Perhaps no field has undergone as much transformation in recent years as the healthcare industry. While technology has unlocked the ability to offer more effective, efficient, and personalized patient care, it takes brilliant people to ensure the combination of tech and health care results in systemic change. In our new blog series, “Meet the Female CEOs Who Are Driving Real Change in the Healthcare Industry”, you’ll hear candid insights from some of the most influential leaders in the healthcare industry. Each interviewee bears a unique story, but all are revolutionizing their respective fields for the better.
Next up in our series is Nell Meosky Luo, CEO & Founder of Folia Health. Folia enables patients and caregivers to record their observations by answering simple multiple choice questions, which in turn helps clinicians deliver more personalized and effective care.
Largely inspired by her brother, who has a complex illness known as CVID, Nell saw first-hand the benefits of documenting the daily experience of an individual dealing with a chronic disease. Her mother was a meticulous notetaker, and would record her brother’s symptoms, moods, behaviors, treatments, and more to understand what worked to keep him healthy. However, doctors didn’t have time to look through all of the notes, and there wasn’t a system in place to facilitate information transfer to the clinic or to the broader research community.
During a few weeks off from work as a consultant (the result of a head injury), Nell thought about how the information in her mom’s notebooks could be incredibly valuable to clinicians and researchers alike, which led to the founding of Folia.
This is part 3 of 5 in our “Meet the Female CEOs Who Are Driving Real Change in the Healthcare Industry” series created in partnership with growth marketing agency Ideometry. Tune in next week for another installment!
Tell us a bit about Folia Health?
Nell: The concept behind Folia Health came from personal experience. I have a younger brother with Common Variable Immune Deficiency (CVID), a rare, complex medical condition. My mom was really the person, and still is the person, who has all of the information about what he’s gone through, which treatments have worked, the subtle signs that something is not right, and other relevant information.
When I started studying public health, I realized that detailed information on the outcomes of treatment is incredibly important, both for ensuring the best care possible for an individual patient, and also for understanding on a population level what we should be doing for different types of patients. Right now, the health care system doesn’t have access to that type of information. Most medical decision-making is based on EHR and insurance claims data, which are not nearly as detailed or timely as the observations individuals make at home. (In fact, much of this information has very little to do with how well the care is working – it mostly focuses on billing!) Folia exists to help people collect all of their health observations in a structured and usable way.
Over the past couple of years, our team has built a platform that helps individual patients and caregivers collect all of their observations. This includes treatment use, symptoms, moods, behaviors, measurements, and anything else they think is significant. We collect that information by using multiple-choice questions that they answer daily or a few times a week, which then helps them receive more personalized care at the clinic and helps to inform research.
Is Folia Health recommended by doctors to patients or can patients decide to use the platform on their own?
Nell: We see both of these happening. Right now, the majority of users come through the recommendation of other users.
What milestones has your company achieved so far?
Nell: In our first couple of years, we were focused on product development and piloting in our first condition, cystic fibrosis. The early days were marked by product milestones, like our first 100,000 data points collected, and being able to deliver value for patients, caregivers, and their clinicians. Within the last year, we’ve started to commercialize our platform through research opportunities, so an individual’s insights have benefit even beyond his or her individual care.
A few months ago, we closed our seed round of funding. We have 25 angel investors, who have been great in helping us build a new market. We’ve been fortunate enough to receive recognition from organizations like MassChallenge and MACP, the Louisville Healthcare CEO Council, and the AARP Innovation Lab. We’ve also been featured on a few podcasts, including Breathe In by Gunnar Esiason and Tiffany Rich.
What’s the origin story of the company?
Nell: I wish I could say there was one particular moment when I decided that this was a good idea, but in reality it evolved over several years. Since high school, I’ve been interested in how we can be more precise with medical care, while at the same time reduce variation in care from doctor to doctor. I spent a lot of time with my mom and brother in doctors’ appointments. That experience of going into a specialist’s office and trying to ingest a lot of information in a short amount of time was eye-opening, and it exposed me to the inefficiencies in the current system.
It’s not necessarily the fault of clinicians. There aren’t good opportunities for information transfer, and clinicians need help interpreting data that patients are generating at an increasingly higher volume. It took awhile for the idea of Folia to take form, but the company was precipitated by a short term break from work.
I had been thinking about what I was going to do after consulting, when I was hit on the head by a block of ice from a New York City skyscraper. (It sounds ridiculous, I know.) I ended up with a concussion and a few weeks off from work with worker’s compensation. One of the first thoughts that went through my mind when I was hit by the ice was how regrettable it would be if my obituary only said I was a consultant, because that’s not how I thought of myself. I wanted to be back in public health. The Folia concept really came together during those couple weeks off of work where I wasn’t really able to do anything besides think and reflect.
What advice do you have for people who are thinking about pursuing their entrepreneurial dreams but aren’t sure where to start?
Nell: You have to be extremely passionate about what you’re trying to accomplish. I know a lot of people say that, but it’s true because it’s not an easy road. If there’s any doubt in your mind that this is what you want to be doing, the journey is going to be even more difficult.
At the same time, sometimes it’s good to not know how hard it’s really going to be. I think that if I had a full understanding of how big the mountain was in front of me, I might’ve had second thoughts. I’ve heard other people say that not knowing what’s ahead of you can be an advantage because you’re willing to go through the early difficult phases, and that certainly was the case for me.
What are some of the challenges entrepreneurs face early on?
Nell: I think the challenges depend on the industry and the maturity of the market. For Folia, one of the most difficult things has been developing a brand new market, which is like pushing a boulder uphill.
You don’t have the benefit of proven business models or an infrastructure of other partners, customers, or stakeholders who automatically understand what your product does. The fewer patterns there are that you can match to, the more you have to invent, experiment, and educate the market.
However, building a new space is one of the most exciting and rewarding things as well. It’s a catch-22 in that way.
What’s it been like being part of the Venture Lane community?
Nell: This is actually the first time we’ve ever paid rent to be in an office space because we’ve been lucky enough to have free spaces available to us over the past couple of years. It’s been a great experience. It doesn’t feel like we’re just renting work space, it feels like we’re part of a larger community.
We spend a lot of time working together as a team, so it’s been valuable to socialize with others and develop relationships with a community of people who are at the same stage of development.
Part 4 of our series will launch next week, so stay tuned for our next installment!
Ideometry is a Boston-based full-service marketing agency serving a global client base. With a full suite of creative, development, and strategic services, Ideometry helps growth-stage startups and Fortune 500 companies alike get the business results they’re looking for. If you’re doing something interesting, we’d love to hear from you. Get in touch with us at ideometry.com or email [email protected].