Startup Targets Sweet Spot for Consumer Health: Connecting You With Your Data

By Steve Dickman, CEO, CBT Advisors

One secret to both improving consumer health and making money in healthcare IT is the feedback loop: providing a person with her own data as a way to improve compliance and performance. Once she knows, for example, that this meal or that workout leads to success, there is a strong incentive to follow a regimen, make appropriate changes, and then look again. Until recently, feedback loops were clunky. A daily weigh-in. An annual physical. But consumers – dieters, runners, the health-conscious – want much more frequent, high-quality and personalized feedback.

Boston-area newco Segterra is forging new territory with its product www.InsideTracker.com. Segterra is the first to offer healthy consumers a regular glimpse of their own biomarker data coupled with data-driven recommendations for diet and exercise. In exchange for a one-time payment ranging from $169 to $249, InsideTracker provides a blood test (performed at work or home if you are in Massachusetts) and compares the results for key markers with population norms. As Segterra CEO Lee Gartley stated last month in the Boston Globe’s InnoEco blog, “…the online test results ‘show you your levels on a set of biomarkers that we’ve identified as being important for overall health and fitness, like glucose, cholesterol, calcium, and vitamin D… Your levels of creatine kinase, for instance, can tell you whether you have muscle damage from biking too far or bench-pressing a few too many pounds. The report can also suggest foods that can counteract low levels of a particular vitamin or mineral, or ways to vary your exercise regimen for the best results.”

"The Measured Life"The founders of Segterra learned from the positive examples of successful HIT startups FitBit and RunKeeper. Each of these also depends on consumer’s own data to provide recommendations and create a feedback loop. But unlike these other companies, Segterra collects data that consumers could not measure any other way and then applies its analytics to that data in ways that will yield increasing benefits the more consumers sign up.

Given the growing number of tools available, we expect this trend of self-measurement to surge.

As an advisor to this company, I have a stake in their success. But this in turn provides a special opportunity for my readers. Respond in the comments and include your email address and I will send you a discount code good for $50 off the first test. Don’t worry, I will not publish your email address. I’ll certainly be interested in your experience with InsideTracker. (The service works for those who have access to a clinical lab in the United States – stay tuned for international offers).

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13 Comments

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13 responses to “Startup Targets Sweet Spot for Consumer Health: Connecting You With Your Data

  1. Steve,

    While I love RunKeeper and do think that it has been helpful in my training, I fail to see how tracking these individual biomarkers is going to be useful for the purpose advertised. Most of these are used by medical professionals to ensure that you don’t have deficiencies or overdoses. I’d be very concerned if people start trying to optimize for certain biomarker levels.

    Furthermore, many of the biomarkers listed vary widely depending on time of day, when you last ate, etc. I can’t imagine how you could extrapolate any useful information from them, particularly if you are only doing this a couple of times a year.

    While I applaud the effort to bring personalized health to the fitness world, I would be very impressed if they were actually able to provide a significant benefit to their users beyond what sites like RunKeeper or others do.

  2. Doctors certainly play an important role in interpreting the results of diagnostic tests, but we think there is value to empowering individuals in this regard as well. One of the challenges we are trying to address with InsideTracker is that ‘healthy’ individuals often do not have access to this information – either because they don’t go to the doctor or because the results are never shared with them. The result is we tend to be more susceptible to trends rather than making fact-based decisions around our nutrition. You may be taking a Vitamin D supplement for example (because you have heard over and over again that many Americans are deficient in Vitamin D), but if you’ve never had it tested (and don’t test it regularly) you really don’t know if a supplement is necessary or not. Being deficient or exceeding target levels in any of the markers we measure is clearly not ‘healthy’, and thoughtfully managing these levels is not that difficult if you have the data.

    In addition, the lab results that doctors review typically define ‘normal’ ranges that are very generic in nature – they are the same for everybody (independent of your age, gender, ethnicity, athletic activity, etc.). This works in the context that doctors are trying to make sure you are ‘not sick’. We are trying to provide information to help you achieve better health. We have been able to identify hundreds of peer reviewed clinical trial studies that help to identify much more targeted ‘optimal’ ranges based on demographics and lifestyle. As examples: optimal vitamin B12 ranges are different with age; ferritin targets vary if you are an active runner; CK (marker of over exercise) range depends on your athletic activity….

    With regard to the quality of the test, we require a 12 hour fasting blood test for all of the lab analysis we do in order to make sure that the information is as reliable as possible. While there may be some natural variability in the data we think it is still quite actionable, and the best available – certainly better than no data at all. Furthermore, most of the markers we use in InsideTracker have a half life of weeks which further increases the reliability of their values.

