Ayub Khattak’s big idea started with the swine flu.
Sneezing, hacking and panicking would-be flu patients were lining up at doctors’ offices and emergency departments in 2009, worried they’d caught the bug that was causing an H1N1 pandemic. Diagnostic laboratories were swamped in the bum-rush to get tested for the virulent disease. Khattak — who worked in one of these labs at University of California, Los Angeles — thought there had to be a better way to address the consumer demand for flu testing. The idea, in essence, was to cut out the middle man — in this case, the doctor’s office.
“I thought — if people could find out if they had the flu or not at home, instead of the doctor’s office, it would be easier for them to take the steps they need to get better, faster,” Khattak said.
It was the inspiration for Cue, an at-home diagnostic device that enables users to determine whether they have the flu without a trip to the clinic. The device, for which the company is named, is still in testing and now detects and tracks five health and lifestyle indicators in mere minutes: Inflammation, vitamin D levels, fertility, testosterone and influenza.
And it’s indicative of the fast-growing movement toward consumers taking charge of their own health. San Diego companies like Cue, MD Revolution Inc. and Owaves Inc. are developing products that address the trend toward the “quantified self,” in which consumers self-track their own fitness, nutrition and overall health with a vast array of new tools.
With Cue, for instance, a woman can conduct regular fertility tests in her home — a paradigm shift from the standard model of going to the doctor and getting a lab test. Cue sends the data via Bluetooth 4.0 to the user’s smartphone, where the free Cue app reveals the interplay of activity, food and sleep shaping the user at a molecular level.
Other devices, like FitBits and continuous blood sugar monitors made by companies like San Diego’s Tandem Diabetes Care Inc., feed a constant data stream that helps track a person’s overall wellness. And they can do it from home.
There’s been a flurry of development in the wireless health space. The global mHealth market is expected to grow to $21.5 billion over the next four years, with an annual growth rate of 54.9 percent, according to a recent study from BCC Research.
And with the recent announcement that Apple Inc. would be delving into the health space, developing a mobile platform for users to tie together disparate data streams that indicate one’s level of health, companies are optimistic that demand for such quantifiable health consumer services will hurtle forward shortly.
Consolidating Health Data Streams
Larry Smarr was one of the country’s earliest adopters of the quantifiable health. Smarr, the director of the San Diego-based CalIT2, or the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, sees promise in companies that help consumers track their own health. He has, after all, been doing it for years; he has shape-shifted from being slightly overweight into a healthy 65-year-old man since he began meticulously tracking his body’s metrics.
“It’s exciting to see the market exploding with innovation in this space, given that it was pretty lonely five or six years ago when I started,” Smarr said.
Smarr predicts that in 2014, more and more dashboard-based services will start turning up that will “integrate all these different widgets into one health profile.” He projects that by consolidating health data from a variety of streams, these dashboards will be able to provide coaching.
MD Revolution is local example of a company doing this. The general concept of MD Revolution is quite simple: consolidate health data from disparate sources — from the food a user eats to their heart rate and the number of steps they take — and make it quantifiable through a dashboard.
The company said its new app, RevUp, does exactly that. To make the data meaningful, MD Revolution shares the information with a team of health professionals who “create a feedback loop that can drive real behavioral changes.”
RevUp, which is available for free, has about 2,500 users, about 60 percent of whom are engaged with the platform, said Pratik Patel, chief operating officer at MD Revolution.
The company, launched in early 2011, has raised more than $10.5 million in funding to date. It employs about 40, having recently doubled in size to help fuel its expansion plans.
MD Revolution has changed its business model significantly in the past year. Last year, the company had aims to create a sort of physician franchise, which would build primary care practices with the aesthetics of an Apple store. Patients would visit with an on-site nutritionist and physician, and then communicate with them remotely via the RevUp application.
The company has since shifted focus toward the digital product. CEO Samir Damani said predictive intelligence algorithms built into the app can differentiate which users are more likely to stick with health regimens and which ones might drop off and require more encouragement, based on the data they input.
“The actual business model is now that of a pure digital health model,” Damani said. “We’re a pure health application, not just about statistics. And it’s the personalized coaching that really differentiates us.”
Smarr said personalized coaching is a good way to start, but to scale up, such apps will very quickly begin to provide personalized coaching by using artificial intelligence programs.
Catching the Wave
Another San Diego company that is hopping on the mobile health care wagon is Owaves, founded in May 2013 by physician Royan Kamyar.
The company just released the first part of its system, a mobile app it is billing as “the world’s first wellness planner,” Kamyar said. The company differentiates itself from other health and calendar apps by factoring in lifestyle indicators that are often ignored: While it schedules a user’s time spent exercising, eating and sleeping, it also makes sure users engage in social activities to decrease stress, which is a precursor to heart disease and
“We’re approaching this wellness preventative health base with all five of these clinical lifestyle vital signs in mind,” Kamyar said. “It’s a much more holistic approach.”
It recently scraped the idea of developing its own wearable device, opting instead to go the more profitable route of software development and teaming with a larger device maker. The company has presented its eponymous Owaves app to the CEO, chief technology officer and executive vice president of Sony Corp.’s mobile arm, and is working with Samsung Group for a potential seed round, Kamyar said.
Kamyar asserts that many of the mobile devices out there “are really backward-looking devices,” because they give the user only a retrospective platform to view and track one’s health and wellness.
“Owaves is prospective,” Kamyar said. “We start with the planning first and give users a roadmap forward to live a healthier life — and track their health data on top of that.”