Telemedicine takes another step

Tech It Up!

Over four years ago, Jim Kean went to the doctor for a regular checkup. The avid hiker, rock climber and cross-country skier wasn’t prepared to find out his cholesterol rate had spiked. Concerned, Kean decided to find out exactly what he could do.

He consulted a team of geneticist, a nutritionist and other experts. Based on their advice, Kean began taking three times the normal rate of B-vitamins. It was a safe approach that cut his cholesterol in half within four to five months.

“I asked, what should I be measuring and who should be looking at the data,” said Kean “My numbers moved pretty conclusively, and then others started asking for similar data.”

The experience got him thinking. Why shouldn’t more people be able to get similar guidance? And why should it take actually visiting an expert to get that advice?

That question produced the initial idea for WellnessFX. The site, which launched just over two years ago, puts modern medical analysis and health tracking a mouse-click away. While online health information sites are nothing new – Kean was behind one of the first - WellnessFX combines the deep information of such sites with the kind of individualized diagnostics and guidance usually only delivered by physicians.

“We’re trying to turn the doctor visit around,” said Kean. “Being able to engage healthcare, shifting from a push to pull” approach so the individual is in control. That’s the mission and end benefit of WellnessFX, Kean says. While the service is only offered in California, Oregon and Washington now, they expect to have a national footprint by next year.

Of course, some things can’t be done over the web. Subscribers begin their WellnessFX experience by having blood drawn by a practitioner sent to their home or office. Once the blood is run through a battery of more than 75 different tests, WellnessFX creates an online health dashboard for each user to track their health information and provides online and over-the-phone consultations. The result of those discussions: A series of recommendations based on each subscriber’s data and goals.

“We give people access to info,” WellnessFX co-founder Brent Vaughan said. “We’re not inventing the science. But people can find this quite accessible, and understand it. And really engage with it.”

Launching WellnessFX was a natural next step for Kean, who has spent nearly two decades putting medical information into the hands of patients. In the mid-90s, he launched Sapient Health Network, an interactive health website for those with chronic and serious illnesses. Online health giant WebMD bought the company, and put Kean at the helm of the consumer side of their business. After a year, Kean left WebMD and jumped into venture capital and then real estate investment banking. But he said he also began researching the idea of a, self-sustaining spa resort in Oregon. When the market slumped, Kean scratched the plan but the notion of self-improvement stayed.

So after noticing the results in his own health tracking experiment, he contacted Vaughan, who had built a career around creating technology platforms for diagnostic and personal health care. When the two met to discuss the idea, Vaughan said he had his doubts.

“I itemized all the reasons it wouldn’t work,” said Vaughan. “When I look at consumer health [technology] it doesn’t really diagnose you.”  But Vaughan said he then thought of cancer patients, who have to battle for years as they fight for their life. By the end of their hospital stay, they knew more about their blood data than the doctors treating them.

“People can embrace health data,” said Vaughan. “If you really wanted to engage people, give them real healthcare instead of healthcare light.”

Subscribing to WellnessFX isn’t cheap. A basic account runs $599 while a premium service is $1299. But Vaughn argues that cost should be seen as an investment – one that will reap benefits when subscribers are able to show the analysis and their health gains to insurers and ask for a cut in premiums.

“Its interesting, typical healthcare payers really don’t have an interest in prevention,” said Kean. That’s because most people switch health care plans about every three years, not. So prevention is less important than reaction. But now you can “invest in yourself up front to yield benefits over the next 20 years.” said Kean.

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