Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, my name is Shuhan He. I’m the founder of Conduct Science, a company which I created to try and provide scientists and researchers with the necessary equipment to complete their research.
I rely on a network of partners which allow me to distribute different kinds of technology and equipment, from mazes for rodents to cutting-edge surveys. For more about Conduct Science as a whole, you can check out my previous contribution to Starter Story here. This time though, I’ll be talking about Qolty, which is another company I co-founded and is now a successful part of the Conduct Science network.
Qolty, produces digital software that tracks general health and other patient symptoms. It can provide electronic surveys for patients to fill and return to their doctor, and even install a geofencing capability onto a patient’s phone. This means that doctors are sent notifications if a patient enters certain points of interest, like a hospital.
The data is stored on the Qolty servers for years, meaning that work isn’t lost and can be used for longitudinal studies.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I am an emergency medicine fourth year resident at the Harvard Teaching Hospital Affiliates Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospitals. Medicine has always been my love, and I am lucky to be able to practice it.
Conduct Science was born out of the evident need for cutting-edge research tools across the board. To achieve reliability across all research, the same standard of equipment should be used by every researcher.
Bootstrapping is a model which means that your company runs entirely on its own revenue. You grow with profits and revenue that your company generates, rather than inflate the value of the company with shareholders. Allowing revenue to drive the company means that you are really focused on the most important thing in business, which is your customer base.
Qolty is one company which we created to satisfy the need for accurate patient data collection. We believe that the next generation of medical solutions will come from research focussed on understanding patients better.
The idea came to me when assessing how patients filled in reams of paper after receiving knee surgery. They had to keep returning to the hospital to fill out surveys on their behaviour and knee pain. I also experienced this myself - I needed knee surgery at one point and was amazed by the amount of time spent filling forms afterwards. I kept my own pain journal during the process, and kept thinking to myself how useful it would be for my surgeon to have this information in real-time.
The thing that we love about Qolty is that all its services are supported by science, and are not speculatory. If we find that one particular kind of survey produces the most accurate or most detailed patient feedback, we will roll with that.
Digital health tools are notoriously tricky to implement, but with the help of scientific research Qolty is making a successful go at empowering doctors and researchers to monitor patient treatments more accurately.
Take us through the process of designing and planning Qolty’s offerings?
The Qolty products were pretty much a product of me and other contributors sitting down and thinking about what needed to be improved within the medical field. Qolty offers a number of ways for patients to track their health and treatment progress, with one being the medication log. With these, patients can record how often they take their prescribed medication, and in what doses. This data is then uploaded to their doctor’s device in real time, so they can always be aware of how well patients are complying with their prescriptions.
Sure, there was nothing wrong with a traditional medication log, but it could definitely be improved. Patients would have to record their own data before bringing it to their doctor for discussion or analysis. With a digital version, patients could reduce the chance of error by recording their medication in real time.
We also thought it would be a good idea if photos could be uploaded to the medication log, as this reduces the work involved with submitting information. If a user has to simply take a photo of their medication, they are much more likely to comply.
As well as more general surveys, Qolty offers digital solutions for well-known psychological tests such as the corsi-block test and the digit span test. Both of these involve the patient recounting a sequence of verbal or visual cues until they make a mistake, and they test working memory. We can program the tests so they offer sequences as short as a few items long, or hundreds of items long. Psychological tests like the digit span test were already in existence, of course, but we simply gave them a digital platform to excel on.
During the design process, what we thought would help Qolty become successful was the fact that these neuropsychological tests can become standardised across all research. Instead of having each researcher giving the digit span test in a different manner, the Qolty app exists to eliminate researcher bias.
As well as developing on existing tests, an important part of the design process for us was coming up with new ideas. From this, Corridor technology was born. This takes advantage of modern GPS capabilities in smartphones to notify a doctor or researcher if a patient enters a location of interest.
We had to work hard to understand the boundaries in terms of technology involved, and consult with plenty of doctors about what they would find useful from technology such as this.
Our thoughts while developing this geofencing technology were all about maximizing the possibilities of the doctor-patient relationship, and consulting with other doctors helped us to come up with solutions such as:
- Locations such as pharmacies can be programmed into the app by a doctor, and notifications can be sent to the patient if they visit, or fail to visit.
- It also helps with locations that are best avoided - if a patient needs to stop drinking alcohol before an operation, it can send a notification of encouragement should it detect that the patient is in a bar.
- Geofencing allows research to be more robust. If a doctor is monitoring a patient for research purposes, a patient could make a visit to another medical centre and receive help without telling their original doctor. This would usually make accurate research impossible, but a geofencing app would alert the doctor that the patient has visited another facility.
How did you manage to get this off the ground and attract customers?
Qolty was born in Los Angeles, where our co-founder initially attended plenty of digital health conferences to spread Qolty’s name and get people interested in our work. Subsequently, they met key stakeholders for local hospitals, and some, including Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, agreed to introduce Qolty services into their medical care.
