Recognizing that the healthcare system focuses on sick care and not preventive care, Robbie Allen decided that a technology-based solution was needed.
A few weeks ago, Allen and his co-founder, Dr. Jared Pelo, launched the Durham-based startup Bionic Health to give patients a way to learn about how to live healthy lives that prevent them from getting sick and help them reach their optimum health.
Even though there have been a lot of new healthcare innovations in recent years, Allen said much of it is not accessible to the general public because the current system fails to look at preventive measures.
Allen said they began working last summer to fix the problems they saw by combining Allen’s computer science background with Dr. Pelo’s experience working in ERs and on longevity. Both are also serial entrepreneurs. Allen founded Statsheet (later Automated Insights)—which sold to the private equity firm Vista Equity Partners—and Pelo founded healthcare documentation startup iScribes, which was acquired by Nuance Communications.
Allen will serve as CEO while Pelo will be Chief Medical Officer.
Buoyed by a $3M seed round led by Durham-based IDEA Fund Partners, Bionic Health has opened a clinic in Durham where they focus on everything that comes after a patient’s physical. Allen said the clinic does a lot of testing, diagnostics and data collection, with the purpose of giving advice on what patients should currently be doing to remain healthy.
He said that the clinic was started to allow their team to build software and automate processes so that they could build a workflow. The clinic is also meant to help them determine if in the future they want to open more clinics, or focus on selling their software to doctors.
Allen said they plan to combine language models with machine learning to help automate the doctor-patient workflow and make information flow smoothly. He said the goal is to start by determining how good the technology can be, and then make the necessary changes so that in the future it can work on its own.
“We’re building up this technology base so that we have the technology take the first stab at any sort of diagnosis and treatment plan,” Allen said.
Bionic Health currently only has one subscription plan, at $250 a month. This plan includes four modules worth of testing, which take place over three-month periods, and each have different purposes.
Allen said they stretch their modules out months apart because rushing the process is not an optimal way to gain an understanding of what lifestyle changes need to be made.
“If you really care about optimizing your health and really understanding what you should do to improve it in the future, it needs to be more of an ongoing journey,” he said.
The first module is focused on the “bionic baseline,” where Allen said they do blood work and body composition testing. The second module looks at performance and recovery, and he said here they compare longevity markers to things such as VO₂ max, grip strength and dead hangs. In the third module, diet and nutrition is analyzed, and Allen said they put a continuous glucose monitor on patients and conduct microbiome and more baseline testing. In the fourth and last module, mental well-being is explored, and emotional, mental and cognitive testing takes place.
Allen said they are likely going to add to their current plan by creating a base subscription and then giving patients the option to choose between their different modules and decide what testing they would like. He said the modules will be priced separately.
Allen said he does not agree with just doing annual testing and believes that this needs to be a continuous process.
“We think doing once-a-year testing is inadequate to really understand how somebody’s body is performing,” he said.
So far, Allen said the clinic is seeing 20 patients, but has a wait list that is building up. Their current patient list was formed through word of mouth.
“We’ve been fortunate so far that just through our own network, we’ve had enough people that were interested in joining,” he said.
Continuous health monitors, like FitBits, are something Allen expects to be a long-term part of their work. He said they are developing technology to connect the wearable devices they will use to their testing and diagnostic processes.
He said that he thinks having a good story and an experienced team has helped Bionic Health raise the $3 million in funding. He said investors were likely able to relate to having the kind of negative healthcare experiences that led to the need for a startup like Bionic Health.
Although Allen in not new to the startup world, he said he is still learning new things along the way. He said he is used to focusing on the technology aspect first in his ventures, but this time they wanted to begin by looking at the customer’s pain point. He said that switching around his focus has been something he has had to get used to since he naturally thinks of a product’s features before the market.
One final note: even while running Bionic Health, Allen will stay on as a General Partner—alongside Spiffy CEO Scot Wingo—of the Triangle Tweener Fund.