At a hackathon last year, Georgia Tech students Manav Sevak and Kunal Naik paired up with Harvard medical student Nisarg Patel to form a team and solve a technical challenge. Following the event, the team decided they wanted to use their talents to tackle the issues behind medical adherence for chronic health patients. They founded Memora Health, a personal assistant platform for clinicians, in 2016.
Poor treatment adherence and care results in nearly 70 percent of U.S. hospital admissions at a cost of 125,000 American lives and $300 billion in healthcare spending per year. Memora Health helps patients after they leave the hospital by sending them discharge instructions, addressing their health concerns, and collecting follow-up health metrics through text message.
“We envision a world where patients not only have accessible and affordable healthcare, but understand that their doctors are truly invested in their well-being,” shares the startup team.
Over the past months, the current team of six clinicians and engineers has worked closely on pilots with several health centers to prove the effectiveness of Felix, their AI chatbot. The pilots show the effectiveness of their technology, with marked improvement in engagement. By encouraging patients answer daily health follow-up questions and assessing their care, they’ve seen a maintained engagement rate of over 90 percent in a 30-day trial period.
Here, the Memora Health team shares more about their journey thus far, the use of AI in the medical space, and the unique challenges of being a student-led startup in the challenging healthcare industry.
What’s your pitch?
We’re building a digital care manager that functions as a personal assistant to clinicians and allows health practices to scale high-quality, concierge-level care to all patients at a low cost. Our AI, Felix, connects with patients via SMS by asking about general wellness, tracking patient responses to increasingly personalize interactions, and using tone of speech analysis as well as support for contextual questions to naturalize conversations.
A risk assessment algorithm tracks patient-reported symptoms and finds trends in health data to notify clinicians when a patient may be at risk of immediate hospital readmission or is generally performing worse, prompting their attention. Clinicians can additionally see patient reports with easy-to-read summaries in their EMR. Thus far, our focus is on post-operative care and Type II Diabetes, with a goal of expanding to more chronic conditions.
How’d you get the idea for it?
Memora Health was founded with the mission of overcoming disparities in providing the highest attainable standard of healthcare across the socio-economic spectrum. As a dental student at Harvard, Nisarg would interview patients every Monday afternoon of first year. From their narratives, he developed an understanding that readmissions and complications can’t be attributed to one specific issue (e.g. medication adherence), but are due to a larger concern of adherence to treatment plans as a whole, as well as patient-provider communication. Poor follow-up care is fueling readmissions and complications due to both poor longitudinal management and care coordination across multiple providers.
Our team has worked to build a platform that comprehensively addresses this issue by sending interactive, personalized health reminders and care advice via SMS, while also analyzing and integrating clinically relevant patient-reported outcomes into existing hospital IT infrastructure.
What problem are you solving?
We are all too familiar with the “frequent flier”, the “complex” patient that presents for the fifth time in three months with an exacerbation of their diabetes or heart failure. Their hospital course is quite typical as you stabilize their disease, which could certainly have been preventable with better care at home. And yet as you hastily prepare their discharge, your heart sinks — you remember that despite all of the “patient education” provided during their stay, the patient is going back to the very same environment and that they’ll find their way back in the not-so-distant future.
Poor follow-up and care management of chronic conditions costs the U.S. health system $300 billion per year — 20 percent of Medicare patients are readmitted within 30 days, but 75 percent of these readmissions are preventable with better care transitions and follow-up. The current standard of care includes patients receiving verbal instructions from a physician and a stack of papers with post-discharge protocols. Patients often leave confused, resulting in high 30-day readmission rates and poor patient care post-discharge. They’re paying higher healthcare costs, missing work every time they’re readmitted, and living with the very real fear that they won’t get help in time from our healthcare system when they need it most.
What are the challenges you’ve encountered as a student startup founder?
It’s difficult to effectively conduct B2B sales in a notoriously difficult market, healthcare, while being a student. Not only is there a time constraint due to the demands of the challenging programs we were all enrolled in, but there’s also a limit to your stature and authority.
Starting and managing our own clinical studies in Boston and Atlanta was crucial to getting us the proof of concept data and authority to claim that our tool can help improve hospital operations. Additionally, having a great advisory team was an integral part of our early success.
What are some lessons you’ve learned as you grow your business that may be helpful for others?
Talk to as many people who are both buyers and sellers in the space you’re working in. Each individual will provide you a unique perspective and story that will help in developing domain expertise in the long term.
The quicker you get an MVP in front of users, the better final product you will have even if you fail at first.
What kind of resources are you looking for to solve problems within your startup?
While we’re constantly working to improve the Memora Health platform, our team is heavily focused on executing and shortening our sales cycle over the next 6 months. As a result, we’re looking to talk with more executives at hospitals and health tech companies and continue to learn about effective methods of selling into health systems.
How does your location in Atlanta weave into your startup story?
The Atlanta healthcare ecosystem was crucial to our success to-date. We conducted our first clinical study at Grady Memorial Hospital and work closely with several professors at Emory University’s health professional schools. The community at Georgia Tech was conducive to our success thanks to the technical guidance and resources available.
What are your goals for the next six months?
We’re hoping to continue implementing the Memora Health platform in private practices, surgical centers, and hospitals across the country, with a focus on endocrinology and post-operative care.
Muriel Vega contributed to article development.