Chattanooga startup uses new access to health data to help alert, inform health care consumers

·4 min read

Apr. 9—Nearly a decade after Bobby Huffaker launched American Exchange to help consumers connect with the exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act, the entrepreneur has started a new business to use data opened up under the 21st Century Cures Act to better inform and alert consumers of their options.

Huffaker's newest business, known as Directive Health, has raised several million dollars of capital to build the Chattanooga-based enterprise and help patients gain access and information to make better-informed decisions and, in the process, improve outcomes.

"The paradigm is shifting, and the days of the patients being towered over by their doctors and insurance companies is coming to an end," Huffaker said in an announcement of Directive Health. "Why have providers and payers been able to yield that power over the consumer? The answer, while complex, is actually quite simple. They owned your data, and data is power."

The Cures Act, designed to help streamline the development and delivery of drugs and medical devices to the market, also sought to give patients ownership of their data. The act prohibited information blocking that interferes with access to electronic health information about a patient's medical history or treatment.

Huffaker said his work in the health care industry in the past nine years has convinced him of the need for more patient access to health data and the best potential treatment options.

"The problem with the health care system now is that all of the data is siloed on the provider side of things and it doesn't allow the patient to be in control," Huffaker said. "What we're going to do is to advocate for the patient and help them understand their data."

In 2013, Huffaker founded American Exchange after Congress adopted the Affordable Care Act to help consumers understand and connect with affordable coverage plans offered through exchanges.

In the past nine years, American Exchange has grown into a multimillion-dollar business that has worked with hundreds of thousands of people, most of whom have signed up for one of the subsidized coverage plans offered through the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

American Exchange, Huffaker said, yielded an impressive 4,800% return on investment for those who initially bought into the business.

Huffaker has now set his sights on the next step in improving individual health care with a direct-to-consumer model.

In a telephone interview, Huffaker said Directive Health will work to provide patients with their own information and educate them on how to make decisions to improve outcomes.

Through artificial intelligence and machine learning, 22 million patient outcomes will be analyzed to develop ways to alert and educate patients about treatment options. Once developed, those in the program will get text messages to aid them through their health care options.

"We're going to send them notifications on their phone about what they could or couldn't do to help their health," Huffaker said. "We're also going to build our own provider network with doctors to be on call to help patients at any time and help people better consume health care."

The new enterprise is still taking shape, and software, systems and networks are being built to capitalize on the growing body of artificial intelligence available now in medicine.

Huffaker said he hopes to have the program ready for download in about three months.

He said he is still developing different funding models for Directive Health but he envisions providing the information to consumers free of charge — often a sign in the technology sector that someone else is paying for access to consumer data.

To build the new company, Huffaker hired a veteran financial tech and health business leader, David Frazier, to serve as CEO.

Frazier has taken several companies through startup stages to multimillion-dollar companies and helped build the lending platform Lendio into a major facilitator of small business loans.

Among the 15 employees now hired for Huffaker's startup company is Ratna Dhavala, who worked for nearly nine years in Massachusetts as a leader for the state's Health Information Exchange. That exchange was one of the first of its kind and has been the template used by many businesses across the country. Dhavala will serve as chief technology officer for Directive Health and help build a technical team to lead the company's technical production and development.

Chris Tapley, the new chief operating officer for Directive Health, previously worked at Huffaker's American Exchange.

Huffaker said Directive Health is still hiring and still looking for investors who have an interest in health care "and want to be part of something bigger than themselves that will help millions of lives achieve better outcomes."

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340. Follow him on Twitter @dflessner1.