"Here at HIMSS it's all about hospital-to-patient, doctor-to-patient, nurse-to-patient. Why is no one talking about patient-to-patient?" HelpAround Co-founder and CEO Yishai Knobel said during an interview at HIMSS 2014 in Orlando this week. "Especially when research has shown that peer support drives medical outcomes."
Knobel's startup Israel-based HelpAround is poised to be one of the first to bring the "sharing economy" to healthcare. With an initial focus on helping people with diabetes, HelpAround provides its Android and iPhone app users with a local support group of nearby helpers who could be of assistance if, say, a person with Type 1 diabetes shares in the app's forum that they don't have their supplies, are feeling a bit off, and need someone to help them out with a test strip, glucose tab, or even operating a Glucagon injection.
HelpAround also offers users its global community for support, advice, and even for sending supplies to each other through the mail. After less than two months of operation the company counts thousands of users -- 30 percent of whom use the app every day. Most of the users are in the US. About 90 percent of the questions and requests posted get answered, Knobel said, and the average post generates about four responses.
Knobel is the former head of mobile health at AgaMatrix, which launched the first iPhone connected glucose meter, iBGStar with Sanofi, while Knobel was there. Before that he worked in Microsoft's Startup Labs in Cambridge, Massachusetts under the direction of the company's Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie. Knobel co-founded HelpAround with CTO Shlomi Aflalo -- the two worked together in the Israeli army's R&D unit. Aflalo previously served as VP of R&D at eXelate, a behavioral ad targeting company.
HelpAround currently has a partnership with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) in Israel, but it is actively seeking healthcare systems in the US to sponsor local HelpAround forums, which would be white-labeled and branded as the health system's. Knobel said the discussion forum where people can come together and help each other will always be free to users. He believes hospitals will increasingly be interested in offering their patients tools like HelpAround as the focus on patient satisfaction measures grows, especially when Medicare money is on the line. Knobel also believes goodwill generated by white-labeling HelpAround for the local community, could drive patients to their facilities over the competition's.
"There is so much more focus on patients now, especially on patient satisfaction," Knobel said. "HelpAround can help hospitals compete – just think, you're giving patients an added value service before they even come in the door... chances they’ll go to your clinic are higher."
One of the upcoming features in HelpAround is a visual representation of the closest helpers in your area. Knobel said the app won't show where others are precisely on a map, but would likely show how many miles away the closest helpers are.
HelpAround has already begun promoting its second focus area -- food allergies. On its website, the company writes: "Allergic reactions are unpredictable, scary, and dangerous, and most people around us wouldn't know what to do in case of an emergency. The HelpAround Safety Net for Food Allergies finds for you those who do get it, and allows them to be there for you." Knobel expects to launch "safety nets", as he calls them, for a number of chronic conditions and cancer, which he argues is increasingly becoming more of a chronic condition. The third layer to these safety nets -- beyond the local one and the global discussion boards -- will be a layer of professional services. In the future Knobel expects to integrate ways to connect to healthcare professional through the system.
"We are taking the WhatsApp approach," Knobel said. "HelpAround is mobile-only, because for us, context matters. If I’m traveling and in Orlando, I want to be able to have the local safety net around me. When I post a request for help -- I can limit it to the diabetes helpers near me -- they get buzzed with a [push notification]."