Former Healthline CEO launches digital patient engagement startup

By Brian Dolan
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WestShellConversaHealth West Shell III, Co-founder & CEO, Conversa Health

Portland, Oregon-based GreenField Health, a subscription-based primary care clinic, has agreed to pilot Conversa Health's digital patient engagement platform to try out the startup's "digital checkups", which collect structured feedback on patients’ progress and outcomes between visits.

Earlier this month Conversa Health announced the launch of its business, which was founded by former Healthline CEO West Shell III and former WebMD exec Dr. Phil Marshall. The company also recently announced that Anna-Lisa Silvestre had joined as Chief Marketing Officer after serving as Kaiser Permanente's vice president of online services.

"One of largest gaps in the healthcare system is the last mile of care," Shell told MobiHealthNews in an interview. "Conversa is a robust platform that allows doctors and patients to have an ongoing, continuous relationship and to communicate on a personalized basis as opposed to episodic visits to the doctor’s office. This is a monstrous problem and when we look back on this in 20 years, we will say that it was remarkable that the only time we spoke to our doctors was when we were standing in front of them."

Conversa's platform enables physicians to send personalized education materials as well as "simple but precise" questions that generated structured data from patients in response. The company then analyzed this patient generated data to help providers monitor their populations and communicate with them when an intervention is needed.

In the GreenField pilot, the primary care clinic will try out Conversa's Conversation Engine, which automatically sends questions and messages to patients, collects feedback, and pushes out personalized video content and alerts. The platform will also automatically generate a collection of education videos for patients based on their health issues. The content is thanks to Conversa's partnership with Nucleus Medical Media, which is providing 3D animations as well as live action educational video to the company.

"In healthcare we don't ask patients about their health experience," Silvestre told MobiHealthNews. "Unless the patient feels the symptoms are urgent, they don't proactively get in touch. [Conversa] is sending more than just an email asking how the patient is doing. This is clinical data exchange -- not just free text. Patients want their doctors to reach out."

Shell argues that healthcare has spent the better part of the last 15 years building and installing very expensive practice management systems and electronic health records, and the development of consumer-facing digital health tools like apps have received a lot of attention in recent years.

"However, there has been very little done to actually facilitate the discussion between the doctor and the patient and take these data sets to facilitate real value," he said.

Shell said that primary care needs the tools to manage the growing number of people with chronic conditions. Conversa expects to focus on medium to large-sized practices to help them figure out when to bring patients in for early interventions while providing continuous digital check ups in the meantime.

"On our physician dashboard, providers can see which patients gave them positive responses, negative responses, or no responses at all," Shell explained. "Eventually, we believe physicians won't tell patients to come back in three weeks or six months – or whatever the routine is -- those visits will be based on need and not on some set schedule. That will have a huge impact on costs."

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