Using data to prevent disease

From left to right: Misha Kerr, Craig Flanagan, Dr. Wesley Smith, Yenvy Truong, Chase Preston, and Samson Magid.

By Nastasia Boulos

As a 17-year-old lifeguard, Dr. Wesley Smith, Ph.D. ’07, discovered that by simply educating and warning people about shore breaks (which cause waves that violently slam people into the sandbar), they could prevent dozens of injuries. Through a focus on education and prevention, less rescues were made but more people were saved.

It’s this same principle that Smith applied to his research and teachings on chronic disease prevention at the University of Miami. In 2012, he established a disease prevention initiative called Guardrails, which embedded students into doctor’s offices to analyze patients' lifestyle health and provide action plans on nutrition, exercise, and behavorial changes. 

As the program grew, Smith developed a series of algorithms that could easily give evidence-based guidelines on nutrition and exercise and give people very specific programs as to what they needed to do to get healthier. He was joined by then graduate students Samson Magid, M.S.Ed. ’15 and Chase Preston, M.S.Ed. ’15, as well as biomedical engineer Yenvy Truong, B.S.B.E. ’03 and intellectual property attorney Misha Kerr, B.M. ’02 to expand on the program, and HealthSnap was created.

HealthSnap is a digital health company that has developed and implemented a platform that allows healthcare professionals to easily gather and interpret lifestyle data from consumers' many devices and apps. Co-founder and COO Samson Magid likens it to weather forecasting, which takes individual variables from different tools to provide important information about what storms are coming. “We're taking the pieces of lifestyle data," Magid says, "whether that’s how much you’re moving or what foods you’re eating, what your behavior and lifestyle habits are—and making sense of all that information to see if you’re at higher risk for developing a chronic condition. We can then personalize the insights into what changes you need to make in order to prevent that condition from happening.”

Since its creation, the company has grown and continues to expand rapidly. This past March, it released its 2.0 platform, an end-user patient application, Hera™, that translates lifestyle health data from disparate sources, such as wearables, health and medical devices, and questionnaires, into a normalized format so that organizations can easily and quickly make better and more informed, data-driven decisions. This enables healthcare organizations to switch from a reactive posture to a proactive one; focusing on preventive medicine instead of simply treating patients once their lifestyles lead to chronic illness.

The company recently closed a $3 million seed investment round, is being used in over 200 healthcare provider offices and by more than 30,000 patients nationwide. In addition, HealthSnap has brought on key clients, like Reckitt Benckiser (RB), to power RB's personalized vitamin and wellness services, Vitalmins. CEO and co-founder Yenvy Truong was invited to speak about HealthSnap at eMerge Americas last month, as part of a panel on UM alumni using data to make the world a better place.

In addition to helping people lead healthier lives and prevent disease through small changes, HealthSnap fuels research at UM. The data that is collected from thousands of patients across the country can be studied to analyze the efficacy of integrating lifestyle data in conventional medicine. It is also used to research specific questions like how to combat neurodegenerative disease with special meal strategies, how to reduce readmission rates for cardiac rehab, or how to prevent muscle atrophy in the elderly.

By shifting the focus from ‘disease-care’ to disease prevention, HealthSnap empowers individuals to be proactive in their health and enables healthcare providers to play a central role preventative healthcare. In others words, less rescues, more lives saved.