It’s about patient engagement and patient empowerment

What’s the worst part of visiting the doctor? It isn’t the endless waiting, sitting alone and afraid in a small room and clothed only in a thin gown, your clothes piled ashamedly on the floor, expecting to hear the absolute worst-case scenario upon your physician’s arrival. It isn’t having to urinate in a paper cup, though you always feel a little humiliated and awkward as it turns from cold/empty to warm/full. And it isn’t even that moment when you step on the scale and find out you unknowingly gained 20 pounds in the past year, even though you spent the last 12 months telling everyone you were on a diet and posting pictures of healthy food on Facebook.

No, the absolute worst part of visiting the doctor is interactivity. Or rather, the absence of interactivity. You know the drill: an appointment is scheduled, an examination is performed, the doctor explains to you — in terms you can’t understand — what’s wrong, then explains to you — in terms you can’t understand — what can be done to correct the problem. Unless you’re a closet medical genius — and I know for a fact you’re not — 95% of what your doctor tells you flies in one ear and out the other. No interaction, no understanding, just trusting the word of somebody you know nothing about.

“My dad’s a spine surgeon and a few years ago we were talking about some of the macro issues in healthcare; things like information asymmetry,” Orca Health CEO Matt Berry told Beehive Startups in an interview. “Then we kind of brought it back down to the problems that he sees on a daily basis within his practice. The biggest problem that he sees is patient under-education. It doesn’t matter how he articulates the particular commission or procedure, the patient usually tunes out and doesn’t understand… it’s kind of like a foreign language to them.”

Orca Health is presenting a remedy to this situation, a series of interactive apps that allow patients to better understand medical anatomy, procedures, and solutions. No more lack of communication or information gap. Orca Health helps users — through various graphics, 3-D renderings, and videos — form a stronger patient/doctor bond, built upon a foundation of mutual understanding. Imagine how great it’s going to feel when you actually know what your doctor just told you.

“You could see that there were ways that we as a society and as a world were gonna shift from a copy-based, text-based world into an interactive, touch-feel-engage type of society,” Berry said. “Apps are engaging. You touch and you feel and you experience. This single application is meant to redefine how patients and physicians interact at the point of care. Right now, your interaction with your physician is terrible. They turn their back on you and they clunk on this derelict DELL terminal. It’s just awful. This is meant to be a much more intimate setting.”

Let’s say you have spine problems. You aren’t going to read a 300-page, medical-style users manual explaining the intricacies of your vertebrae, because that would be the most boring thing you’ve ever done; way too much work, way too overwhelming. What you would do is pull up Spine Decide, Orca Health’s spine-dedicated app, and learn about your spinal problems like any normal human being living in the 21st century — by touching, feeling, and listening your way through an interactive, computer-based experience. This is what Berry envisioned when he created the first app for his father.

“I built him a very crude app called Spine Decide and it had some 3-D renderings, it had some videos, and it basically covered about 90% of the conditions and procedures that he sees on a daily basis,” Berry said. “It was used to give to his patients so they could understand. And a couple of things happened. One, his patients almost cried they were so happy to actually understand what was going to happen to them or what had happened to them. And number two, we started getting all these inbound e-mails from places like South Africa and Germany and California, with physicians saying, ‘This is great! Can you replicate this across the board? Can you do this for hip? Can you do this for shoulder? Can you do this for eye? Knee?’ So we just recruited some of the best board certified physicians to give us content and kind of monitor these applications and built out a really nice suite of patient education content that was kind of unparalleled.”

As of now, Orca Health has nine apps — spine, heart, knee, shoulder, eye, foot, hand, dental, ear/nose/throat — with two more — face, breasts — currently in development. A partnership with Harvard Medical School ensures all the information contained within each app comes from the highest possible sources.

“Over the past year we’ve had about 2.5 million downloads which is a monster number in healthcare,” Berry said. “We have about 60,000 physicians that use the app on a daily basis and that’s growing. We’ve won every award from Apple that you can imagine; App of the Year, we’re featured in Apps for Healthcare Professionals, we were one of only 30 apps that was designed for iOs7.”

The term interaction implies two-sided involvement. Just as patients use Orca Health’s apps to better comprehend med-speak, physicians can use them to send pertinent links, videos, and annotate particular areas of interest for each individual person. Patients gain a better understanding, physicians save valuable time and energy, everybody wins.

“It’s a totally new interface based around content, based around 3-D interaction,” Berry said. “Because that’s the way that we’re moving. You can interact with your condition, see your procedure, see your MRI from a 3-D standpoint. You understand exactly the benefits and the risks to each surgical procedure, including mortality.”

While other industries have been quick to embrace the tech revolution, healthcare has lagged behind, the industrial equivalent of the tortoise racing the hare. I know what you’re thinking: slow and steady wins the race. In this case, slow and steady just means the healthcare industry has an enormous amount of room for growth, and ample opportunity to curb the billions of dollars wasted annually on inefficient care.

“You have kind of this archaic, dark-ages health care system that apparently just woke up and said, ‘Oh my gosh, all our patients are on Android. All our patients are on iOS. All our doctors have iPhones and iPads, what are we going to do about this?’” Berry said. “They’re demanding these types of solutions and the market has just totally shifted and advanced. It’s pretty exciting.”

Apps like the ones created by Orca Health give reason to hope. The healthcare industry doesn’t have to stay stuck in the mud — outdated, inefficient methods for educating individuals on medicine and procedures can be updated. No more sitting in a doctor’s office listening to a 20 minute lecture on obscure parts of the body, then wondering what the hell just happened. With help from Orca Health, patients can take information from their physician and use it to make a conscious, educated decision on the future of their health. More power to the people, baby.

“It’s about patient engagement and patient empowerment,” Berry said. “Before they weren’t empowered, they didn’t have the tools and now you start to see Obama-care startups like ours really kind of take hold and do some good things.”

Published 2/18/2015