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Curing Healthcare with Tough Love: TheHumanAPI

Michael DePalma and Richie Etwaru, founders of TheHumanAPI. Photo provided.

Michael DePalma and Richie Etwaru, founders of TheHumanAPI. Photo provided.

Necessity is the mother of all inventions, and two life-sciences mavens believe that a prevention-based model is the ultimate cure for today’s disarrayed healthcare system. Michael DePalma and Richie Etwaru, the founders of TheHumanAPI, want to foster paradigm shift by instilling prevention and early identification health barometers into everyday life. It helps that they both work in the healthcare space by day, too – DePalma is the President of M3 Health and Etwaru works as Chief Digital Officer for Cegedim. To mark the one-year anniversary of the launch of TheHumanAPI, MedTech Boston chatted with the two co-founders about their vision of implementing a completely fresh economic and behavioral model for health, and about getting others to rally behind their cause, too.

The Genesis of TheHumanAPI

DePalma and Etwaru met while attending one of the many muted industry conferences that often recycle speakers and ideas with little measurable change and few results. The concept of TheHumanAPI is a bit enigmatic, but that’s deliberate. “It is the kind of structure we should have more of,” Etwaru says. Basically, TheHumanAPI is the ultimate 21st century company, with a venture capital arm, an evangelism arm, an incubator arm, a research laboratory and an open source organization, all serving as the “collective hand” that will hopefully thrust a prevention model into existence one generation earlier than currently expected.

Diving Deeper

DePalma bets that the future of prevention-based healthcare will revolve around providing clarity, context, communication and collaboration. Moving beyond the buzzwords, he adds that we should create “check-engine” light for our bodies. “There is a tremendous amount of information that we can harness about our health and function, in many cases in real-time, to provide not only immediate insight, but potentially near-real time action,” he says. “However, beyond those sensors and raw data, we lack the industry architecture to bring real prevention into reality.”

Ponder this: every human has, on average, 100,000 heartbeats per day, each capable of providing us with information that could be harnessed for not only that patient, but to give us insights about entire populations. Imagine the benefits of constant and seamless monitoring even beyond the heartbeat, then. “It’s one thing to know a heart rate. It is something very different to understand what a single heart beat looks like, and what it tells us,” DePalma says.

Granted, the entire model of implementing this idea requires significant disruption to the existing infrastructure of healthcare. “It’s almost a reimagining of health care delivery,” says DePalma. While there is no doubt that incremental innovation is happening in this space, the current structure rests on a traditional, cure-based model. Traditional institutions are reluctant to embrace disruptive innovation because it threatens their “golden goose cocoon,” DePalma says. “We need to emulate certain best practices of outside industries like automobile, technology and finance to truly bring disruptive innovation to medicine.”

Drivers of Change Already in Motion

These idea – prevention and constant data monitoring – are already seeping into our lives in other areas, but DePalma and Etwaru want to accelerate this motion in medical care. First, they’re interested in driving investment and empowering patients with radical new, precise, convenient and cost-effective measurement and actionable insights for all – think ”lab-in-a-box” and at-home pregnancy tests. “The second driver is shifting from analog to digital,” Etwaru says. “While there is prevalence of digital health tool, they are currently being utilized by the rich and the wealthy – this needs to become more democratized. Highly individualized care will become the norm.”

Navigating Past the Potholes

According to Etwaru and DePalma, TheHumanAPI is the agile counterpart, aiming to help relic organizations see the value in preventive approaches. “It seems the stars are finally aligning for change, as we move from a system of record to one of engagement. The challenge is that this requires also supplanting the current lucrative model with one that is equally profitable,” Etwaru says. He believes deeply in the economic value of “preventa-ceuticals” and in the success of specialized, narrow spectrum care over the broad-spectrum drug portfolio of drugs we have today.

For entrepreneurs, this is also an opportunity for thinking beyond platform solutions and creating new ecosystems, DePalma and Etwaru say. It’s about focusing on interoperability over integration and creating meaning out of all the big data.

A Tease of What’s to Come

Ultimately, the vision behind TheHumanAPI is to bring together the like-minded leaders of 2030 (who are only 21 years old today) and create a way for them to get to know each other and collaborate 16 years earlier. DePalma and Etwaru are using various arms to sculpt this, including TEDxBedminster and TEDxMorristown, a book and conferences.  “Changing reality means we need to change behavior,” Etwaru says. “And to change behavior, we must change thoughts and knowledge. We need to break out of the echo chambers and stone the current talking heads.” Ready for some tough love?

Shreya Iyer

Shreya Iyer

    Shreya specializes in health communications and is a copywriter for an advertising agency. She was previously at Bayer Healthcare, Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide

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