I think it is a mixture of good, solid outreach and the impressive science which backs up our software that has seen Qolty grow.
The first concept of ours which was widely used, and helped to get us off the ground, was the converting of PROMIS (Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System) surveys into a digital realm.
As complex as that sounds, PROMIS surveys are basically just a set of patient-oriented surveys that allow the monitoring of physical and mental health. Converting some of these into standardized digital versions makes everything so much easier for professionals looking to care for their patients. They can encompass super specific topics too, such as neck pain or female sexual function.
Lastly, taking steps to integrate with existing digital health tools such as Apple’s HealthKit helped us with increasing the quality of our platform. This is an open-source iOS app, which according to Apple CEO Tim Cook is going to “transform medical research”.
We wanted to model parts of Qolty on the HealthKit, including the idea that there can be seamless transition from one tool to another, and the ease of saving data. The HealthKit can offer neuropsychological games and tests such as the ones mentioned before, so we wanted to do the same. We even tried to take it up a level by adding additional symptom-related questions after tests, so we have qualitative data to analyze alongside test results.
In terms of pricing, we offer several different price plans depending on how much of Qolty customers would like to access. There is the basic Qolty Web, which offers no free domain name and research is delivered via a web application. This costs about $10 per patient per month. Qolty Core is more advanced and offers further capabilities with the option of using the Qolty iOS system. This costs $15-20 per patient per month. For larger operations there is the Private Label option for which pricing is worked out via a quote process.
With the Private Label option, customers are able to use all of Qolty’s functions but their own branding. Their patients will complete Qolty tests and surveys, but the customer will have paid for their branding to be used on the app and website. This might cost between $10,000 and $19,000 for development.
In terms of our outgoings in this department, we pay our app developers an hourly salary to help our customers with Qolty integration.
Describe the process of launching the business.
When we developed Qolty, one of our main targets was to focus on the issue of patient non-compliance. A report by Mayo Clinic found that approximately 50% of patients do not take their medication as prescribed. This is something that really needs to be improved as non-compliance can have fatal consequences. We thought that e-health monitoring could be one way to tackle this issue.
For me, the knowledge required to start the business was almost there, thanks to my background in medicine and my research fellowship. Purchasing and using medical technology myself opened my eyes to a lot of existing issues, as well as new opportunities such as geofencing that Qolty could jump into.
I think that most businesses can simply get their first order, fulfil it, and be on the road to growth. With Qolty, each interaction is very detailed as we work closely with clients to get their needs met. If they are looking to purchase technology from us, we have to begin with a consultation to pinpoint their needs, before helping them write a grant to apply for the technology.
Often, our technology will be installed across a whole hospital or department, so we tend to oversee the implementation process too. Take our digit span test, for example. Psychological tests are only effective if implemented properly by the researcher, so we like to take our time and ensure that anybody administering these digital tests will know exactly how to generate and process the results.
As you can see, the stages of launching the business with the first few sales wasn’t a completely straightforward one, mainly because it takes a lot of work to onboard clients with our technology.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We are still in the process of marketing our newest services, such as Doctorlingo. This is an automated software that ‘translates’ complex medical texts into everyday language. It could help doctors who need to access texts on subjects they aren’t overly familiar with, for example. It is through novelty services like these that Qolty will hopefully continue to retain and create new customers!
Our aim is 50% year-on-year growth, and we are currently on target to achieve this.
What have you learned that might help other entrepreneurs just starting out?
I think that one of the biggest lessons I have learned is that using your own funding for new ventures is key to remaining focused on the right things.
Bootstrapping is a model which means that your company runs entirely on its own revenue. You grow with profits and revenue that your company generates, rather than inflate the value of the company with shareholders. Qolty, and the entire Conduct Science network is bootstrapped.
Allowing revenue to drive the company means that you are really focused on the most important thing in business, which is your customer base.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are looking for great customer success managers who can work part-time or full-time. They will pretty much be our first point of contact for any clients or customers with questions or complaints. We will ensure that they develop an extensive knowledge of Qolty and the Conduct Science network, and are well-equipped to respond to our clients in a friendly and knowledgeable manner!
What have been the most influential books, podcasts or other resources for you?
Reddit is a constant source of inspiration for me. People post all kinds of opinions and ideas in the subreddit for digital health. It can really get my mind working on new sorts of ideas for Qolty. Similar is Hacker News - a rather unorganized but addictive collection of all the latest news and stories, with a particular focus on computer science and similar topics.
Personally, I find it really inspiring to listen to successful people talk about how they got there, and I can usually pick up a few business tips this way too. Mixergy, ‘How I Built This’ and Rework ** ** are the three podcasts I love for this type of thing.
How can we get in touch with you?
I’d love to answer any questions about Conduct Science or Qolty, and even help readers out if they need a little startup advice.
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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