A Verily cofounder's experience coordinating doctors after his dad's stroke inspired his new company addressing one of the most overlooked parts of caring for patients

  • Story Health, a startup that wants to bridge the gap between specialty healthcare providers like neurologists and primary care physicians, announced Tuesday that it raised $4 million in seed funding from General Catalyst and Define Ventures.
  • The startup was founded by Verily alums Tom Stanis, who cofounded Verily after a bike accident, and Nikhil Roy. Cardiologist Dr. Ashil Govil also joined the founding team.
  • Stanis told Business Insider that he was eager to focus on a single project instead of the 50 he would be managing at any given moment at Verily.
  • Story Health wants to work with doctors by using artificial intelligence to track and monitor patient records, and ultimately make suggestions for treatment plans that can be implemented immediately in a patients' home.
  • Stanis said his experience managing his father's recovery from a stroke showed him how disconnected specialty care was from primary care doctors, so he wanted to empower primary care doctors with the information and expertise to confidently continue a specialty treatment plan.
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When Tom Stanis' father had a stroke, the family struggled to coordinate his recovery care plan with the busy specialty doctors and his regular doctor nearby. 

The primary care doctor wasn't confident about fulfilling the plan laid out by the neurologist, Stanis said, but the specialty care team was often hard to reach and pressed for time when they did get through.

In all, it took Stanis, the cofounder of Alphabet's healthcare moonshot Verily, nearly a year to iron out the kinks in his father's care recovery plan and get all his doctors on the same page.

Even for a healthcare industry insider and cofounder of one of the most cutting edge health-tech companies in Silicon Valley, Stanis found the experience draining and incredibly complex. If his family couldn't figure it out within the privileged healthcare system of California's Bay Area, who could?

Together with fellow Verily alum Nikhil Roy and practicing cardiologist Dr. Ashul Govil, Stanis started tinkering with potential solutions for coordinating care between specialists and primary care doctors. The end result was Story Health, which on Tuesday said it raised $4 million in seed funding, the end result of a three-month fundraising process during the pandemic. General Catalyst and Lynne Chou O'Keefe's Define Ventures led the round.

Stanis left Verily in February, where he would typically manage between 30 and 50 projects at any given time, to focus on what is now Story Health.

"That wasn't my happy place," Stanis told Business Insider of his high profile role at Verily. "I'm not a portfolio manager, like Lynne [Chou O'Keefe]. I like to do one thing really well."

Read more: Top health-tech journalist Chrissy Farr dishes on her move to VC and where she plans to place her first bets

The trio of cofounders created the company in May and closed the funding round in August. It's currently building out the product, though Stanis noted that Story has not signed any partnerships or customers to date.

Story Health wants to bring cutting edge AI technology to doctors' offices

Most of the artificial intelligence technology being created for doctors' offices, which typically focus on medication recommendations or reading static images from tests like X-rays, leaves a lot to be desired, Stanis said. 

Story Health's approach is to go beyond using AI for electronic medical records to also suggest treatment plans that can be implemented immediately in a patient's home using standard text messaging instead of a disparate family of smartphone apps and websites. Initially, Story Health is building AI tools for doctors. Over time, the team will also create the companion software available to patients. 

The technology is designed with the doctor in mind, Stanis said. It's not a "black box" technology that pops up with suggestions while a doctor is filling out a patient's chart, Stanis said. Instead, it is fed medical information to learn more about medications, side effects, and information from specialists to suggest the treatment plans. The app for patients will closely follow the development and launch of AI technology for doctors.  

"We are actually working with health systems to make them in the driver's seat going forward," Stanis said. "Other solutions are trying to work around that system or outside of it. We want to work with them to give them the power to do it."

Stanis was adamant that Story Health be as easy to use as possible for patients. The ideal patient for Story Health tends to be older, potentially on a Medicare Advantage plan, and tends to have multiple conditions that need to be managed in tandem. 

After working on Onduo, Verily's virtual clinic for patients with diabetes, and other services for diabetic patients, Stanis was acutely aware that even the best-designed solutions can't work if a patient can't figure out how to use it.

"We know seniors struggle with downloading apps, figuring out the app store, finding the right thing once they're in the app store, and logging in," Stanis said. "We decided to have an app-less experience that works over SMS, we don't use usernames and passwords, and the connected devices use a SIM card to send data directly to the clinic."

An appealing solution for cash-strapped clinics and hospitals

Stanis is currently planning on creating a financial model where those healthcare providers pay for Story Health as a way of generating revenue. He said the healthy systems, doctor's offices, and private practices will pay a membership fee to access Story Health's services, but declined to specify how much the fee would be and how often membership would be up for renewal. 

As Story Health grows, however, Stanis said he would be open to working with insurance companies in a more traditional reimbursement model to help hospitals and doctors pay for the service.

He's optimistic that the coronavirus pandemic has created enough urgency within the cash-strapped hospital systems and clinics to force the traditionally slow-to-change industry to adopt new technology as a cost-savings measure.

For now, Stanis's 7-person team is building those tools and is expecting to sign its first customer in early 2021. 

"We are focused on generating the data that shows you can do it and validating the approach," Stanis said.

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