2nd february 2015: Startup of the week: QUALIA HEALTH

For this 'Startup of the week' post, I caught up with Dr Dave Beiser, Co-founder of US startup, Qualia Health.

[Disclosure: I have no commercial ties with Qualia Health]


1. What is Qualia Health?
We’re a digital health startup that has built a software infrastructure that makes the health of every person measurable and actionable. We partner with domain experts in specific parts of health (the American Heart Association is our first partner) to build digital interventions using our software platform.

Our software consists of a few components. First, we measure the health of an individual user. This is done through quality of life survey assessments and patient reported outcomes (PROs). We’ve built machine learning software that allows us to do some neat things here including measuring mental and social aspects of health in a uniform manner across the general population. Our work builds on work done by the NIH-funded Patient Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS). We’re in pilot studies with cardiology patients at Northwestern and Stanford demonstrating our capabilities of measuring PROs.

Second, we work with partners to structure their content in a way that we can map it to exactly how an individual user is feeling. Our first partner here is the American Heart Association (AHA). They have lots of great content for people living with cardiovascular conditions, but they struggle with personalizing it for each individual. Since we know exactly how each user is feeling, we enable the AHA to deliver that content in a way that is tailored to each individual.

Ultimately, our partnerships will improve outcomes by helping people to better understand and self-manage their health.

2. Could you explain the essence of Qualia Health, i.e it's core values?
Our core belief is that if you help a person to better understand their overall health - for example, improving their health literacy and self-efficacy - you can help that person to better self-manage and improve their health.

This belief influences everything we do. For instance, we only think about sharing this data with clinicians to the extent that clinicians can help an individual understand their health. If clinicians want the data so that they can monitor a patient remotely, that’s not us. There are plenty of other companies that are great at population health management, and we’d be happy to integrate our data into those solutions. But we’re not building out that infrastructure.

3. What's the business model you're operating under?
Our business model is charging usage fees for accessing our data. We have two revenue streams we’re working on. First, any organization seeking to measure patient health using patient reported outcomes can access our method through an API. We’re currently in the early phases of beta testing this with a few organizations, and are charging a usage fee per data point. Our partnerships will be slightly different, consisting of an upfront integration cost as well as ongoing usage fees dependent on the partnership.

4. Is there anyone else doing the same as you?
The startup that is the most similar to us is actually an educational technology company called Knewton. They have built a software infrastructure that helps educational organizations improve outcomes for each of their students. Our approach is very similar to theirs, just focusing on health-related topics instead of education-related topics.

5. Was there one moment which compelled you to begin the journey of working on Qualia Health?
There was no one “aha!” moment at which we were off to the races. It’s been more of a slow hunch that started over a few cups of coffee at the University of Chicago. As we’ve been working on Qualia Health we’ve been motivated by the different stories we hear from people interacting with the product.

6. What have reactions to Qualia Health been? Do different people perceive it differently?
There have been many different reactions to Qualia Health, ranging from skepticism to incredible excitement. The skepticism largely relates to questions around the usefulness of more data and whether more data will translate to better clinical outcomes. On the other hand, we generate a lot of excitement in the Patient Reported Outcomes community. The idea of measuring health more continuously using PROs is generally well-received and there is a lot of support from the NIH and PCORI to fund research in this space. So there is a lot of support around that.

7.    What are the weaknesses of Qualia Health and what are you doing to address them?
Our biggest weakness right now, not unlike most digital health startups, is demonstrating how a solution like ours fits into the broader healthcare ecosystem and demonstrate a repeatable, scalable business model. The way we’re addressing this? Lots of testing. We’re testing different hypotheses we have about where we might fit in and adjusting based on feedback.

8. Two years from now, in 2017, what would success for Qualia Health look like? What are the barriers to success?
Two years from now, our first partnership with the American Heart Association will have helped over five million Americans living with cardiovascular problems to making meaningful changes to their health as a result of increased health awareness and personalized feedback on how to make positive changes. We will have partnered with other organizations, working to improve health in other areas of health, for example chronic pain management and treating mental health conditions. And it will be increasingly commonplace within the healthcare system to be using PROs to measure health of individuals outside of the four walls of a hospital or clinic.

9. What could be done to encourage more people to experiment with new ideas in Digital Health?
Universities becoming more supportive of entrepreneurship for faculty and grad school students would be a great step towards this. Along our journey, we’ve met countless grad school students and professors who are doing really innovative stuff. However, most universities aren’t built to support entrepreneurship, so a lot of great ideas are sitting in dark, hidden corners struggling to get out. Bringing that kind of research to light, and supporting the academics who are doing that research, would bring a lot more people to digital health.

10.  If people feel inspired by your journey, and want to do something with technology to improve Global Health, what would your words of wisdom be?
Take the first step. A mentor at the R/GA Accelerator we went through just wrote a great blog post that included a quote saying that the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. That feels very appropriate here. Lots of people are trying to tackle hard, messy problems in healthcare. The plethora of obstacles you face in doing so can be overwhelming at times. The key is to take that first step. And then keep going one step at a time. You’ll make mistakes, but you’ll learn from them.

Qualia Health is on Twitter and click here for the Qualia Health website.