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HealthPals' smart platform helps predict heart disease, offers treatment plans

13 min read

CLINT, HealthPals’ clinical intelligence platform, uses data and machine learning to automate and personalise treatment pathways at an individual and population-level for South Asians.

At a glance:

Startup: HealthPals

Founders: Sushant Shankar, Rajesh Dash

Founded: 2015

Where it is based: Bay Area, San Francisco

Funding: $2 million

The problem they solve: Data-led, evidence-based outcomes to predict heart disease and its incidence in South Asians, and guideline-based treatments.

The young and the old often make a great combination - one is full of energy and tenacity; the other is replete with deep thinking. That’s what happened when Dr Rajesh Dash, 45, and Sushant Shankar, 28, met at Stanford University. They met online through a networking site called Foundersdating.com, and Sushant calls it an “embarrassing” yet surprisingly effective website that matches talented founders with complementary co-founders to make their ideas a reality.

Sushant, fascinated with Dr Rajesh’s work in cardiology, convinced him about a business outcome. Based in the Bay Area, they founded HealthPals, an innovation leader in Precision Prevention (see graph), which uses data to predict cardiovascular risks and helps “predict” and “prevent” the disease.

The company was born through Co-founder Rajesh’s clinical and research work in 2015.

HealthPals founders Sushant Shankar and Rajesh Dash

As a faculty member and cardiologist at Stanford, Dr Rajesh founded a clinic, SSATHI (that stands for friend or partner in Hindi) in 2014. It focused on preventing heart disease in young South Asians, who have the highest rate of heart disease globally. South Asians have a four-fold greater risk of heart disease as compared with the general population.

In the first six months of launching the clinic, dozens of patients who should have been started on statins, blood pressure medications, and even aspirin were checked and monitored. However, these patients had not been offered medications by prior care providers.

This is a systemic problem. The RAND Corporation says roughly 50 percent of all medical decisions are not evidence or guideline-based. Providers are often not aware that guidelines apply to their patients. Even if they are aware of all of the evidence, they have no time to consider all preventive opportunities for each patient at the point of care.

Enter HealthPals

The San Francisco-based firm was founded to automate, personalise, and visualise evidence-based care plans of every patient within a health system.

What does HealthPals do? The startup provides personalised, automated, and guideline-driven treatments to reduce medical errors and mortality. It also provides population insights that optimise medical, quality, and cost considerations.

Sushant, CEO of HealthPals, says:

“When scaled from an individual patient to a clinic or health system level, you can easily see how missed opportunities to prevent disease can magnify into massive public health problems, leading to increased adverse events, higher mortality, and spiralling costs,”

After over three years of product, category, and company development, HealthPals’ Precision Prevention solution has emerged to scale effective prevention of chronic diseases.

It achieves this for entire health systems through automated data analysis, producing “actionable, evidence-based insights about what should be done clinically, when, and why”.

Seizing the opportunity

Rajesh is an MD/PhD, a cardiologist and scientist who had no engineering or coding expertise. He who needed a co-founder with a passion for solving difficult problems in healthcare and who had the technical and team building skills to create a product. Sushant is an experienced data scientist and serial entrepreneur with a background in computational biology. He was looking to re-enter the digital health sector with someone who had domain expertise.

Rajesh and Sushant talked to hundreds of physicians, nurses, patients, hospital administrators, and executives to understand the pain points of each stakeholder in the healthcare ecosystem. This was in 2015; they quickly realised that while the guideline-based treatment plans that CLINT generated were useful at the point of care, the greater opportunity and impact was at the population-management level.

“There was a renewed emphasis on population reports that illustrated the biggest opportunities and risks for a health system's patient base, and how to target resource allocation to efficiently reduce risk, always with a focus on evidence-based care,” Sushant says.

How HealthPals CLINT works

Identifying care gaps

HealthPals has analysed 200 million patient-life-years of data through data partnership and customer engagements to determine not only how guidelines and evidence are being applied to this patient population, but also to train machine learning algorithms to predict optimal treatment pathways for different cohorts of patients.

Most recently, they have seen a critical need to raise adherence to medical therapy guidelines for patients who would clearly benefit based on clinical data and current evidence.

“We are working with pharmaceutical companies to identify ‘care gaps’, opportunities for intervention that are untapped so focused improvement strategies can be implemented,” Sushant says.

Betting on the idea

HealthPals idea has garnered $2 million in seed funding. This is the average size of seed money in the Bay Area, unlike India where the average seed money is $100,000. Most of the money has gone into building the product.

Yogen Dalal, a Bay Area-based internet guru, was their first angel investor. Dr Robert Harrington, Chair of Medicine at Stanford and the former director of Duke Clinical Research Institute, has been a critical champion of their solution, along with John Rumsfeld, the Chief Innovation Officer of the American College of Cardiology.

Mohandas Pai, founder of Aarin Capital, says: “There is an enormous bet on the idea because of the pedigree of the entrepreneurs.”

Sushant says: “It is vitally important to have engineered a platform that can not only absorb vast sums and varieties of patient data, but which can also organise and map these fields of patient data from EMR, wearables, and other data streams into the evidence-based CLINT core engine.”

Along with to the evidence-based “prescriptive” component of CLINT, the technology must also permit training of machine learning algorithms to produce a “predictive” component of CLINT on large datasets. The construction of these technology layers is a unique strength of CLINT and a source of intellectual property for the company, one that it hopes to monetise in the future.

A healthy future

According to Deloitte, the global healthcare spend is predicted to go to $8.7 trillion by 2020 while the average healthcare spend of GDP will be 10.5 percent by 2020.

There are umpteen healthcare startups in India, but none of them is crunching data of such critical magnitude. There are companies like Niramai, which is able to detect tumours in breasts without using painful mammography methods, and there’s stem cell research startup AdvanceCells, which is into bone marrow harvesting of stem cells for organ implants.

But most startups in India are focusing on process innovation rather than using deep data to solve healthcare issues – that is the HealthPals’ differentiator.

With a powerful pedigree of individuals backing them, HealthPals plans to take its product to hospitals across the US now, and later across the world. They have an ongoing pilot, which is slated to kick off commercially in 2019.

HealthPals is in the pre-revenue stage, but is looking to generate significant revenue in FY2019 and “follow it up with rapid revenue growth thereafter”.

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