Nudj Health Secures $10 Million in Funding for Partnerships with Physician Groups to Change Patient Behavior
As progress is hampered in reducing chronic diseases and conditions such as diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease through prescription drugs, the health care industry is increasingly turning more towards techniques integrating data algorithms and lifestyle coaches to improve patient behaviors.
The latest local entrant into this burgeoning field is Pasadena-based Nudj Health Inc., which in April raised $10 million in seed funding to bolster its efforts to partner with physician groups to track and change behaviors. patient lifestyle.
“About 80% of all chronic conditions and diseases can be prevented, reduced or even reversed through lifestyle changes,” said Nudj Health Founder and CEO Yuri Sudhakar. “But until now, doctors regularly gave patients instructions on taking medication and exercising, but they have very little idea of what is really happening with patients once these patients leave their office.
As a result, improvements in patients’ lifestyle decisions often do not last long term.
“That’s where we come in,” Sudhakar said. “We bring in an ‘extended care team’ that continues care after the patient leaves the doctor’s office. We work on daily exercise routines, meal choices, proper medication intake with patients.
With this continued patient reinforcement, he said, “satisfaction is higher. Patients know they have a plan and that members of their healthcare team are helping them implement that plan.
Nudj Health uses the latest reporting and tracking technologies to make this happen. Much of the interaction with patients takes place over the phone, while behind the scenes, Nudj Health uses algorithms developed through the accumulation of patient data to guide decision points.
“The pandemic has really helped here, making patients and providers realize the value of telehealth,” Sudhakar said.
The pandemic has also served to expand Nudj’s service offerings, he said. Due to the increased isolation caused by measures to reduce the transmission of Covid-19, more patients suffer from depression and are therefore less likely to be motivated to adopt healthy lifestyle habits.
“Maintaining good mental health has become an increasingly important part of what we do,” Sudhakar said.
Data aggregation roots
Sudhakar previously co-founded and then sold a company that aggregated data from implantable pacemakers and other cardiology devices. This company, Geneva Healthcare, was sold to Biotel Inc., based in Malvern, Pennsylvania, in 2019. Biotel was in turn acquired by Phillips Healthcare Group, a unit of Koninklijke Philips, based in Amsterdam, Netherlands. .
Sudhakar stayed at Biotel for a while, but left in late 2020 with an eye on his next endeavor: using his acumen for data aggregation to improve behavioral health outcomes. He teamed up with investment partner Donald Cohn in late 2020, and the duo launched Nudj in February 2021. Cohn, who comes from the real estate industry, now sits on Nudj’s board of directors.
Nudj is one of a growing number of companies that have launched in the United States and elsewhere in recent years with the same goal: to improve patient outcomes by changing their lifestyle choices and behaviors.
“For decades, we have tried to treat lifestyle diseases such as obesity and diabetes (type 2) with drugs, treatments and procedures,” said Catherine Collings, president of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine; Nudj Health recently joined the college as a board member. “But now the evidence has come in and we’ve found it’s not very effective.”
Collings said the focus has therefore turned to the lifestyle and behavioral choices of these diseases and conditions. This has been facilitated by the growing number of people being trained as “lifestyle coaches” who can guide patients to healthier outcomes through better nutrition and regular exercise.
Collings added that the focus on the behavioral health components of chronic disease management differs from traditional corporate wellness programs. These programs offer things like free gym memberships and health checkups, but don’t assign individual lifestyle coaches to patients or require patients to regularly report key vital health statistics. .
“You have insurers trying to figure that out,” she said. “And you have a growing number of small businesses trying to step in and solve this problem in a more agile way, thanks to the use of artificial intelligence which makes coaching more personalized and effective.”
One such company is Ontrak Inc., which moved to Henderson, Nevada, from Santa Monica earlier this year. Ontrak uses artificial intelligence programs and lifestyle coaches to help healthcare payers – primarily insurers – save money by reducing patient hospitalizations.
But Ontrak ran into trouble when two of its biggest insurer clients — Aetna, a subsidiary of Woonsocket, Rhode Island-based CVS Health Corp., and Bloomfield, Connecticut-based healthcare giant Cigna Corp. — dropped its program. Aetna ended its stake, while Cigna moved on to another behavioral healthcare startup, San Francisco-based Ginger.io, Inc..
Ontrak has attempted to expand its customer base to employers and physician groups, but these efforts have been slow to take root.
Nudj, however, immediately focused on the healthcare provider market, particularly physician groups.
“We come from the provider space and understand how to work with providers in the clinical workflow,” Sudhakar said. “That’s where the confidence emanates.”
Throughout its first year, Nudj focused primarily on the senior care market. Indeed, the federal agency Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which administers the Medicare program, has endorsed the model for including mental/behavioral health services in provider networks.
“This means providers get reimbursement from Medicare for mental/behavioral health programs designed to improve patient outcomes, so they don’t have to spend extra money to partner with us,” Sudhakar said.
Providers are motivated to team up with Nudj because of evidence from a University of Washington study showing that every dollar spent on these programs yields approximately $6 in savings through reduced use of more expensive medical treatments, in particularly in a hospital setting.
Sudhakar said that in Nudj’s first 15 months, he had signed “about a dozen” contracts with supplier groups. He declined to disclose his earnings.
One such provider group is Foothill Cardiology Medical Group in Pasadena. Group President Dr. Azhil (Alex) Durairaj, who is also medical director of the Cardiovascular Service Line at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, said he has worked with the Nudj Health team since its inception in the beginning. from last year.
“In the year since we really started using their program, we’ve seen about a 40% reduction in anxiety, depression, and insomnia scores in our patients,” said Durairaj. “We’re also seeing fewer blood pressure spikes and more medication compliance.”
As a result, he said, “we’re seeing fewer hospital and emergency care visits.”
But Durairaj pointed to one area of difficulty: Some patients worry about collecting blood pressure and other data points and how that data might be used in the future.
“I’ve had patients who declined to participate because they feared the blood pressure readings would somehow end up in the hands of insurers and their co-payments suddenly increase,” did he declare.
But he said that’s more than offset by a larger group of patients who are motivated to improve their behaviors because they know someone is watching them.
Shift to value-based care
Nudj’s $10 million Series A funding round announced in April was led by Nebraska Medicine of Omaha, Neb.; San Diego-based Teal Venture; the Cohn Family Trust (of aforementioned real estate investor Donald Cohn); and Bay Area-based Health Innovation Pitch.
Sudhakar said some of this funding would likely be used to expand into the field of value-based medicine, where physician groups receive a set amount of money from healthcare payers to manage a number of patients and must try to find ways to economize on treatment. dollars to earn money.