Rashad Abdul-Salaam is the founder of Happy Health, a personal health record that helps patients save time and paperwork. In this interview he talks about healthcare startup challenges, the quantified self movement, and how he plans to make healthcare suck less.
Rashad, would you tell us a bit about yourself?
Around 2005 I was trying to start a politics website. I applied to the very first class of Y-Combinator. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the technical skills to get in. It was about that time I realized tech was cool.
I got into healthcare around 2006. I sort of stumbled into it. My B.A. was in psychology, my masters was in social science. I used those skills to get into intraoperative monitoring, which is a way to monitor patients when they are anesthetized during surgery. It is like an early warning system for physicians. I’ve been doing that full-time since 2006. I consider it my Bruce Wayne job.
I got my MBA recently. I thought I was going to come out and do healthcare consulting — maybe become a mid-level manager. I graduated and tried to apply for healthcare consulting positions — while having an MBA kept my resume on the desk, but I didn’t have five years of experience as a manager.
I started reading everyones favorite tech blog, TechCrunch. Right around Fall 2011 there were a number of healthcare startup incubators coming onto the scene: Rock Health, Healthbox and Blueprint Health. So I came up with an idea for a company called SkinClick. It was basically a way to take pictures of rashes, and send them securely to a physician. I was able to get a small team together in early 2012. We entered Lean Startup Machine Chicago, and actually ended up winning.
As with anything in entrepreneurship there are highs and lows. We went to speak with an attorney and he threw cold water all over the idea. Everyones favorite term in healthcare technology, HIPAA, was an issue. We needed to figure out how to secure healthcare data.
Let’s take a moment to talk a little bit about your healthcare startup HappyHealth.
While I was going out and meeting physicians I was looking at a lot of their websites — I noticed a lot of them were still having people print and fill out PDFs. I wondered why they didn’t just have a database with all the patients information.
I spent a lot of last year going through The Starter League, then Code Academy, and getting my front-end chops up to speed. That is where I met my co-founder. We were gelling around the idea of personal health records, PHRs as they are known in the industry.
PHRs store your information in one place. There is a ton of paperwork being done every time you visit a doctor. If you go visit your primary care physician, they ask you to fill out your name, address, phone number and insurance. If you go visit your dentist, they ask you to fill out your name, address, phone number and insurance. If you go to your optometrist they ask you to fill out your name, address, etc… It is always the same thing.
About that time I noticed that a lot of apps were using Facebook logins. It takes basic login information from Facebook, and funnels it into the app. The high concept for HappyHealth is a Facebook login for healthcare. HappyHealth is personal health record that stores basic information, and uses that stored information to autofill redundant paperwork at the doctor’s office.
The other issue is the portability of data in healthcare. If you go see one primary care physician, and then you have to go see a specialist — the fax machine is the cutting edge for transferring data. I’m sure you understand the issues with your experience with drchrono.
For those watching, I used to work for drchono, which is a Y-Combinator healthcare startup. Their focus was on electronic health records, which is more for the doctors use. It blew my mind that everything had to be faxed.
Let’s take a look at a demo of the HappyHealth PHR. It is in beta right now with limited invites.
If you have a handful of offices, and want to add another is there a way to do that?
We do have a request office button. If you want to add a new office, press it and send us the name of the physician, the phone number of the office, and the name of the medical office. It generally takes about three days.
I’d like to talk about the healthcare-tech space. What barriers do you see for healthcare startups? What opportunities are in the space?
There is a huge delta between consumer-tech innovations, and healthcare. Using consumer tech I can Skype you, email you, text you. In healthcare I can call you, fax you, or mail a letter. People look at that gulf and see an opportunity.
There is opportunity, but you hit walls — particularly HIPAA, the Healthcare Information Portability and Accountability Act. HIPAA is basically a set of standards that define how you can share data, and requires a set of risk management protocols should something happen to a patients healthcare data.
This varies among generations, but people are also extremely protective of their healthcare data. Healthcare data says something much more transparent about who we are, there is a desire to protect it. A younger person may not care if others know that they have a heart murmur, but if you have erectile disfunction or an STD you probably don’t want that to get out on Twitter.
The doctor isn’t fun for most people. I know HappyHealth is considering using gamification. I’m curious how you will be applying gamification to healthcare?
Well, gamification is out. I’d rather say behavior reward systems.
Companies are setting up systems with peoples employers that provide rewards and points for things like entering a running contest. In terms of HappyHealth, we know forms are boring. I think there are opportunities in design to create more engaging forms, and to get people to care more about their health at the end of the day.
Let’s go back to HIPAA for a second. Where can someone entering the healthcare-tech space learn about healthcare compliance, and how can they become HIPAA compliant?
The government does have a website available where you can look this information up.
You are going to need things like SSL — you have to protect the data while it is in transmit, you have to protect the data while it is at rest. You will need automatic logouts. You will need methods to authenticate the user. You need audits to record when people login. It is not impossible, but it does take a lot of work to get through it. If you are partnering with a provider, they will help you with several issues.
HappyHealth is an early-stage startup. What does the average day look like for you?
Leading up to this beta launch. It has been a lot of coding and testing. I’ve been with family members, going to physicians offices, and testing this idea. If you partially fill out forms and give them to receptionist will they be happy with that? So far it has been a resounding yes. I’ve been really trying to speed up the workflow process — getting these forms, organizing them, storing the data. I’ve been working on a lot of blogging, getting the word out there, using social media. I’m focusing on hype and knowledge.
I think lean is a great way to build a startup. It forces you to scope down. Admittedly, this is a moonlighting sort of deal. I’m wearing a lot of hats.
Is there anything that you wish you would have done differently?
I wish I would have started coding at 25. I wish a lot of todays tools were there when I was 25.
As far as the business goes, not really. I’ve learned a great deal, and I’m up to the challenge of learning more.
There are a ton of interesting things happening with the quantified self movement. People are working on tools that allow them to check their own blood pressure, blood sugar, monitor their own vitals. How do you think these technologies will play out?
As an entrepreneur I’m very optimistic on it in the long run. As these things get absorbed into the industry, providers will start to understand the value.
I think quantified self is interesting in the short-term, because it is decoupled from the industry. I wear a FitBit. It is tracking my running, and my steps. It is something I can manage, control and derive value from. Telemedicine, on the other hand, needs an interface with a provider.
I really think quantified self will ultimately be one of the big solutions to help solve our problems with healthcare, because it will help us make better life decisions.
Books entrepreneurs should read.
I’m big on lean. I love Steve Blank. Four Steps to the Epiphany, The Startup Owners Manual, and Running Lean by Ash Mayura.
I’m also a fan of The Innovators Dilemma. Small businesses and startups will be able to constantly disrupt big businesses, because they are always looking at the high end of the market. The little guys can eat away at the edges if the market.
Where can people follow you Rashad?
You can follow @MyHappyHealth. You can follow me @rabdulsal. Our website is happyhealth.me. Come check us out, checkout the demo, and request an invite. I’m happy to talk to people, and work with the tech and startup community.