A doctor might ask for a patient's family disease history, or exercise or smoking habits, but whether they have trouble getting food onto the table or paying energy bills is unlikely to appear on any clinic questionnaire.
Those sorts of factors could have just as much, if not more, of an impact on a person's everyday health, argue the founders of a startup out of the Johns Hopkins University. Their company, Healthify, is giving clinics that serve largely low-income populations the means to gather and use that information.
A group of Hopkins graduates and students launched the company as the health care industry seeks to improve quality of care while preventing unnecessary costs. Healthify proposes that giving health care providers a richer picture of a patient's health risks and connecting the patient with the resources to address those gaps could help — particularly when the number of low-income Americans with access to health care jumps in 2014, under federal health reform.
"What we're doing holistically is to take clinics that cater to low-income Medicaid patients and make them more efficient and effective when dealing with these populations," said Eric Connor, Healthify's chief operating officer.
The company still is in its formative months — Healthify launched in November, and two of four members of its executive team are students at Hopkins. But it already is getting recognized for its technology and its concept.
Healthify was invited to a conference held last week bearing the name of TED, the well-known lecture and innovation brand. That followed a win in a Hopkins business plan competition this month. Healthify's founders hope to translate the experiences into possible investment or new partnerships, if not just new ideas.
It was one of 40 — out of 256 applicants — chosen to participate in "The Hive," a showcase of innovative startups at the TEDMED conference held in Washington April 16-19. TED, known for its high-profile speakers and innovative ideas, founded the TEDMED conference but sold it in 2011 and now licenses the TED name.
What made Healthify and the others chosen stand out was, in large part, "what kind of impact it would make on the highest level," said Shirley Bergin, TEDMED's chief marketing officer. Companies showcased at the conference were advised they wouldn't be making any formal pitches, but rather would be participating in the sharing of ideas, she said.
With help from partners at Hopkins and Ohio State University, Healthify's founders are building an electronic questionnaire patients can fill out in clinic waiting rooms. In addition to the typical gathering of a patient's address, allergies and insurance information, the form will ask a set of questions about what Healthify's CEO, Manik Bhat, called "social and environmental" determinants of health.
The questions can be changed easily and tailored to a clinic's population, but those in use in a handful of clinics inquire about stress levels, personal finance and other details that might not come up in a routine visit to a doctor's office.
"We found for most situations, clinics just don't have time to screen patients in the appointments," Bhat said.
Healthify is offering the questionnaire software for free but plans to charge for a service that will let clinics store the information and use it to connect patients with resources such as food banks, utility reconnection services or government programs.
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For now, the company's four employees, plus one intern, work out of a Canton rowhouse and Hopkins libraries.
The Healthify entrepreneurs already are mulling lessons gained from TEDMED. Connor noted a speech from America Bracho, executive director of Latino Health Access in Southern California, that spoke directly to the company — about studying how social and environmental factors influence a person's health.
A week earlier, Healthify's idea was honored by a panel of judges including executives, entrepreneurs and scientists at the Hopkins Center for Leadership Education's annual business plan competition. Healthify bested seven other finalists for first place in the social enterprises category.
Healthify is one of about a dozen companies spinning out of Hopkins each year, up from just a few in years past, said Aris Melissaratos, Hopkins senior adviser for enterprise development.
"There's all kinds of activity bubbling up," Melissaratos said.