Dr. Nirav Shah is a stroke specialist by training. He’s spent years studying the cardiovascular system, but increasingly, his patients have another insight into their cardiovascular health: data collected from a smart device like a Fitbit or Apple Watch.
For Shah, the data is a tricky thing to manage.
“I don’t think it’s [not valuable],” he told GeekWire. “It’s just if I look at it briefly, I won’t get that value.”
Shah’s experience in the clinic gave him an idea: Build a software platform that would help doctors understand the huge amounts of data collected by their patients’ smart devices.
On Thursday, Shah’s idea took a step forward with the launch of Sentinel Healthcare, a startup he founded make this platform a reality. The company announced partnerships with five clinics in Arizona, Tennessee and Florida to implement its first product, a software that helps patients manage hypertension.
But Shah, the company’s co-founder and CEO, said Sentinel has ambitions far beyond that one condition. The startup has already taken first place at the Seattle Angel Conference and is setting itself up to be a platform for any number of health conditions that could be tracked with IoT (internet of things) devices.
Shah, formerly the stroke director at Seattle’s Swedish hospital, is running Sentinel with his co-founders: Chief Technology Officer Noah Manders, who has a background in health technology, and Arizona-based Chief Medical Director and physician Jorge Sanchez.
So, why start with hypertension? In Shah’s words: “It affects one in three adults, it kills more people than cancer… and we hadn’t seen anything that was really robust in this area.”
Here’s how the system works: Patients use one of a number of smart wearables that track blood pressure, then use a smartphone to sync the data from their device to Sentinel’s cloud platform. If patients don’t have their own smart device, family members or caregivers can use their phone to do the job.
The platform then passes the patient data along to their doctor “in an actionable way,” Shah said. “As opposed to just giving them a bunch of blood pressure numbers, we try and structure it so they can know how to make a difference.”
“If you, for example, or your grandmother were having high blood pressure, it would help them decide when to make a medication adjustment or when to propose other options,” he said.
IoT devices have the advantage of being able to track a patient’s health metrics around the clock, something that wasn’t possible with prior technology. That ability means smart devices and consumer electronics are playing an increasingly large role in healthcare.
Just a few weeks ago, Apple announced the Apple Watch Series 4 will have a number of heart monitoring features, including an ECG, that will track data and share it with a user’s doctor. It is the first general-purpose consumer electronics device to be given the green light by the FDA to function in a medical setting.
Shah said ECG monitoring, or measuring heartbeats, is a field Sentinel is interested in entering, along with other metrics like fever.
But, he said, the data sharing process needs more refinement than just dumping numbers onto the desk of an unexpecting doctor. He said Sentinel aims to align the hardware patients are using with software that will make it maximally useful.
“We’re not Tesla, obviously, but that’s what Tesla does really well,” he said. “They build hardware and integrations with the software to make sure that the sensors in the car work really well, long-term.”
The company has been testing the platform in clinics and nursing homes around the Seattle area. The launch announced Thursday is the first time the technology will be used outside of those tests. But it hasn’t been entirely smooth sailing.
“Throughout every step of the way, everyone has been skeptical,” Shah said, especially of adoption. A common comment he heard was that older people suffering from hypertension wouldn’t want to or be able to use IoT devices or the Sentinel platform.
He said: “Look, I give this to people who’ve had a stroke. They’re missing a piece of their brain. If they can use it, then any patient should be able to use it.”
Shah said Sentinel is in the process of raising its seed funding round, in addition to its $142,000 first place prize from the Seattle Angel Conference. The company has ten part-time employees in addition to the three co-founders and is based in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood.