In his second year of an emergency medicine residency, Jeremy Corbett began to question the impact of his care. Not satisfied with helping just one patient at a time, he began to imagine a software platform that could be leveraged to assist whole communities.
Soon after residency, Corbett founded RocketHealth, a company that provides a real-time dashboard of health metrics to diabetes patients and the coaches who manage their care.
As told to Logan Plaster
THE ENTREPRENEURIAL ‘AHA’ MOMENT
The “aha” moment honestly was sitting down with a colleague who asked, “What would be required to keep potentially preventable emergency department visits from occurring?” My response then was the same as it is today. If I can get real time data in the hands of clinicians or behavior change scientists or somebody who could intervene at the time of need, I could change the number of people that come into the emergency department every day to see me for something that could be cared for at a less acute level of care. Two years later after I answered that question, RocketHealth was launched.
THE PATIENT WHO SPARKED IT ALL
There was a gentleman who said he had noticed that he was sluggish, tired, and not thinking clearly. He had a good primary care doc and claimed he had been mentioning this over and over again and nothing really came of it until he told his doc he was just drinking nonstop. I was probably the fourth or fifth clinical patient encounter for this one poor guy and told him he had diabetes. He says, “Well, you haven’t run any tests.” I told him this is just a storyline that only ends with one diagnosis, and sure enough his sugar was out of control.
So I thought, “Man, how many folks are running around like this with all of the right boxes checked?” They’ve got an employer. They’ve got coverage. They’ve got insurance. They’ve got a primary care doc. But yet they don’t have an answer, somebody to walk down this journey with them.
What if we created a system, a platform, a program, a product that actually cares for people with a chronic condition in a way that they can’t by themselves; in a way in which their doctor has no capacity to?
And that’s why I get excited about 2017 compared to 2007 or 1997. There’s never been a time where technology allows us to do so many incredible things with so few individual people. If you can leverage technology appropriately and still have that really important people element, you can help countless people that just ten years ago would have been left completely on their own.
BRANCHING INTO THE BUSINESS WORLD
I was intrigued by starting a company, and I wanted to test the theories I had around population health. I also wanted to leverage my skills as a doctor for a larger group of people. The answer for me was a business – a startup.
RocketHealth: The Basics
RocketHealth is on a mission to transform the way insurers, clinicians, doctors and individuals manage chronic disease. We feel like we’ve been thinking about telemedicine wrong for quite some time and we [healthcare]should be much further along in leveraging data for better medicine and we’re not because it’s too complicated and we’re a little too isolated.
We have the premise that if we put real time data, real time biometrics in the hands of people who can enact change – whether that’s a provider, a coach, a certified diabetic educator, a nurse, a case manager; that not only can we predict the future but we really do believe we can change the future of that individual with an X,Y or Z chronic condition, whether that’s diabetes, hypertension, congestive heart failure or in the not too distant future, some kind of cancer diagnosis or sickle-cell disease. So the idea is to find that person who’s three, four, eight, 12 months away from having their heart event, get that person engaged, and keep that event from taking place.
MAKING THE LEAP FROM EMERGENCY MEDICINE TO BUSINESS
Docs are pretty risk averse. We test a great deal—not just because of liability but because we don’t like being wrong. We just spent all this time, all this money to get a degree, to get specialized training to become board certified. And then we’re going to leave that to go start a company? It’s just too risky for most people. I just determined that at 28, I would rather have a swing and a miss than to look back in 15 to 20 years and have regret about not taking a swing.
I researched every single person, every single company, every single idea that was even close to this population health idea I had. I wanted to see who’s doing what and if the question’s being asked, who is articulating an answer? That took a month of just day-to-day, and it was the most fun I’ve ever had because it was pseudo-clinical.
THE SECRET POWER OF THE DOCTORPRENEUR
What I found is that an “MD” opens up crazy doors. I used it to my advantage to get conversations going with people that I had otherwise no connectivity to. Flattery always helps, as long as it’s appropriate and truthful. And so it went from initial individual research I was doing to create a list of names of people that I should connect with to then literally connecting with those folks. And that part comes pretty easily for most docs. Most docs are relational and have good bedside manners and encounter abilities, otherwise they wouldn’t be in medicine.
I got in touch with 30 or 40 of them pretty quickly and had really for me foundational, really pivotal conversations that further bolstered my confidence in my idea and the realization that nobody else was doing it.
FINDING THE RIGHT BUSINESS PARTNERS
Take the science and the tech side of it. Find a partner that makes up for your shortcomings or covers your gaps, first and foremost. It doesn’t matter if you’re starting a school, a church or a tech company; you have to have great leadership, domain expertise and you’ve got to be well-capitalized.
People who don’t know how to code but have a really great idea for an app ask me all time, “Should I go hire a coder as a partner?” I say, “It depends. If the only thing you’re missing is coding ability, then absolutely. But I would look at what you need from a relationship standpoint and from a business standpoint first and then dive into what you might need.”
ON THE LARGER TRENDS WITHIN TELEMEDICINE FOR CHRONIC DISEASES
We’re seeing a lot of mid-level providers provide what was traditionally provided by the physician. So nurse practitioners and PAs are changing the landscape and I think in a very positive way. We’ve got to be able to leverage the less costly alternative, as more and more people get put into a pool that isn’t growing in terms of the finances applied to it. We’ve got to be able to do more with less.
Every 19 seconds a new diabetic is diagnosed. We found that the best way to manage a person with diabetes may not be getting that person in the primary care office 37 times this year. That’s going to back up the office; the doctor only has so much time available to that member.
What if we could leverage a less costly provider? And in this analogy, it’s a coach. And we like the term coach because it’s exactly what it is. So somebody has diabetes and absolutely we’re not trying to take away the care provided by a provider; we’re trying to augment and relieve some of the pressure that that doctor feels for managing the diabetic. We believe the best quality care will ultimately be the most cost-effective care. I’m proud that some of our staunchest advocates are the doctors or the members in the program.
ON DEFINING SUCCESS
People ask all the time, “What was it that made this successful?” I always say, “In my mind, it won’t be really successful until we’ve really changed the way diabetes is cared for.”
But we’ve certainly had great success measures. Our engagement rates are up. Our enrollment’s up and we’ve decreased the average glucose score by six percent.
Photo by Bradley Quinn Photography