Like the old “If a tree falls in the forest” adage, in this age of tremendous healthcare advancement, there’s a question providers need to ask: If a treatment isn’t reaching patients, how good is it, really?
That’s a question Surgo Health founder (and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation alum) Sema Sgaier wanted to answer. After two decades of working in healthcare, she observed a disconnect between patients and healthcare treatments. Whether attributable to cost, outreach failure, a general distrust of the medical system or something else, patients were not jumping at these advancements in a way that was expected.
“Having done that for about 10-plus years, one of the biggest realizations to me was that we’re putting a lot of investment into developing these amazing technologies,” Sgaier told Technical.ly. “But at the end of the day, people are not taking it. They’re not taking the drugs, they’re not taking the vaccines or therapeutics in the way we would have expected.”
She thinks this primarily stems from not taking enough time to understand the barriers that people face in their healthcare journeys and finding personalized solutions. After leaving the Gates Foundation, Sgaier wanted to chart her own path to some of these answers. Surgo was born out of two other works from Sgaier: the Surgo Foundation and the nonprofit Surgo Ventures, which was founded in 2020 to build precise programs through data. The core mission of all three was the same, she said, which is using data to solve health inequities and bringing in analytics to help understand patients.
“In the health ecosystem right now there’s a lot of data — actually, we’re floating in data — but a lot of that data is really around, for the most, part, clinical profiles of patients coming from mostly claims and some electronic health records,” Sgaier said.
Now, she noted, there’s also increased attention on understanding the social determinants of health, like where people live, their access to transportation and housing and their economic conditions. But what’s missing from the conversation, she thinks, are the small, personal details that are critical in determining how people engage with health care and make health decisions. This includes belief systems or biases from previous experiences and who they trust in their ecosystem.
That idea turned into Surgo Health, a Rhode Island Ave.-based data analytics startup that launched this week (the company was officially founded in December). After establishing a nonprofit, Sgaier decided she wanted to create something for-profit but still mission-oriented, so Surgo is a public benefit corporation. The 30-person company has already raised $5 million to support its growth.
With its cloud-based SaaS program, Surgo generates much of its own data and develops methodologies for collecting more detailed information. Then, with predictive and causal machine learning algorithms, it works to understand the root cause of patients’ approaches to healthcare.
“Those algorithms not only help us to develop actionable groups of patients, but they also help us do estimates at a very neighborhood level, as well as scale our insights to every single individual in the US,” Sgaier said.
According to Sgaier, the Surgo tech can be used in a variety of ways, including more equitable recruitment for clinical trials or reaching adolescents with behavioral health needs. She also hopes to help pharma companies better understand the barriers to accessing drugs and medication to get patients the treatment they need.
Following the launch, the company plans to continue building out and focusing on its product and hopes to add about 15 team members, largely in research and development. Surgo is also planning another raise, although Sgaier wasn’t sure how much the company would be seeking.
Following this, she plans to keep showing how the company can change healthcare nationwide.
“From then onwards, I think our goal is to really, really focus on generating those proof points with our customers and showing value,” Sgaier said.
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