Deboleena Dutta knows the importance of human connection in taking care of one’s own health. She watched as a family member had been managing diabetes for 20 years, but his health deteriorated during a time of social isolation when he was unable to access care for a wound.
This experience with her own family is what motivated Dutta to start Viora Health, a tech startup focused on improving access to care and reducing costs of care, specifically for people facing social and behavioral barriers to health. Viora Health aims to ease these barriers, including social isolation, food insecurity, transportation needs, low health literacy and socioeconomic disadvantages, that may impact a person’s ability to manage their health at home.
Dutta started her career on Wall Street, but when she moved to Philly to earn her MBA at The Wharton School, she was surprised to see the lack of trust and access to help for a lot of individuals, despite having insurance or being surrounded by major research hospitals.
“Those two experiences put together really highlighted to me the need to support people on a personalized basis at home, and particularly focus on these areas of social needs and behavioral needs,” Dutta said.
Viora Health, with an office based in West Philly, provides health management programs for people with diabetes, pre-diabetes, weight loss, general wellness and hypertension. The company is partnered with clinics and medical practices within healthcare systems (which Dutta could not name at this time) that then refer patients to Viora. The patients are screened for their needs and any barriers they may be facing. If they meet the criteria Viora Health is looking for, they are admitted into a cohort of people with a similar health goal and they go through a program designed with their specific needs in mind. The programs are run through an app where patients receive curated content, resources, tips and strategies that pertain to their particular needs.
Viora Health's health management programs are run through an app where patients receive curated content, resources, tips and strategies that pertain to their particular needs.
“Even though the goal for the cohort might be the same, if you have 30 people that all have the goal of early intervention, each individual’s needs might be different, right?” Dutta said. “So we personalize the program based on those individual needs.”
Viora Health is funded by grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association and participated in Philly Startup Leaders’ Founded in Philly accelerator. The company was recently named a winner of Johnson & Johnson’s Health Equity Innovation Challenge, earning it an undisclosed amount of seed funding, plus mentorship and JLABS access.
“Innovation plays a key role in addressing health inequities, but that innovation doesn’t always come from a big company like Johnson & Johnson,” said Seema Kumar, global head of the corporation’s Office of Innovation, Global Health and Scientific Engagement, about the challenge’s honorees. “The individuals that are living, breathing, and experiencing these inequities know what they are and why they are happening, and they have great ideas for how to solve them.”
A person’s Viora Health program can run anywhere from four months to a year long and during that time, a person can access content and information via the app and via text message. They also have access to a Viora facilitator — typically someone who has a community health background — to further support and guide the patient through their program, Dutta said.
There is also opportunity for peer group interaction among the people in each cohort. Viora Health’s programs account for lower health literacy and for gaps in technology usage, according to the founder, so users can more easily access healthcare and manage their health. All of these components together help keep people on top of their health goals, with a goal to prevent people from dropping off of their programs by addressing the social behavioral barriers they may face.
Dutta stressed the value the company brings to healthcare systems and the doctors and practices they work with. Since most healthcare providers don’t have the capacity to keep up with patients who are primarily managing their health at home, especially with recent staff shortages, they wouldn’t know if someone stopped taking their medication or stopped their treatment regimen.
Viora Health’s app also has the ability to provide certain patient progress information to the doctor’s office so the patient’s healthcare provider can see their progress.
“What we are doing is literally building capacity for them,” Dutta said. “We are using technology to build capacity and offer visibility.”Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
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