THE BLOG
12/11/2014 04:50 pm ET Updated Feb 10, 2015

A Healthcare Guardian Angel

As an undergraduate economics and health policy major at Harvard, Dr. Connie Chen traveled to Kenya, Cambodia, and Botswana to do field research, and work with local public health systems. While abroad, she noticed that where few people owned a computer, most everyone had access to a cell phone which they used not just to communicate or access information but for mobile payments and public health communication. Furthermore where few physicians were available, trained lay persons often served as a community health workers, playing significant roles in the care of patients.

Once back in America, after winning a grant from the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship (Connie's parents are immigrants from Taiwan), she was able to move to San Francisco to get her M.D. at the University of California, where she discovered a community of makers that shared her passion for engineering solutions to complex challenges. In tandem with her clinical training, Connie began to advise a number of Silicon Valley companies that were just starting to use smart phones to improve health care--reminiscent of what had already been in place for years in Africa. Following the intuitions she had abroad, she partnered with several serial entrepreneurs including Stephanie Tilenius, an ex-Google and eBay executive to start a new company, Vida, that--you guessed it--puts the cellphone and non-physican providers at the center of an individual's healthcare. Last month the company announced it has raised $5 million in Series A venture capital.

The service provides continuous support for patients so they can easily take care of their health not just during visits to a doctor's office, but also in between. For the price of a typical insurance co-pay at $15 per week, the patient is matched with a health coach for video consultations, chat sessions, texting, and the old standby, the phone call.Vida is a matchmaker of sorts--its algorithm links you to the best expert coach for your health goals and personality who then provides daily support and guidance through the Vida app. As Connie put it during a phone call with us:

There's no substitute for a longitudinal relationship with a kind human expert. The physicians we work with see patients come back (after using the service) and they've lost twenty pounds, made significant lifestyle changes, are consistently taking their medications, and for the first time are seeing an improvement in their blood pressure, blood sugar and other key clinical indicators. As a physician who has seen the patient in a clinic, your ability to help the patient is limited once they get home. I remember discharging a patient with congestive heart failure from the hospital only to have him come back with volume overload as he had eaten a tub of salted butter which I hadn't specifically mentioned in my list of common salty foods to avoid. With Vida, patients will send pictures of what they're eating to their coach for specific feedback. Clients will even hold their phone up to their refrigerator (in a video call) and let the coach review the contents of their pantry and refrigerator. Not that. Not that. That's OK. Not that brand.


It's virtually the same as having a guardian angel perched on your shoulder. Hundreds of coaches over twenty specialties currently work with Vida patients located around the world, Vida has also built its own patent-pending enterprise care management platform that enables each coach to work with hundreds of patients simultaneously while delivering a highly personalized touch, much the way a support technician or salesperson leverages CRM software to maintain parallel ongoing conversations at the same time with various customers. Coaches are also armed with an extensive library of evidence-based clinical programs across a myriad of disease conditions. As with other services marketplaces, such as Uber, Airbnb, and oDesk, these coaches are paid to be on call for patients, but can do it without any constraints--from their own homes or offices.

Like most Soros Fellows, Connie is remarkable in her ability to see how to merge her experiences in clinical medicine, technology, and business to improve life in America and elsewhere. The Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship program, with an endowment of more than $90 million, selects applicants to cover education costs and expenses over two years. Winners of the fellowships show the promise of achieving remarkable things yet must come from a family of immigrants, or be immigrants themselves, with a devotion to core American values. Generations of immigrants helped build this country of ours. They and their children are this connecting tissue of this country. Connie is just one example of how this tradition moves forward. And the Soros Fellowship helps make their dreams come true.

Do you know anyone like Connie who might make a good future fellow? I'd love to hear about him or her.

Peter Georgescu is the author of The Constant Choice. He can be found at Good Reads.