Ryan Beckland is CEO of Validic of Durham, NC.
Tell me about yourself and the company.
My co-founder Drew Schiller and I started the company back in 2010. Originally we were a health engagement company doing incentivized weight loss programs. That product was fine. We just needed to expand it in order to make it more interesting for our customer base.
One of the ways we wanted to expand it was by building a bunch of API integrations into mobile health apps and devices. We built this incentivize system that took advantage of API integrations from consumer technologies and took it out to the market.
People would say, “You’re saying you can take the data from all these apps and devices and deliver it to our database?” We’d say, “Yeah, and then you know, we’ve got incentive programs and assessments and blah blah blah.” They’d say, “But the data … I can put it right in my portal?” I’m talking about health engagement, but they’re talking to me about data.
Drew and I heard that enough times where we finally said, wait a second, what if we just got rid of everything else we‘re doing and just gave the customer a single API access point? It gave you access to all these APIs that we had integrated. That’s when we started to hear people in healthcare say, “That would be great, because we have all these problems with integration.” That was the germ of it in the fourth quarter of 2012.
Other companies have jumped in offering tools for developers who might otherwise struggle with healthcare-specific issues such as HIPAA. How are your offerings different?
We’re a very specific niche. We’re not every layer of infrastructure in health IT, nor do we want to be. We’re just a network that connects mobile health apps and devices to the healthcare system.
Think of Validic as a phone company. You pick up the phone, not because you want to call AT&T, bur because you want to make a call to another person that’s on the network. You connect with Validic in order to get access to data. We just make it really easy to get access to data.
There are other companies doing things like HIPAA-compliant server architecture, data storage, file storage, stuff like that. That’s not what we do. We grab data from databases and move it to other databases. We just make it really simple for healthcare customers to get access to those data sources.
How are companies using your product?
There’s a very wide range. Within the hospital environment, we have hospitals spinning up new models of patient care based on better maintenance of chronic conditions and ongoing interventions. Population health management within the hospital system is a big thing. Patient engagement is huge right now. We fit nicely into both patient engagement strategies.
Outside hospital IT, we have health insurance companies using data to create better risk management models and attract less-risky customers. Everything from pharma companies doing clinical trials to population health management or corporate wellness companies doing different types of health engagement strategies. It really runs the whole broad range of healthcare.
What interest are people expressing in collecting information from wearables or other body sensor type devices?
Certainly some of what we’re hearing is exploratory. People are trying to figure out what’s useful about this data.
There’s a couple of things going on. We have a proliferation of technologies in mobile health. To categorize mobile health as step tracking or basic activity tracking is a little unfair. Not that you’re doing that, but I think it’s a little unfair by the industry.
Mobile health runs the range of home blood pressure monitors, glucometry, COPD and asthma treatment devices, the whole gamut. We think of mobile health as being any app or device for the provision of medical care outside the context of the four walls of the hospital. Any device that is used either in the provision of care or in health engagement outside of a hospital has a very difficult time getting data from the device back to the actual provider. That’s where we fit in.
We get interest from a very broad range. Some people only care about blood pressure. Some deployments only care about glucometry. Some only care about fitness and activity tracking. It’s not that people are just grabbing a lot of data to figure out if there’s any value to it. Our customer typically has a clear a strategy about why they’re integrating with Validic, what exactly they want to do with the data they’re going to get, and they’re executing on that strategy.
At the same time, there is a lot of exploration going on as well, where people take that specific use case and say, “If I can also get a bunch of activity data and mash that up with the glucometry data that I really care about, maybe there’s something interesting there.”
You must have more than just interfacing since you need the infrastructure to acquire the data and move it out to the cloud.
What we do is mostly a pass-through. We do persist data in our system, but all the data within Validic is de-identified.
The patient will log in to the patient engagement portal. Within that portal, they have the ability to connect apps or devices. When they connect their Omron blood pressure monitor, we facilitate that, grab the data from the online database, and deliver it back to the hospital. But we never actually know who that individual is. We don’t know their name. We don’t know their address. No identifiable characteristics whatsoever.
