Founder Feature: Spry Health
In the United States in 2014, chronic conditions accounted for 7 of the top 10 major deaths. Nearly 93% of all Medicare costs are on treatment for chronic health conditions like heart disease, stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and arthritis. An estimated 195 million Americans live with a chronic disease but healthcare institutions have yet to find an effective solution for care.
That’s where Spry Health comes in. Founded in 2013 by Pierre-Jean Cobut and Elad Ferber, the startup has created a wearable device, called “The Loop,” that updates doctors on their chronically ill patient’s health status. The logic behind the device is simple: if doctors can get updated continuously on their patient’s health data, they can prevent some emergencies. Spry Health recently won the MedTech Breakthrough award for Best Biometric Sensor Solution.
While Spry Health is still waiting on FDA clearance, recent studies suggest that wearables can increase positive health behavior changes in patients over time, or, as Spry Health hopes, stop health emergencies before they occur.
We interviewed Pierre-Jean Cobut, co-founder and CEO of Spry Health, last week to discuss wearables, the state of chronic health care provision currently, and what to expect from this relatively new company in the next year.
Interview with Cofounders Pierre-Jean Cobut and Elad Ferber
Why did you decide to found Spry Health?
Pierre-Jean Cobut (PJC): The idea that a visit to a physician 3-4 times per year is enough to keep the most vulnerable patients out of the hospital is absurd. Multiple risk factors (age, chronic illnesses, social isolation, lower socioeconomic status) generally lead to emergency situations and lengthy hospital stays—terrible outcomes for people and an incredible cost burden to society.
Spry Health was founded based on the idea that most of these emergencies could be avoided if we had a better understanding of the daily physiological changes in a patient’s condition. This is why we developed the Loop. The clinical grade wristband empowers people struggling with chronic illnesses by monitoring and collecting their physiological changes, to direct care where and when it matters the most.
Who is your target consumer? How many current users do you have?
PJC: Our target customers are healthcare organizations that bear the financial risk of their chronically ill patients. Spry Health enables these organizations to deliver preventative care for people with chronic conditions. The consumers do not pay for the device, rather it is provided by their healthcare provider.
Spry Health has developed the clinical-grade Loop wearable that collects continuous vital signs (blood pressure, respiration rate, SpO2, heart rate) and physiologic biomarkers. Using machine learning, Loop Analytics contextualizes the data collected by the Loop and identifies early signs of deterioration before symptoms are noticeable. Clinicians are provided with information to intervene and provide targeted care to patients, enhancing the quality of life of the chronically ill while improving health outcomes and avoiding costly hospitalizations.
What do you see as the current biggest problems with how chronic diseases are managed?
PJC: While a systemic shift to extend care beyond the four walls of physicians’ offices to engage patients is taking place, solutions to enable better care in the home for the chronically ill are lacking. Healthcare organizations rely on information gathered from a variety of disparate sources to identify patients who are at elevated risk of disease exacerbation. These sources, such as claims data, episodic visits to physicians, costly home visits by nurses, telehealth technology, and clunky home monitoring devices are insufficient to prevent hospital readmissions, emergency room visits, or catastrophic outcomes.
While home visits and telehealth can be part of the solution, in the case of the chronically ill, a lot can happen between visits and online consults. This limited visibility restricts the value of home visits and telehealth to prevent trips to the hospital. The numbers support the inadequacy of current solutions. People with chronic conditions account for 81 percent of hospital admissions.
What are some features of your device that differentiates it from others on the market?
PJC: The Loop System is the first clinical grade wearable that measures blood pressure, pulse oximetry, respiration rate, and heart rate. It is a transformational product based upon the breadth of vitals measured by a single device, the accuracy of these measurements, and the form factor that eliminates the friction that renders current remote monitoring ineffective. Additionally, many clinicians have called measuring blood pressure non-invasively the holy grail of medicine. The Loop wristband offers patients a simple to use solution that provides them with reassurance and peace of mind that their health is always being monitored by a healthcare professional. It requires no set-up, pairing with smartphone, or input from patients.
