In our last interview with Vida (@JoinVida) co-founder Connie Chen, MD (@ConnieEChen), Dr. Chen spoke about how Vida uses a distributed, asynchronous model of health coaches, combined with telemedicine and text messaging, to support patients with chronic conditions like hypertension, diabetes, and obesity.
Vida is currently undergoing clinical trials throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and at Duke Medicine. The app is now available on the Apple App Store, with an Android version slated for 2015 release.
We conclude our interview by looking into how personality, psychosocial, and cultural factors give Vida an edge over other platforms. Dr. Chen also gives us insight into how the Vida team formed, and how healthcare providers can make a difference with healthcare technology.
Psychosocial and personality assessments haven’t usually been done before. There’s talk of behavior change products of course but not the kind of depth that Vida proposes. What kind of research have you done to build in the psychosocial and personality assessments?
Right now it’s super simplistic. Matches are based on your health and personality. We saw personality [as an] emerging [factor] from our different personas. Some people want things super bubbly and super supportive; others want someone to whip them into shape and are super data-driven. Those are the two things we’re matching people by.
As we’ve grown, we’ve started to look into other factors like cultural and psychosocial factors. Geographic factors are really important too. If someone lives in Texas, they eat and do very different things than other people. And if you have some health coach from San Francisco, coaching them on eating vegan foods, it won’t go well! People need to get each other.
On the screening side, trying to match the coach and client, we’re not using any structured inventory. We have only accepted 2% of applicants who have applied to be coaches and hired for both breadth and depth in the network. We’re looking internally for QA and review, spot-checking all of the feeds constantly. It’s anonymized, but we can get a flavor for what’s going on. We’re just using that to figure out what types of traits we want to match in the future.
We hypothesize that age is a big factor. Having someone who’s 80 years-old and matching them with someone straight out of grad school won’t match up. [80-year-old clients] go through family stress, feeling like their bodies are breaking down, and it’s very hard to find someone with a good clinical background [to match].
So you imagine that culture definitely plays a big role.
And by culture, I mean like multilingual support and ethnic background. We’ve had a lot of requests for this. I would like a Pakistani coach, or this [type of] coach or that [type of] coach. And we’re preparing for that today, where we see a lot of curriculums that are culturally-sensitive that we’re co-developing with different organizations. We’re about to kick off with El Camino Hospital’s Southeast Asian [public health education] for risk reduction of cardiovascular disease, and they want meditation to be a big part of that program. They’ve sent us all their materials [to adapt to Vida].
What we’re really excited about [with that partnership] is that we can [better] serve that population, and serve South Asian cultural values across the world.
It sounds like your work in multicultural San Francisco and your own experiences with culture have given you this great perspective.
I used this at my parents’ company, and our first program used a very generic Western-type diet, but my parents kept asking about, “What’s this quinoa stuff? Or a soufflé?” So we’re also looking to Asian, Latin American and Hispanic diets.
That’s really the power of a marketplace and a distributed approach. We’re so diverse that I think this is a challenge [that needs tackling]. It’s my opinion that [this idea is] probably not going to be well-received [by the medical community], but we’re tied to this [notion of having one sole] in-person provider, but it’s so inefficient. Honestly, when I see a patient in clinic, I think, “I can’t believe you took a whole morning off work [just] to see me to review your lab results.” I can provide a bit more color and context, but it’s just ridiculous.
A lot of our readers are interested in building their own solutions and apps. How did you come about building your team?
I attribute a lot of what has happened to serendipity, and being in Silcon Valley has been very helpful. So all of us, we met through mutual friends and what resonated was a shared vision of what we wanted to build, and how we can make healthcare better. The downside in Silicon Valley is that there’s interest in issues building the technology [for those] who tend to be younger and more educated. Everyone [on my team] was more thoughtful about the hard and not-so-fun parts of healthcare.
I find it interesting that you are combining essentially the features of Yelp, HealthKit, Weight Watchers, and a dash of Google Helpouts. Can you accomplish this all? How will you make sure that your team stays focused?
I think it’s always tough. We did debate on how broad we should be, but to really solve the problem you have to offer not just a single feature but something that does a lot of things. You know how in the past, there are lots of self-tracking apps? It’s overly simplistic. The ability to track is important, but [it’s even more important] to have a real person behind it and provide reinforcement and personalize that to you. People are complex and have multiple conditions they are managing at once. There are 133 million people living with chronic conditions in the U.S.
In tandem with that, it will require structured education and programs, with good research providing a structured set of guides.
Any advice for other healthcare provider entrepreneurs?
I think there are lots of ways to make an impact in healthcare. Two of those ways that are really related to each other: partnership between entrepreneurs like me who are trying to build the technologies and intrapreneurs.
The only way to make this successful is to have support of physicians on the ground seeing patients every day, within the health systems. We need innovative docs to seek leadership positions in their systems, and to push for adoptions of technologies like what we’re building.
The only way we can be successful and [reach] patients is to do it in partnership with patients’ existing physicians, and I think that’s been the biggest behavioral [roadblock] with health tech; adoption on the ground by physicians. The only way to catalyze this is [with the] support of innovative docs on the ground.