In terms of the infrastructure itself, Validic is not designed to be a data storage mechanism or anything like that. We’re mostly just a pass-through that de-identifies everything with regard to the HIPAA safe harbor standard to make it safe to connect this universe of apps and devices back to the hospital without HIPAA risk or data liability risk.
It’s a robust infrastructure behind the scenes to do that in scale. Our population today is quite large and growing really, really fast. Any time you have an infrastructure technology that’s growing really fast, you can get that there’s a whole bunch of smart technologists behind it, running as fast as they can to keep everything working.
You’re sending the hospital de-identified data along with some sort of key that lets them re-identify it?
Yes, exactly. The patient will log into the portal and connect their Omron device. They pass us a token that represents a user. We deliver Omron’s authorization page to give the hospital permission to grab the Omron data. That also provides us a token. We just match the two tokens together. We don’t have to know anything about the actual end user at all.
I noticed that you’ve got at least the beginnings of an app store. What kind of an ecosystem do you foresee developing around the companies that use your technology?
We do have a type of an app store. I guess you could think about it that way. Today we have 87 deployed app devices and we’ll be adding roughly 40 more in the coming weeks.
What’s happening today is that we’re in a very, very nascent market in this mobile health space. There’s a lot of apps and devices that are going through trials now. We know this because we sponsor a bunch of health-focused accelerator programs. But we also have good relationships with a lot of big manufacturers. We know that there’s stuff coming out in 2015 and 2016 that is going to many, many steps beyond basic activity tracking. But today, there’s not a ton that’s out there. There’s not a ton of different disease categories you can target through mobile technologies today, but there’s a lot more coming. That’s very exciting for us.
I think what we’re going to see is a lot of work being done in COPD and asthma. We’re going to see a lot done in medication adherence. We’re going to see a lot done in smoking cessation, which isn’t clinical per se, but it’s definitely important. Those are the key areas that we see a lot of activity happening. Frankly, I wish we could find more in smoking cessation. There’s some interesting things happening. I think there’s a lot of work to do there.
It’s really cool that we have things like the Qualcomm Life X Prize, which is a $10 million prize. It’s a tricorder prize. They’re trying to incentivize teams to create a tricorder, the thing from Star Trek that scans your body and tells you what’s wrong and can even do basic clinical treatment. Qualcomm put up $10 million to say, “Hey, who can build a tricorder or the closest thing we can build to it with today’s technology?“ There’s a lot of teams competing for that.
I think there’s going to be a lot of interesting technologies that spin out as the result of that big carrot sitting out there. That’s something we’re watching very closely. There’s a great deal of interest to see what comes of it.
Where do you see the company’s focus in the next two or three years?
We have a lot of work to do on just integrating apps and devices in the ecosystem. We’re very fortunate that the healthcare community has embraced Validic with very open arms. A lot of people have been waiting for this type of a solution.
There’s just a lot of work to do still on integrating apps and devices. That’s our primary focus. Improving the breadth of the marketplace that we have. Helping to foster business models for the apps and devices that are out there. These are all core focuses for us over the next couple of years. There’s just a lot of work to do.
Do you have any final thoughts?
Just to give you a little context on the breadth of the demand for mobile health technologies today, when we launched the market 12 months ago, we had zero people on the platform. Zero population size. Today our population size is about 30 million. Actually, it’s a little more, it’s about 33 million lives. That’s growing by about 40 percent month over month. There’s a huge amount of demand.
This is a very exciting time in healthcare, particularly in mobile health. We’re just honored to be part of the growth in that space.
Validic is committed to helping bring mobile health technologies into the primary provision of healthcare. To that end, we are supporting research projects focused on the utilization of mHealth data in the provision of healthcare, specific disease verticals, population health management, and other innovative areas that drive forward our mission. We are looking for research projects that can make use of our robust set of API connections to help the healthcare ecosystem better understand how mHealth works within the context of clinical care.
There is still a lot of work to do to help doctors understand and leverage the power of mHealth, but we are excited that Validic is helping pave the way.