While Huda Idrees is well-known in Toronto for her work designing products at companies like Wealthsimple and Wave, she’s always been interested in the healthcare space. But it wasn’t until she decided to help a friend whose father was diagnosed with early stage cancer that she found an opportunity to make a difference in such a massive, regulated industry.
“All we were doing was putting his chemo reports into a spreadsheet, and his dad would go to the oncologist and get two sets of paper: last week’s and this week’s numbers. But it was only two snapshots in time, and chemo is a really long process. So we took these results and plugged them into a spreadsheet to create a basis trends analysis,” said Idrees. “When the oncologist started looking at this spreadsheet, it clicked because we thought, ‘you should know more.’ But I think we overestimate the sophistication of medical data technology.”
“Sitting next to auditors and explaining to them how our algorithm works was proof that once you could explain it in simplified terms, regulations are not there to stop you from innovating.”
Idrees has moved this idea beyond a spreadsheet into Dot Health, which wants to give people more context to their health data. The startup is currently running its beta program in Ontario, and allows users to provide access to their OHIP number and a list of institutions they remember going to. Dot Health then packages that, pings the institutions, and presents the information in a way that lets users understand trends in their health and share that with their loved ones. In the future, every time your OHIP number is flagged in a new healthcare institution, Dot Health will receive that information.
“If our country continues to spend with the same trends as it does, we will be spending the entire federal budget on health care alone by 2040,” said Idrees.
“What I didn’t understand was that no one was doing anything in this area that was in dire need of technological advance. This technology is not new. We’ve had APIs for decades. We know how to securely transfer information from one place to another. And what boggled my mind from the very beginning was, why are the greatest minds of our generation working on things like better ads?”
While Idrees contends that industries like healthcare are so “government-involved” that people are afraid to touch it, Idrees notes that her past experiences are influencing the way she approaches Dot Health. While acting as chief product officer at Wealthsimple, she got a first-hand look at navigating the regulation-heavy financial industry and working with it.
“Sitting next to auditors and explaining to them how our algorithm works was proof that once you could explain it in simplified terms, regulations are not there to stop you from innovating. They’re there to protect the people,” Idrees said.
And watching the way CEO Allen Lau bootstrapped Wattpad in the beginning and found success is part of the reason why she initilly rebuffed investor interest in Dot Health. But that hasn’t stopped incoming investor interest, both in Canada and the US — the latter a market that Idrees initially wanted to launch Dot Health in.
Two things swayed Idrees to launch Dot Health in Canada first: the Ontario healthcare system is more tightly integrated than the US because of the OHIP system, and of course, the US’ political instability. As a visible Muslim woman, it’s something she has to consider; she hasn’t travelled to the US since the government announced its first travel ban from seven Muslim-majority countries.
“If I have to go down and close a client, I have to go as the CEO of my company and I won’t be able to or I won’t feel comfortable going down there, so it’s been really interesting for us, even with investments,” said Idrees. “We were looking at a lot of investors and all the ones that have been really interested have been kind enough to come up. I told them flat-out I think I’m going to get held up at the airport.”
Idrees, a vocal advocate for making diversity a priority in hiring for tech companies, adds that she’s excited about now being able to create an environment she feels should be industry standard. Her team, including four full-time employees and four part-time employees, are half women and men. “I wouldn’t say that’s the primary motivation because the primary motivation is to deliver better healthcare to the masses, but I think a very close second is what happens when you do build an inclusive culture,” said Idrees, who adds that many companies won’t fire problematic employees for fear of jeopardizing the product.
“I want to be the person who does let that person go and doesn’t meet that deadline because of this reason — or meets the deadline anyway.”
While she’s currently overwhelmed with several thousand people on the waitlist, she’s still eager to hear from people who would benefit from Dot Health. “I know there’s a million and one stories that we haven’t heard and we’d love to hear them I’d love if people could reach out they could reach out with stories that they face and how best we can help them because this is truly a platform by the people for the people,” Idrees said.
Talk to her about your health story at firstname.lastname@example.org.