Huda Idrees built a platform to give users easy access to their health

As part of a regular series power by Dell Small Business, BetaKit asked business leaders to share their experience starting a business, and how their solution is disrupting an industry.

No one can argue that the healthcare system in Canada is not complicated and often inefficient, making it difficult to get access to your own health information. What year did you last take that antibiotic? Fill out this form. When was your last vaccination? Go find that yellow card buried somewhere at home.

If you’re like most Canadians, you rely on your family physician for access to most of your health information. Sure, it’s frustrating when you need something right away and your doctor is on vacation, but hey, that’s just the way it is, right?

With Dot Health, you can keep track of your own information with a mobile platform that lets you request, collect, and manage your vital health information, all in one place.

The ease of access to your own health information is what makes Dot Health unique, said CEO and founder Huda Idrees. “We help people get an accurate picture of [their] health.”

BetaKit sat down with Idrees to talk about how Dot Health is using technology to make the healthcare system more efficient for patients and healthcare professionals.

A personal experience

Like many tech startups, Dot Health started as a small project for a small group of people. In Idrees’s case, Dot Health started as a project to help a friend, someone whose dad was diagnosed with late-stage cancer.

The first version of the platform was made specifically for the patient while he was going through chemotherapy. It looked at his cancer markers week-over-week and produced a graph that was accessible for review. The information made it easy for the patient to consolidate the information he was getting from five different healthcare providers.

“Most medical technology is built for physicians, not patients,” Idrees said, noting that Dot Health is focused on empowering patients with the information they need to lead a healthy lifestyle.

Once Idrees’s friend’s dad realized how useful it was to have easy access to his health information, he referred dozens of people from his chemo room, who then referred dozens of others. Idrees said she used a platform called Heroku, which enables developers to build, run, and operate apps in the cloud, to manage over 200 patients.

A data highway

Idrees, who studied industrial engineering at the University of Toronto, worked at several consumer-facing tech companies before starting Dot Health. The demand for her platform coupled with her experience working at Wattpad, Wave, and most recently, as the chief product officer at Wealthsimple, gave her the confidence to build Dot Health.

After incorporating the company, her first matter of business was to onboard hospitals. Hospitals already have their own portals and typically don’t measure patient satisfaction, so there was little incentive to support innovation. But Idrees was able to convince hospitals to partner with Dot Health with the promise that it would create a more efficient process for their staff.

On this highway of health data, “the toll you have to pay to transfer [information] is the patient’s consent.”

In the last two-and-a-half years, the Toronto-based company has transitioned into a mobile platform and partnered with labs, medical imaging centres, and pharmacies. Today, Dot Health works with over 10,000 healthcare providers, and last October, the company partnered with Canadian retail giant Shoppers Drug Mart.
 

Think of Dot Health as a highway of health data. When a user signs up on the app, they’re prompted with a questionnaire that helps the platform build them an accurate health profile. Once the user verifies their identity, that confirmation serves as consent for Dot Health to transfer data from their healthcare providers – pharmacists, clinics, and physicians – to their profile.

Instead of connecting to the systems of over 80,000 physicians across Canada, Dot Health integrates with clinical management systems like Oscar. Doctors transfer patient information to Oscar and Oscar transfers information to Dot Health, but only when requested.

Dot Health takes patient data privacy very seriously. The company has bank-level security standards and ensures that information is encrypted during transfer and storage. A patient’s consent is also required before any request for data is completed. On this highway of health data, “the toll you have to pay to transfer [information] is the patient’s consent,” Idrees said.

Challenging the status quo

Now available across Canada (except in Quebec), Dot Health empowers patients with the information they need to go to doctor’s appointments prepared, preventing multiple diagnostic tests or immunization shots. The platform also lets users connect to self-reporting tools like Apple Health and Google Fit for a holistic view of their health.

“I didn’t realize how complicated it would be to work within an industry so closely tied to the government.”
 
 

It sounds like a win-win for everyone, but it hasn’t been easy to get to this point. “I didn’t realize how complicated it would be to work within an industry so closely tied to the government,” said Idrees. “It’s near impossible to get anything done.”

Idrees said the team at Dot Health spent a lot of time advising provincial and federal governments on health tech, especially the Digital Health Information Exchange Policy (DHIEX), which ensures that hospitals make patient information accessible digitally.

Idrees thinks the ease of access to data is the next big trend in technology. Consumers will require it, and developers will need to implement a seamless transfer of data into their products. Idrees specifically pointed to at-home healthcare as being the next big shift.

“It’s unsustainable and expensive to put someone in a nursing home who needs a lot of care,” Idrees said. The CEO predicts a combination of human and machine products (yes, like robots!) will dominate the future of healthcare.

Why now?

“The health industry changes slowly, but our world is shifting toward having information handy,” Idrees said. “Google tried to do this 10 years ago. But, back then, only about 35 percent of health information was captured digitally. Now, it’s closer to 80 percent.”

Dot Health also benefits from the growing comfort level of patients accessing information digitally. “We live in a world where we can order a car on our phones and get in a stranger’s car,” Idrees pointed out. It seems like a no-brainer, then, that a person’s vital health information is easily accessible to them

When asked if she had any advice for founders who want to start a tech business, Idrees said “building toward sustainability” is the most important thing to know. “How are you going to sustain your business with money?”

Understanding her strengths, learning from her peers, and working with a great team, contributes to Idrees’s ability to run a company that directly helps people live a healthy life. “Sure, it’s about the idea, but it’s mostly about the people that you build it with,” the CEO said.

Jacqueline Leung

Jacqueline Leung

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Pressed News, a digital media company that makes the news easy to understand. Follow on Twitter @jacquelinegyl.