If you’ve tried to lose weight at some point in your life, you know that it’s hard. The maxim of eat less and exercise more doesn’t work for some people. In fact, the human body is actually wired to fight weight loss, said Katherine Saunders, co-founder and senior medical officer of Intellihealth.
Saunders’s digital health startup provides software that helps people lose weight. Called Evolve, the technology was developed by physicians, and it incorporates the current medical understanding of obesity. Patients still need to make dietary and exercise changes. But Evolve gives them a way to do so in a structured and personalized manner.
San Francisco-based Intellihealth was one of 10 startups that presented in the Pitch Perfect contest during the recent MedCity News INVEST Precision Medicine Conference. Judges named it the winner in the health IT track.
“Intellihealth stood out when Dr. Saunders immediately addressed the problem her company is working to solve, the patient need, and how the platform will scale,” Andrea Jackson, director of Northpond Ventures and one of the judges, said in an email.
Despite obesity’s prevalence, it has been a poorly understood field of medicine. That’s partly due the fact that many people—including clinicians—have long regarded obesity as a lifestyle issue, Saunders said. That was the case with hypertension, a condition that patients were told to manage by adopting low-sodium diets. Research revealed complexities to hypertension and now there are more than 120 medications to address it. Obesity research is unfolding in a similar manner.
“This is a newer field of medicine,” Saunders said. “Until recently, we didn’t really understand what was going on with weight regulation.”
Using Evolve starts with an assessment of a patient’s medical history. Patients are asked to fill out a questionnaire. The software also integrates with an individual’s electronic health record to collect more data. Evolve’s algorithms identify the factors that lead to weight gain or are a barrier to weight loss, Saunders said. The software then produces a personalized plan designed to help each patient lose weight. The guidance includes articles, meal plans, and the ability to track measures such as food consumption and exercise levels.
Evolve’s recommendations can include medications. Psychiatric drugs and hormonal medicines are among the drugs that promote weight gain; an estimated 15% of the obesity epidemic is due to the medications that people take, Saunders said. Evolve includes a medication decision support tool that helps clinicians determine medication alternatives for patients. It also identifies anti-obesity medications that might be appropriate. Clinicians are able to log onto the software to assess a patient’s progress. The software can also be used for remote patient monitoring.
Evolve is based on software developed by Louis Arrone, a professor of metabolic research at Weill-Cornell Medical College. Arrone is an obesity medicine specialist and he had developed his program to serve a dual purpose: help clinicians stay up to speed on the latest in obesity developments while also providing patients with support in their weight management efforts. Arrone is a cofounder of Intellihealth, which began operations in 2019.
The reason for taking a software approach to obesity is to reach more people, Saunders said. Obesity specialists are few and the number of people seeking help with their weight is large. Software makes the tools of an obesity care center accessible to more people.
“There are just not enough obesity trained medicine providers to deliver the care,” Saunders said. “Technology is necessary to bridge this gap.”
There are other technology options for weight loss. New York-based Noom markets an app to consumers that provides coaching, support groups, and digital programs to help users lose weight. It also offers a diabetes prevention program. Virta Health, based in San Francisco, bills its software as a way to help patients reverse type 2 diabetes. That company’s app also offers dietary recommendations that restrict carbohydrate intake.
Saunders said that Intellihealth’s offering is based on medical evidence and its approach is supported by clinical research. Last November, the Journal of the American Medical Association published results from a clinical trial enrolling 840 volunteers randomly assigned to one of three groups: the online only program, usual care, and a combination of the online program and usual care. The main goal was to measure weight change after 12 months.
The results showed that in the combination treatment group, patients showed a small but statistically significant greater loss in weight compared to the other two groups. That study evaluated Evolve’s predecessor, the software Arrone developed. But Saunders said that Intellihealth’s software is based on Arrone’s software, and the study’s results validate the company’s approach.
Evolve launched in May and is currently in use by several health systems. The company also counts as customers payers, pharmaceutical companies, and self-insured organizations. The software-as-a-service technology is covered by insurance. The software is currently available as an online offering. The next steps for the company include launching a mobile app and fine tuning Evolve’s algorithms.
Intellihealth is also developing specialty programs for the software that will address diabetes, bariatric surgery, and women’s health. Those programs will be based on the Evolve platform but provide patients with different content, Saunders said.
Evolve screenshot by Intellihealth