Changing the future: a dad’s illness sparks a start-up

In my ongoing work on the advisory boards of several start-ups, I continue to be intrigued by what makes people take the leap and start a brand-new company to tackle problems facing humanity today and in the future. 

In the case of Dan Rubinstein, CEO and co-founder of telehealth start-up Physera, it began with his father who was misdiagnosed with sciatica. After months of prescriptions and incorrect treatment, his family discovered it was actually stage four lung cancer.

Realizing that getting the diagnosis right the first time is of paramount importance, Dan set out to create a smartphone app platform that would bring expert-guided recovery and personalized physical therapy to everyone. “There’s a real lack of access to high-quality, individualized care,” says Dan. “While U.S. clinicians are largely excellent, the time they get with patients continues to dwindle and assistive technologies to support their decision-making have been slow to mature. As a result, for patients who have complex conditions or live in underserved areas, it is very difficult to get the care and support they need to get better. When you make a program more convenient, and proactively monitor participants,  adherence goes up.”

In real world terms, Dan found that clinicians just don’t get enough time with patients, and they rarely have assistive technology to support their decision-making and ongoing treatment. While often this isn’t a big issue for simpler diagnoses, it is very problematic for those dealing with complex or concurrent conditions. Says Dan, “Chronic pain, in particular, is difficult to diagnose correctly, and those dealing with it are four times more likely to start with an opioid prescription compared to those who start with a personalized therapeutic exercise care plan.”

How did you get here?

Prior to launching Physera with CTO and Co-Founder Cameron Marlow, Dan was a Director of Product Management at Facebook and Google. The company’s story continued to unfold when Cameron, who was a Data Scientist at Facebook, dislocated his shoulder while surfing and sought treatment from Todd Norwood, Physera’s now Director of Clinical Services. This specific experience ignited questions surrounding how physical therapy could improve if the constraints of a traditional brick and mortar practice were removed.

Through their work with the major tech conglomerates and personal experiences with physical therapy, they were more inspired to bring closed-loop machine learning to healthcare. Their imagination led them to Physera, which rethinks areas of high cost, fee-for-service care, and aims to create more effective solutions using technology and insights on behavior so people can get the correct diagnosis the first time around.

Where did you start?

“Our initial focus is the treatment of musculoskeletal (MSK) pain. We built a nationwide network of best-in-class licensed clinicians and supported them with more flexible patient visits and a suite of decision-support tools,” says Dan. Now, it is as simple as downloading the Physera app to get same-day access to clinicians who can diagnose patients right through their smartphone. From there, patients get individualized in-app treatment, and any needed equipment and proactive guidance from their clinician during their recovery.

How do you know you’re on the right track?

Dan shares that by providing evidence-based care quickly and conveniently, patients recover faster with better overall outcomes. “In fact, over 95% of patients who complete the program report improvement in their area of chief concern, and over 80% leave the program with no plans to seek additional care.” He is particularly proud of the fact Physera patients are not prescribed opioids and and in many cases are able to avoid high-priced treatments such as imaging, injections, and surgery.

How are you filling a need?

Dan is unequivocal: “Chronic pain has a huge impact on individuals, families and communities. Without immediate, effective diagnosis and treatment, people are left with two unenviable choices—take pain medication to dull the pain or simply live with it as best they can.” He points to statistics that show how quickly opioid use can lead to addiction, “making it is easy to see how important it is to treat first.”  He says Physera does just that, making it convenient for patients to address concerns early, and helping to keep them out in their community doing what they enjoy (while reducing the risk for addiction).

Any advice for others starting their own company?

Dan says it is all about getting the right team. “Almost every one of your early hires should be able to do something no one else on your team can. You need to be self-aware and honest in identifying what you and your team don’t know so that you can successfully hire people who fill gaps for your company.”

What’s next?

“Patients often make care decisions based on who is available through their healthcare plan,” says Dan. In order to truly close the access gap and provide care to people across the United States, Physera will need to increase access, contracting with employers and health plans to provide the company’s services to their members. Rubinstein’s hope for the future is this: “Regardless of where you are, all you have to do is open the Physera app to get care or guidance for your condition.”  No finding the closest open clinic, no navigating complex health plans and no worrying about cost, just a click on an app to be connected to clinicians who can diagnose and treat.

Certainly sounds like a better world to me.

Originally published on Medium.