San Diego’s Wellaho Prescribes Social Networking For the Chronically Ill

A new health IT startup built around an intriguing idea will begin operating in San Diego next month. What’s the idea? Prescription-based social networking for the chronically ill.

The startup, called Sanitas, was founded in San Diego last year and made its debut yesterday at “Take This Pill and Tweet Me in the Morning,” a half-day conference at The Salk Institute focused on how social media and mobile health are creating consumer-centric healthcare. The conference was organized by the California Healthcare Institute, a La Jolla-based advocate for biomedical policy and research.

Sanitas founder Naser Partovi says the company provides outpatient management software called Wellaho that creates a HIPAA-compliant social media network around the chronically ill, and which is tailored to the needs of that patient. “You can’t just join Wellaho,” Partovi says. “It must be prescribed for you by your doctor.”

The encrypted system ensures patient privacy while also enabling each patient to create a Facebook-like home page that can be shared with his doctors, nurses, friends, family, spiritual advisors, and other patients. The system serves as a collaborative platform for patients and their caregivers, enabling them to share their support online.

Each home page features a calendar that tracks appointments, reminders, and other events, an online journal that enables patients to share their vital signs, and an assortment of other features. The messaging system is encrypted, allowing both private, one-to-one conversations between the patient and a doctor (or between two doctors) as well as the one-to-many messaging more familiar to Facebook users.

“We are not in the business of treating people,” Partovi says. “We are in the business of educating people.” Among other things, the company provides information that has been personalized for each patient’s diagnosis, therapy, and care.

Partovi, who was previously the CEO of San Diego-based SKY MobileMedia and a managing director at San Diego’s Enterprise Partners Venture Capital, tells me that Wellaho had a sad beginning in 2008, when his wife Ioana was diagnosed with breast cancer. “I spent two years trying to save her life,” says Partovi. In the process, he adds, “I learned that from the patient’s perspective, nobody really looks after you. Patients have to do that themselves.”

Partovi, a wireless networking expert, sounded especially disillusioned about his efforts to educate himself about his wife’s disease. Searching the Internet for information about a particular diagnosis or term might yield a million hits, and “It’s up to you to decide what’s relevant,” Partovi says. With Wellaho, Partovi resolved to provide authoritative information for each patient, using doctors and medical students to curate the information based on the patient’s specific diagnosis.

“We connect to patients’ electronic health records through their doctors or the hospital,” Partovi says.

Partovi says he personally funded Wellaho’s initial development, and that friends and family provided another $800,000 for the project. Partovi says he has six people working with him on the project, which already up and running. The startup also has customers, although Partovi says he’s precluded from identifying them except to say they are “three of San Diego’s biggest hospital systems.”

Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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