The term “quantified self” is one of the great buzz phrases of 2014.
But with millions of borderline hypochondriacs strapping activity trackers to their wrists and staring at live readouts of their vital signs, the result so far has mostly been a torrent of mildly intriguing data. There are roughly 97,000 mobile health apps. The ten most popular are downloaded 4.3 million times each day. Quantifying ourselves has created one hell of a data mountain.
Validic – based in Durham, North Carolina – is a startup which exists solely to create a pipeline for this data to run from the people using connected health equipment to organizations who need to make use of the information. Its clients have a combined customer base of 30 million people. The 50 person company has grown steadily over four years, with a little over $ 2 million invested across three seed rounds.
Granted, “data pipeline” isn’t the most exotic company description. Even Validic CEO Ryan Beckland admits he set out to create something much different in 2010, starting a health engagement company and organizing community events around weight loss. His co-founder helped build software to manage the information coming off these efforts, but activity tracking was an embryonic space then. “There were pedometers available at this point. Fitbit was relatively new. But there had been not a lot of robust thinking about how to use these high powered mobile devices,” Beckland says.
In short order, Beckland saw that Validic was doomed as it was first engineered. It pitched its health engagement platform to private companies as part of existing wellness programs. It had a platform that could handle a lot of information, but nothing to hook interest. “We couldn’t expand,” Beckland says. “Our core idea was to build a data integration platform, but we needed a consumer facing device. The problem was, Fitbit is Fitbit. We couldn’t best that.”
“I’d love to say we sat down, mapped out the healthcare market and saw this big gap. But what saved Validic was that we’d be talking to customers about engagement and they’d be talking about managing data. So I thought, what if we just stripped away everything and helped people grab the data out of all of these individual things.”
Validic has four types of clients: people paying for health care programs, health care providers, preventative health services and corporate wellness programs.
Beckland says that a typical situation will see it work with the chief technical officer of a hospital – he name drops the Palo Alto Medical Foundation as one of its clients – working to create some level of interoperability and connectivity between the devices inside the hospital and draw some value from the universe of medical devices that exist outside of its walls.
It works with companies like Fitbit and Jawbone, providing them with a distribution channel. For example, a doctor can encourage his patient to use an activity tracker, which they can connect to their medical portal, providing the doctor with reams of useful information that can be rolled in the event of onsite care. Validic sees no personally identifiable information, simply shepherding the information between the person and the bigger organization.
“We can take a thousand blood pressure monitors, standardize that data, perform simple conversions and deliver an immediately useful dataset that can be added to a patient profile,” Beckland says.
These innovations are both very dry and useful: allowing for a large volume of information to pass between individual health trackers and larger organizations, allowing for hospitals to easily integrate and connect all of the machines onsite and work in these new wave of individual trackers in a useful way. With this, the company is poised strategically to cash in on two significant shifts in medicine.
“Back in 1991, 20 percent of all medical treatment came from outpatient care. Today it is 40 percent. Ten years from now, our primary healthcare experience is going to happen outside of the context of a hospital,” Beckland says. A very small portion of the market is moving about with activity trackers on their wrists, but this source of information and the quantified self movement can only make the outpatient experience more meaningful.
To Beckland, the huge issue for Validic is making sure that the company’s infrastructure can scale to meet the demand he sees coming. But he also accepts that Validic is poised to capitalize on a very specific shift in the market. If the winds change, it is out of luck. The odds right now at least, seem to be tilting in its favor.
[illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]