WellDoc brings mobile health tech to AT&T

Baltimore company uses cell phones for chronic disease management

November 08, 2010|By Gus G. Sentementes, The Baltimore Sun

WellDoc Inc., a Baltimore health care technology company, has hit some key milestones since it was launched five years ago. It has raised millions in venture capital, received FDA approval for its mobile phone-based diabetes management software, and even expanded operations to India, where diabetes is a burgeoning problem.

But perhaps the company's biggest news is its recent partnership with AT&T Inc. The telecommunications giant launched a new business segment last week that will focus on technology solutions for the health care industry. And WellDoc's software will be pitched by AT&T's huge marketing muscle to commercial clients ranging from hospitals to insurers to employers.

"We knew we needed to have a partner to scale our solution," Ryan Sysko, WellDoc's chief executive, said Monday. "We can continue to focus on clinical application, and they [AT&T] could be our partner to bring it to market."

WellDoc is on the cutting edge of the fast-growing mobile health field, where mobile phones, the Internet, smart software and medical devices are merging to improve health care. The company's flagship product is web-based chronic disease management software that works with mobile phones, so that those with certain diseases, such as diabetes, can better manage their care.

The health care industry is experiencing a confluence of technology trends. More and more consumers are using the Internet and mobile phones to track and personalize their health care. For instance, applications abound for smart phones, such as Apple's iPhone, that enable people to track their weight and calorie counts, or their exercise regimens.

At the commercial level, health care providers such as hospitals and insurers are increasingly adapting to new state and federal guidelines that require using technology to share patient data and diagnoses more efficiently and securely.

This is the profitable, multibillion-dollar niche that AT&T is trying to target with its new ForHealth business segment. AT&T believes the health care information technology market is worth about $34 billion. The company said its own revenues from that market were $4 billion last year.

To use WellDoc, diabetes patients take blood readings with a wireless-enabled glucometer, which beams the data to the person's cell phone. The patient then shares the data with WellDoc's computer system, which tracks and analyzes the information, and then gives diabetes-management advice to the patient — all via cell phone.

A survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project last month found that 17 percent of adults with cell phones have used their mobile devices to access health or medical information. That percentage was higher — 29 percent— for cell phone users between the ages of 18 and 29, the survey found. And nearly 10 percent of cell phone users have apps on their phones that help them track or manage their health, according to the survey.

Some examples of health care solutions that AT&T is offering, in addition to WellDoc, include medicine bottles whose caps glow and beep to remind patients to take pills; home-based devices that monitor patients' heart levels; and audio and video feeds that can replace doctor's office visits.

"We're very excited to have that strategic alliance with" WellDoc, said Adena Handley, AT&T's marketing director for health care. "Now that we have WellDoc as part of the entire ForHealth practice, it brings even more credibility to what we're trying to do from a company perspective."

Financial terms of the partnership between WellDoc and AT&T were not disclosed.

WellDoc, which is privately held, expects to have revenue of more than $10 million this year, Sysko said. The company has five corporate clients and 20,000 users of its software, he said.

WellDoc was founded by Sysko and his sister, Dr. Suzanne Sysko, who was an endocrinologist at the University of Maryland and worked at the university's Joslin Center for Diabetes. Two pilot studies conducted by the company with partners such as CareFirst and Johnson & Johnson have shown that using WellDoc's mobile phone-based program to manage diabetes brought dramatic improvements and stability to patients, according to Ryan Sysko.

In August, WellDoc received Food and Drug Administration approval to market its software for treatment for Type II diabetes. The company hopes to expand its offerings beyond diabetes management to cover other chronic diseases, such as treatments for cancer, congestive heart failure and respiratory diseases, Sysko said.

The company has 75 employees, 45 in Baltimore and the rest in Bangalore, India, Sysko said. WellDoc wanted to be in emerging markets overseas, Sysko said, because diabetes is a big chronic health problem in China and India.

In the United States, diabetes affects about 12 percent of the population, but the disease is growing rapidly in India, where it afflicts 7.1 percent, and China, where 4.5 percent suffer from it, according to the International Diabetes Federation.

gus.sentementes@baltsun.com

twitter.com/gussent

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