Healthrageous Snags $6M to Combat Unhealthy Behaviors

6/9/10

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employer and doctor for, we’ve really achieved something,” Lee says.

Can technology be used to significantly change our unhealthy behaviors? It’s a multibillion-dollar question in healthcare, tackled in plenty of PhD dissertations, and researched at places like the Center for Connected Health and the MIT Media Lab. At Healthrageous, Lee said, the plan is to change people’s behavior by providing them with feedback about their health condition that is timely, personalized, and contextual. To help do this, the company has designed its system to be compatible with 60 different devices such as pedometers, accelerometers, glucose meters, blood pressure cuffs, and other sensors that people use to record data about their health conditions.

Skeptics might scoff at using gadgets, networks, and fancy algorithms to curb people’s bad habits. To a certain extent, Healthrageous could quell some of that skepticism with the evidence it has already gained from studies led by the Harvard doctors who helped develop its technology. (The Harvard dermatologist Joseph Kvedar, a founder of the startup and the director of the Center for Connected Health, is a nationally recognized authority on telemedicine and the use of technology in caring for patients remotely.)

The Center for Connected Health tested Healthrageous’s technology in a 400-person pilot study at the Hopkinton, MA-based data storage giant EMC (NYSE:EMC), focusing on employees with high blood pressure, or hypertension, in 2007 and 2008. In the study, which included a control group that did not use the system, 69.2 percent of people who used Healthrageous’s wireless blood pressure cuff and automated coach reduced their blood pressure, according to the company. The firm did say what results were reported for the control group.

Lee says that EMC is expected to become a customer of Healthrageous, but the company has not yet signed a contract to pay for the firm’s services. However, he said, Massachusetts Eye & Ear Infirmary has agreed to hire the firm and begin one of its programs for its employees in mid-July. The company plans to hire more salespeople over the next year to expand its customer base, the CEO said.

While the startup faces stiff competition for customers from large disease-management and wellness outfits, Healthrageous has some internal expertise in the healthcare management game. Lee has spent the last three decades in the business, recently as a division president of Magellan Health Services, where he says he created a wellness program that focused on behavior change. Mary Beth Chalk, the startup’s chief of strategy, was previously director of business development at Pfizer Health Solutions, the disease-management arm of the New York-based drug giant Pfizer (NYSE:PFE).

Xconomy has been following this venture since it was a glimmer in Kvedar’s eye last winter, and the doctor was still deciding whether to start the company. We’ll see whether Healthrageous has the right mix of technology and executive talent to get more Americans to curb their unhealthy habits.

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