As the vaccination campaign to counter COVID-19 gets underway (albeit with a rocky start), a number of companies are attempting to support its rollout in a variety of ways. Healthvana, a health tech startup that began with a specific focus on providing patient information digitally for individuals living with HIV, is helping Los Angeles County roll out mobile vaccination records for COVID-19 using Apple's Wallet technology. A cursory appraisal of the implementation of this tech might lead one to believe it's about providing individuals with easy proof of vaccination -- but the tech, and Healthvana, are focused on informing individuals to ensure they participate in their own healthcare programs, not providing an immunity pass.
"I generally consider most of healthcare to look and feel like Windows 95," Healthvana CEO and founder Ramin Bastani said. "We look and feel like Instagram . Why is that important? Because patients can engage in things they understand, it's easier for them to communicate in the way they're used to communicating, and that ends up leading them to better health outcomes."
Bastani points out that they began the company by focusing this approach to patient education and communication on HIV, and demonstrated that using their software led to patients being 7.4 times more likely to show up for their next follow-up appointment versus patients who received follow-up information and appointment notices via traditional methods. The company has built their tooling and their approach around not only producing better health for individuals, but also on reducing costs for healthcare providers by eliminating the need for a lot of the work that goes into clearing up misunderstandings, and essentially hounding patients to follow-up, which can significantly dig into clinician and care staff hours.
"We're actually also reducing the cost to healthcare providers, because you don't have 1,000 people calling you asking what are their results, and saying 'I don't understand, I can't log in, I don't know what it means to be SARS nonreactive,' or all those things we address through simplicity," Bastani said. "That's made a huge difference. Overall, I think the key to all healthcare is going to be to be able to get patients to pay attention, and take action to things around their health."
That's the goal of Healthvana's partnership with LA County on COVID-19 immunization records, too -- taking vitally important action to ensure the successful rollout of its vaccination program. All approved COVID-19 vaccines to date require a two-course treatment, including one initial inoculation followed by a booster to be administered sometime later. Keeping LA county residents informed about their COVID-19 inoculation, and when they're due for a second dose, is the primary purpose of the partnership, and benefits from Healthvana's experience in improving patient follow-up activities. But the app is also providing users with information about COVID-19 care, and, most usefully, prevention and ways to slow the spread.
While Bastani stresses that Healthvana is, in the end, just "the last mile" for message delivery, and that there are many other layers involved in determining the right steps for proper care and prevention, the way in which they provide actionable info has already proven a big boon to one key measure: contact tracing. In select municipalities, Healthvana will also prompt users who've tested positive to anonymously notify close contacts directly from their device, which will provide those individuals with both free testing options and information resources.
"Just us doing this in the greater Los Angeles area for less than two months, 12,000+ people have been notified that they've been exposed," Bastani said. "Each of them likely lives with other people and families -- this is how you can help slow the spread."
Contrast that with the relatively slow uptake of the exposure notification tools built into iOS and Android devices via recent software updates provided by Google and Apple working in a rare collaboration. While the technology that underlies it is sound, and focused on user privacy, its usage numbers thus far are far from earthshaking; only 388 people have sent alerts through Virginia's app-based on the exposure notification framework in three months since its launch, for instance.
Healthvana's focus on timely and relevant delivery of information, offered to users in ways they're mostly likely to understand and engage with, is already showing its ability to have an impact on COVID-19 and its community transmission. The startup is already in talks to launch similar programs elsewhere in the country, and that could help improve national vaccination outcomes, and how people handle COVID-19 once they have it, too.