Even the best-laid plans can change their paths.
So it is with business startups, too — even those in Madison’s booming health tech industry.
Wellbe, founded in 2010, designed Guided CarePaths for patients facing surgery or other procedures — providing advance information, forms to complete, reminders and follow-up recovery instructions — to get them involved in their own return to health.
Knee and hip replacement patients were the first targets, with the company’s first CarePath released commercially in 2012, followed by bariatric surgery the following year, and then numerous other specialty areas, from sports medicine to neurosurgery to cancer care, via Wellbe’s ConnectedCare technology platform.
The government’s Medicare and Medicaid programs had begun moving toward changes in the way health care is paid — from the current system of charging for each service and product to a pay-for-performance model with financial incentives tied to the best patient outcomes. Wellbe’s CarePaths were meant to improve patient results, and in so doing, boost hospitals’ marks, too.
But the transition to a new payment system slowed after 2016, Wellbe CEO James Dias said.
So he made some nips and tucks in the company, including staff cuts — from a peak of 30 employees in 2016 to the current 12 — and is now moving forward with new technology, new investor funds and plans to rebuild the staff.
“We started to focus on a vision of acquisition and retention — (helping hospitals to) get good patients and keep them. Health care has become very competitive now,” Dias said.
Wellbe expects to finalize a $5.4 million funding round by the end of April, led by WISC Partners, a venture capital fund established by UW-Madison graduates who made good in Silicon Valley.
Wellbe has altered its goals to focus not on every patient who is found to need surgery or another type of treatment but specifically on those who are likely to go through with the procedure.
Use of AI
The company’s new product, ChoicePath, uses predictive analytics — also known as artificial intelligence — to figure out when patients are so fed up with the pain, they are actually ready to undergo an operation or a nonsurgical procedure.
“We are putting AI to work, data to work,” Dias said. “We are helping to cultivate the right kind of relationships with patients, so health care is used more effectively here.
“ChoicePath offers patients a uniquely designed online experience to learn and make choices about their treatments and providers. Proprietary algorithms facilitate the best matches for providers,” he said.
Wellbe has not conducted formal studies to determine how effective ChoicePath is in finding the right patients, “but we have plenty of evidence from our customers that our automated solutions have been able to deliver improvement in quality, satisfaction and care team productivity,” Dias said.
“We are bullish on Wellbe’s ConnectedCare strategy because it delivers two core benefits that are mission-critical within the specialty healthcare provider sector: new patient acquisition and better patient outcomes,” said David Guinther, WISC Partners co-founder.
Mike Splinter, who also co-founded WISC Partners and is on Wellbe’s board of directors, said he thinks the company’s products will be “incredibly popular” because they help coach patients through a medical procedure and they make hospitals and clinics more efficient and effective.
“We think the market for this kind of software is going to increase fairly dramatically over the next five to 10 years,” Splinter said.
He said the company has “the right combination of a big and expanding market, great products and a good (management) team,” he said.
Dias said Wellbe, which has now raised a total of $8 million since it was formed, plans to use the new funds “to scale our business around new ChoicePath programs and solutions.”
The company also plans to add four to eight employees, this year and next year, Dias said.
He said Wellbe already has customers for ChoicePath.
“We’re very excited to push forward,” Dias said.