The Loop uses eight optical sensors located on the band that—through proprietary algorithms—use light to image the arterial blood flow in the wrist and measure vital signs and physiological biomarkers. Spry’s Loop System provides the solution that other remote monitoring solutions have not been able to deliver. By offering an ambulatory monitoring system that continuously and passively collects vital sign information through a user-friendly form factor, the friction found in other remote monitoring devices is eliminated resulting in high levels of compliance among users. With continuous monitoring and high compliance, healthcare providers now have the line of sight to understand when their chronically ill patients are deteriorating and can intervene to reduce hospital admissions.
How do physicians get notified about their patients with the device? How quick is the follow-up appointment between doctors and patients after symptoms are recognized?
PJC: Chronically ill patients who use the Loop are typically in a care management or disease management program. Physicians monitoring these programs get notified through the Loop Analytics portal or email or text. This information can also be integrated via APIs into existing care management software. The healthcare organization sets up their own protocols and processes to determine how quickly to contact the patients once they are notified of a change in acuity.
How many iterations did the device go through before becoming what it is today?
PJC: We have built over 20 generations of hardware to get to a patient-grade device. More importantly, we have constantly innovated on the analysis of biological signals, our core expertise and innovation. One of the driving goals of our product development was to design a product that addressed the real world needs of chronically ill patients, a population that often has fewer access to resources.
Toward that end, we conducted extensive user experience interviews with chronically ill patients to understand their needs and the features that would ensure their adoption. We have also validated both the hardware and the analysis through multiple large clinical trials. We have conducted three major clinical trials with over 500 participants, including the largest non-invasive blood pressure monitoring trial in the industry. We launched a pre-FDA pilot study in June and are currently finalizing plans for several more pre-FDA clearance pilot studies.
How has Spry Health been received so far by the medical community?
PJC: The reception by the medical community has been very positive. As a revolutionary product the medical community quickly understands the Loop System delivers better health outcomes while reducing healthcare costs. Spry has engaged over forty healthcare organizations in active conversations to either consider pre and/or post FDA pilots and are negotiating with several of these organizations to conduct pre-FDA Pilots in Q3 of 2018.
In terms of dual-eligible and Medicaid populations, have you thought about how your device can serve those populations who have chronic diseases who may not be able to afford the current device?
PJC: Spry’s Loop System is designed to help those with chronic conditions, which has a direct correlation with lower socioeconomic populations. Spry believes strongly that dual-eligible and Medicaid populations should have access to the Loop free of charge. Spry works with dual-eligible health plans that bear the financial risk of this dual-eligible population to pay for the Loop System. There is clear economic incentive for dual-eligible plans to give Loop wristbands to their chronically ill patients to reduce costs while delivering better healthcare outcomes.
Is there anything that you think providers, academic institutes, and/or entrepreneurs should be doing differently when it comes to health tech development and integration?
PJC: We have the opportunity to design products that can address these patient needs. We can also make them feel connected and cared-for. To get there, the decision-makers in healthcare need to offer devices that move beyond the purely functional, and are actually designed for a positive user experience.
Developers of devices should always keep the user top of mind as they design products. If the intended user for a device is a patient with a chronic health condition, remember that these patients don’t want to struggle to learn how to use a device, and they don’t want to carry or wear a product that draws more attention to their illness.
What is some advice you would give to someone who is thinking of starting a company in the health tech industry?
PJC: A successful digital health product needs to be at a happy middle between the tech industry and traditional healthcare. To people coming from the tech industry, I’d recommend surrounding yourselves with people who know the healthcare system inside and out, physicians in particular. Healthcare is a complicated industry that obeys a very different set of rules than the tech industry. “Disrupting” and “breaking things” cost millions to organizations when people’s lives are on the line every single day. There are too many great technologies being built in silos for the sake of the technology itself, but without completely meeting a tangible need or without appreciating what health systems are capable of handling/integrating. This is a common trap: don’t fall for it.
What are the 3 big milestones upcoming for Spry Health?
PJC: Spry Health has three near term milestones.
- The first is FDA clearance which we expect before the end of 2018.
- Second, we are gathering data from our current pilots that will demonstrate improvement on outcomes for people with chronic illnesses. These use cases will be critical for our next stage of growth.
- Lastly, following FDA clearance, the Loop System will be commercially available to healthcare organizations.