Dr. Jordan Shlain on-stage at the mHealth Summit (source: mHealth Summit team)
Mountain View, California-based startup HealthLoop raised $10 million in its first round of funding. The investment round was led by Canvas Venture Fund, an early-stage venture fund managed by Morgenthaler. Subtraction Capital also participated.
“In healthcare today, broadly defined, medicine is a doctor and a patient sitting in a room trying to solve a problem,” HealthLoop founder Dr. Jordan Shlain told MobiHealthNews in a recent interview. “For the past 20 years, doctors and patients haven’t had much time to talk to each other during visits.”
“I could show you a stack of textbooks 10 feet high on how to diagnose disease,” Shlain said. “I could find you another stack of textbooks 10 feet high on how to treat those diseases you just diagnosed,” he said. “There are no books, there is no literature on what to do once you make a diagnosis and give a treatment — that does not exist.”
Shlain’s $10 million thesis is that in the near future “when outcomes equal incomes for doctors”, doctors and patients need to have the tools to understand what happens after the visit.
“Originally, I built this for my own pratice because I frustrated,” Shlain said. “One day a woman came in with pneumonia. I gave her antibiotics and my cell number and told her to call me if she wasn’t feeling well. Seven days later the phone rang and it was the ER telling me she was there and that she had almost died. I’m thinking, ‘why didn’t she call me?’”
Shlain said he realized she shouldn’t have been the one to call — she’s sick. She had pneumonia and maybe wasn’t able to think clearly.
“I thought shame on me. I should have checked in with her and followed up. So I created a spreadsheet with all my patients on it and I called them everyday and just asked if they were the same, better or worse. Originally, the company was going to be called Same Better Worse.”
Shlain mentioned his spreadsheet one day to a patient of his, Silicon Valley-based serial entrepreneur Michael Birch, who co-founded social networking site Bebo. Birch pushed Shlain to turn the spreadsheet-based followup system into a more automated software program, so Shlain started working with a developer that Birch recommended and the first iteration of what was to become HealthLoop was up and running about a year later.
“How do you have visits between the visits to continue the narrative in a way that scales?” Shlain said. “Doctors can’t call their patients everyday to see how they’re feeling. If I see 30 patients today and 30 tomorrow, that’s 60 phone calls I’m making to check in on the 60 patients I saw in the past two days. That just doesn’t work. Today, you can’t follow-up with patients in any meaningful way.”
HealthLoop helps physicians to stay connected to their patients through mobile and web-based surveys, reminders, and bits of timely information tailored to their particular condition or treatment plan. Physicians get notified if patients are trending toward an undesirable outcome based on their responses or are not answering the questions at all.
“I can have 10,000 conversations a week and only have surfaced the five exceptions – the patients I need to look at,” Shlain said. ”For patients, meanwhile, the problem I’m solving for them is that they will now feel that their doctor really cares about them and that they are being followed up with.”
Shlain said that physicians have a good sense of the patterns their patients follow and HealthLoop aims to codify that pattern recognition.
“We started in orthopedics, gynecology and urology. We are mammals and mammals tend to care about the same things. It doesn’t matter what disease you have, if you have nausea, you want your nausea to go away as soon as possible,” he said. “I can go to all my buddies in oncology, pediatrics, wherever and collect the names of all the drugs and diseases that cause nausea, and make nausea a thing that gets tracked. Because nausea is what is important to patients – nausea, or diarrhea, or pain.”
HealthLoop isn’t just gathering intelligence on the art of medicine from physicians, however, the staff members who answer the phones at physician offices have been a big source, too.
“When you go and talk to doctors about this, it’s a new concept for them,” he said. “We also go to the people in their office’s who are answering the phones and ask them: ‘What are people calling about?’ That’s the nugget right there. If we can understand what patients are calling about and can build it into the loop, we can decrease phone calls [at physicians' offices] until the phones stop ringing. Once we decrease inbound phone calls, we can increase outbound phone calls, which today never happen today.”
Shlain said HealthLoop will use the funds to build out its engineering and clinical teams. The company aims to build loops for oncology and pediatrics next, and is already conducting an 18-month pilot with an as yet named health insurance company.