancer just one stage earlier, survival rates go up by 50%, and actual cost of treatment drops by 30-50%,” says Wang.
Accessibility is also a key selling point for Virta Health, a startup that aims to reverse diabetes in 100 million people by 2025. Founded in 2014 by Sami Inkinen, the company treats diabetes by managing carbohydrate intake of patients, instead of relying on medication. Patients can get their treatment plans and talk to doctors remotely, and so far, the results have been encouraging. Clinical trials by Virta shows that after just 10 weeks, 56% of the patients’ blood sugar level drops below the diabetes threshold, while 87% have stopped or reduced using insulin.