  3. Lee,

    I think it is great that you are trying to empower individuals to think about this information, I just don’t buy into the idea that optimizing the levels of these biomarkers is going to be helpful (and/or motivating) to the general public (which is what you’re going to need to do to generate sustaining revenue – at least based on your current pricing model). Too many of the biomarkers are meaningless for one-off measurements (glucose for example) which leads me to believe that in order to really have an impact, you’re going to have to have long term buy-in and blood draws more than a couple of times a year which I don’t think most people are willing to accept (particularly if insurance doesn’t cover it).

    Sure, I can believe that there are elite athletes out there who do want to track this information and for whom optimizing these levels might be beneficial, and maybe that is your market, but I think there is a big leap here between the average RunKeeper user like myself (and I have no fear of blood draws) and your target user.

    I would be very curious to know more about the clinical trials which define better optimal ranges and am curious how much of an impact being in those ranges actually has on people as opposed to being in the more generic normal range.

    I’d also be interested to know how many average athletes are actually deficient in the biomarkers you’ve listed. I realize vitamin D deficiency is on the rise due to sunscreen usage and vitamin B12 deficiency goes underdiagnosed, but from my understanding, they are both still pretty rare.

    Perhaps you should be looking at other biomarkers which show longer term effects like Hemoglobin A1C as a surrogate for glucose. You might also consider looking at CK levels as a surrogate screening method for thyroid disease which is something that could when treated could make a more immediate impact.

    Best of luck,
    Joe

  4. Joe:
    You are correct that InsideTracker is intended as a recurring service rather than something you do just once. Analogous to the dashboard in your car, you need to periodically check the gauges to make sure you are still operating in safe and optimal ranges – how often depends on speed and driving conditions.
    InsideTracker is a new service about empowering people with information around what is going on inside their body. It sounds like you do not fall into the early adapter category but the opportunity and benefits extend well beyond elite athletes’. We believe InsideTracker will be valuable to anyone who is trying to use nutrition to optimize their performance and health and wants affordable baseline and ongoing tracking information to guide their efforts. We will continue to work to demonstrate the benefits of that philosophy and I hope you check back with us regularly Joe to see the progress we are making.
    Lee

  5. dsl23

    Joe,
    You seem to think that managing your health is like treating a disease. Managing your health is a continual process and the goal of the biomarker is a to provide information, direction and encouragement. You talk of the science behind it. Having spent 20+ years in various areas of health care it is clear that we know how to treat disease. The problem is that we don’t have the information on normal. This approach allows you to start developing your personal health profile with markers that are relevant to your daily/weekly changes which is relevant to health much more so than disease.
    I agree that one could add more markers. And I could name a few more relevant than what you have suggested, but you have to realize that this is an evolving transformation. If we knew what the copmlete solution is it would already be available.
    Your points are valid in part but your expectations are unreasonable! Sorry!

  6. David Lester

    Joe,You seem to think that managing your health is like treating a disease. Managing your health is a continual process and the goal of the biomarker is a to provide information, direction and encouragement. You talk of the science behind it. Having spent 20+ years in various areas of health care it is clear that we know how to treat disease. The problem is that we don’t have the information on normal. This approach allows you to start developing your personal health profile with markers that are relevant to your daily/weekly changes which is relevant to health much more so than disease. I agree that one could add more markers. And I could name a few more relevant than what you have suggested, but you have to realize that this is an evolving science. If we knew what the copmlete solution is it would already be available.Your points are valid in part but your expectations are unreasonable!

  7. David,

    You make my point for me – “The problem is that we don’t have the information on normal.” Without this information, I don’t see how modulating “normal” can be the basis of a good consumer business model.

    Joe

  8. Jeffrey Leach

    Very interesting…we’ve been looking for something like this at a reasonable price. As an initial solution, I’m not clear how to regularly update and monitor my progress; however, it’s an intriguing solution to monitoring nutritional changes and their effects on performance.

  9. Laurie

    I have been a vegan for 2 years now and very interested to get a base-line read of where my numbers are. I recently had my annual physical and my Dr. said I didn’t need to do any blood work since I was eating a vegan diet (I was thrilled because I don’t like needles!)

    I look forward to using Inside Tracker.

  10. Victoria

    It was recently suggested to me that I may have low-nutrient blood. This product would be helpful in discovering if i have a deficiency.

  11. Stephanie

    I am interested in trying this service and would like the discount code.

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