When a patient is diagnosed with cancer, there is no time to lose—first, in obtaining second opinions from specialists, and second, in identifying the treatment modalities that are most likely to slow or stop the progression of the disease. This crucial time period is when 2017 medical startup SmartBridge Health wants to help.
The company “democratizes access to optimal cancer care” in order to make it affordable and accessible to all.
Indeed, CEO Hua Wang knows how it feels hear a bone-chilling diagnosis and to feel alone with the problem—and helpless. When it happened to her, it took weeks to get an appointment with an oncologist, and then, the specialist could only spend about 30 minutes laying out the options, leaving little time for her or family members to ask any questions.
“I just recall the stress, fear and frustration of trying to find the right information and the doctors, and I remember waking up in the morning and trying to look at stuff on the internet,” Wang said in a recent interview with DC INNO. “It made me realize that it’s not really productive and there’s a lot of misinformation.”
Now she and her two co-founders—Dr. Jeremy Force, medical instructor in breast oncology at Duke University Medical Center and Dr. Christopher Mecoli, rheumatology fellow at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health—have come up with a better solution.
They explain in a company profile on LinkedIn that “We give patients 24/7 remote access to quality-verified oncologists. We’re multilingual and HIPAA [privacy] compliant. Our passionate, curious oncologists are trained and practicing at the best cancer institutions in the world. They have incredible expertise and bedside manner, […and] are dedicated to curing cancer at scale.
“What is our secret sauce for getting these talented oncologists to join us? Dr. Jeremy Force, our COO, carefully selected our oncologists based on motivation, values, and peer reviews.” Each oncologist receives 70% of the profits for his or her services."
And for patients, the professional services are cost-effective: For $29, patients receive a same-day, personalized and validated answer, researched and written by an oncologist. For $49, the patient can have a next-day call with an oncologist hand-picked specifically for his or her case.
What’s more, for $299, SmartBridge will gather and review a patient's medical records, diagnosis and treatment plan, give recommendations based on treatment options and clinical trials in your area, and follow up with his or her oncologist to explain its opinions.
“With same-day online consulting, patients and caregivers can submit questions to SmartBridge’s oncologists about the treatment plan originally offered to them,” Wang told DC INNO. “Phone consultations are next-day calls with oncologists to talk through all of their options.”
The expert second opinions include a report on the various treatment options available to them, something Wang said is not typically offered in oncology appointments.
SmartBridge exists solely online, although it has just joined CancerAid, which landed a $500,000 deal on the television show "Shark Tank" in June. SmartBridge services will be embedded in the CancerAid mobile app. SmartBridge also has about $65,000 in funding from a variety of grants, angel investors, family and friends.
To date, SmartBridge is not the only startup offering telehealth options for patients. For example, London-based Starship Technologies is teaming up with D.C.-based Sibley Memorial Hospital to explore prescription delivery. Doctor on Demand of San Francisco offers systems to enable board-certified doctors to treat patients remotely from their wellness centers.
But Wang points out that SmartBridge is the only service focused on cancer treatments. That’s what differentiates the company—well, that and the artificial intelligence they use to help their oncologists assist SmartBridge patients in a timely manner.
What’s that all about? SmartBridge has a library of validated cancer diagnoses and templates, which can be used by experts for their second-opinion reports. When the AI system compiles the report, the oncologist will review it and see if he or she agrees with it. If the doctor has a different opinion, he or she can override the AI report and tailor the written treatment plan.
“It minimized [the] amount of time a doctor spends with a patient; it allows us to keep our prices accessible,” Wang said. “We’re really trying to become the global source for real-time patient reported outcome.”
Most patients find their way to SmartBridge through referrals, Wang noted. As the company grows, the team will work on global expansion.
And next? “We want to become a B2B solution,” Wang told DC INNO. “We would love to have insurance cover our services and employers, as well. We hope to raise money to fully commercialize what we’re doing.”