Five Questions and an Elevator Pitch:
1. What’s the need your project seeks to address?
Melody: Our need areas is osteoporosis, which affects about one-third of all women over age 65. While there are medications available to treat the condition, compliance is generally poor. We learned that approximately 70% of diagnosed patients do not adhere to their treatment plans. The result is a high rate of fractures even after diagnosis, with women experiencing much higher rates than men. Our goal for the project was to improve medication compliance in female osteoporosis patients over 65 in order to prevent fractures and help patients enjoy an improved quality of life.
2. How does your solution work?
Larry: Through our research, we learned that patient education is a problem – most osteoporosis patients don’t have a good understanding of the condition. They think, ‘Oh, I’m getting old. I might break a bone, but there’s nothing I can do about it.’ There are a number of reasons for this. One is that people with osteoporosis tend to have other, more acute co-morbidities like diabetes or cardiovascular issues. Managing these conditions requires the majority of their physician’s time and attention. So they spend less time talking about osteoporosis.
Melody: Our solution is the Osteotec digital fracture liaison service – a one-stop digital shop for osteoporosis information and management. Providers start by using our free risk stratification tool to determine whether patients newly diagnosed with osteoporosis are at high risk for fracture. The provider then refers those patients to us.
Larry: We provide education about their diagnosis and information about different medications and treatment options. The service addresses compliance through medication reminders, and includes features like osteoporosis-specific home safety programs for increased facture protection. To track progress, a nurse practitioner performs online follow-up consultations and communicates important information to the patient’s primary care provider. We also reward patients for participation by allowing different brands with related products, like vitamins, to offer patients reduced prices or free items. This sponsorship figures into the business model.
3. What motivated you to continue working on your project, and what activities did you undertake?
Melody: The main reason we wanted to keep going was the massive size of the market and the fact that there are no good solutions to help these patients achieve better outcomes. In 2015, Medicare beneficiaries sustained approximately 2.3 million osteoporosis-related fractures. Without treatment, they are like to suffer additional fractures, which can severely compromise their quality of life.
Larry: Our main focus during the extension period was to refine our understanding of the need area, which we did primarily through online patient surveys. We used Facebook’s targeted ad platform to reach people with osteoporosis, and also posted on Facebook osteoporosis group pages. The response was unbelievable. A post on one group page drew nearly 100 comments. We were able to aggregate hundreds and hundreds of people’s experiences, which helped us understand what the patients need most and the best way to reach them. Then we used this information to refine our business model accordingly.
4. What’s one of the most important things you learned from advancing your project beyond class?
Melody: We were struck by how much patients want to share their experiences and help develop a solution. Patients don’t feel that the medical community has much interest in addressing the disease. They were so happy to have someone listen.
I think a lot of innovators believe they can’t engage this patient group digitally, but we found that the reality was just the opposite. Clearly Facebook users are a biased population, but people were proactively sharing their stories and reaching out to get more information about osteoporosis in response to our post.
5. What advice do you have for other students who want to become health technology innovators?
Larry: Reach out to people for help. I think that by leaning on the community – both the Stanford community and the overall patient community – you can get a lot of really meaningful information and guidance that can help a project successfully address an important unmet need.
Original team members: Melody Dong, Sophia Fay, Larry Kalesinskas
Course: Biodesign for Digital Health
Biodesign NEXT Funding: Awarded for winter and spring quarters 2020