The Center for Data Innovation spoke with Star Cunningham, founder and CEO of 4D Healthware, a Chicago-based health platform designed to get people to live healthier lives. Cunningham discussed the benefits of data-driven healthcare decisions and how her own experience with chronic illness has given her insights into how to improve healthcare delivery.
This interview has been lightly edited.
Joshua New: What is 4D Healthware, and what does it offer that the healthcare space lacks?
Star Cunningham: 4D Healthware is cloud-based software designed to empower individuals and those with chronic illnesses to take control of their health.
Today, most consumers don’t have tools that make intelligent, data-based health decisions. And there are solutions that specialize in treating specific diseases, but not too many address comprehensive treatment options. For example, someone suffering from obesity might also be diabetic and hypertensive. As it is, that person would have to rely on three separate solutions to monitor his or her weight, blood glucose levels, and blood pressure.
4D Healthware’s solution aggregates fragmented health information—be it from an electronic medical record, a wearable, or a glucometer—and creates comprehensive and informed health suggestions based on data.
New: You’ve touched on your personal experience with Crohn’s Disease as inspiration for creating 4D Healthware. Could you elaborate on this?
Cunningham: Managing Crohn’s affords me a different and more insightful view into healthcare technology than many have. I understand that the educated and empowered patient is the best patient.
I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease when I was still in high school, and for years I wondered why my doctors were treating my disease with oral medications. Crohn’s is centered on the inability to absorb nutrients and medication properly, so why were they treating it—and my other medical issues—with medication that works best with a fully functioning digestive system? Basically, my doctors ended up prescribing me twice the dosage of medicine to get half the desired result.
It’s taken years of working with a number of doctors to be able to fully communicate what I need in order for my medication to work. Once, I was prescribed a pill with a time-release coating on it, which takes twice as long to release, and I needed something fast acting. It took over three months to work with my doctor, the pharmacy, and the insurance company to get the pills I needed. It should have taken three minutes on the phone with my doctor.
New: I’ve seen headlines that call 4D Healthware a program that will let you know about an illness “before you’re even sick.” What does this mean, and could this eventually be possible?
Cunningham: Eventually, I want 4D Healthware to function like your car’s dashboard. I read somewhere recently that today’s automobiles have more than 1,000 sensors. When that warning light flashes on your car dashboard, you know you need to head to the mechanic. It gives you time to address the warning sign.
When patients combine the data they’re already collecting through all the sensors they use with 4D’s software, they get this dashboard view. 4D can use this data to alert patients with “warning lights” before they enter an acute care state, potentially preventing serious health risks like strokes or heart attacks. Up to 80 percent of strokes can be prevented. But unfortunately modern healthcare is not built upon preventative care.
New: 4D Healthware pulls from a lot of different data sources, including lab data, patient genomic data, and fitness tracker data. What are some of the challenges of collecting, storing, and making useful different types of data?
Cunningham: The challenge is that the technology behind the data is changing so rapidly, and consumers are adopting it so quickly that when they find 4D Healthware, their next question becomes, “are you compatible with my device?” Since we don’t know what device will ultimately win out, we have to accommodate everything. That is a monumental task.
Making the data useful is the fun part. Very few organizations pack the analytical capabilities, partnerships, and experience to create a device agnostic, consumer-facing platform that makes health data actionable.
New: Your platform is supposed to be able to adapt to new health technologies as they are developed to collect new types of data. What kind of tech do you envision?
Cunningham: The wearable tech industry is booming right now, and more companies are using it to collect data on everything from heart rate and cholesterol, to sleep patterns and even moods.
There are three incredibly exciting new technologies that will make a huge difference for those managing chronic diseases. There are new ingestibles, or smart pills, that will determine a patient’s metabolism. Smart patches, like nicotine patches, can deliver medication to the bloodstream. There are also new wearable devices for meditation like Thync, which uses neurosignaling to induce shifts in energy and calm states. These could eventually be useful in the prevention of stroke, heart disease, and weight management.