Category Archives: advances in health

Incarnations and Generations

One of the funnest parts of being around for a long time is the opportunity to work with a second generation of families I’ve known during my career. This has happened to me several times now, and it’s amazing how cool it is, and how gratifying. I’ve advised sons, daughters, nephews, and even a grandchild.  Last night the magic happened again.

I have an abiding interest in health care, which has been a large part of my marketing and consulting practice. I am also the widow of a physician.

Through that interest, I came in contact with a man named Lucas Felt, the co-founder of a startup called The Medical Memory, which provides HIPAA-compliant video recordings of patient-provider visits. His co-founder Robert Porter, MD, a neurosurgeon with world-famous Barrow Neurological Center in Phoenix,  developed the product after his own father was diagnosed with cancer.

Dr. Porter experienced the challenges and frustrations of having to rely on family members to accurately recite complex information about his father’s condition and treatment. The experience had a profound effect on his approach to patient communication in his own practice.

I’ve been informally advising Lucas because I want to see the company succeed. And this may be its year: Medicare does not pay for hospital readmissions anymore, and patients must understand their discharge instructions and comply with them so they don’t have to go back to the hospital. It is in the doctors’ and the hospitals’ best interest to get the patient to comply. And when patients are at a doctor visit, they don’t often remember what is said to them, because they are ill and nervous. The Medical Memory, a video that can be replayed, is a solution for that.

So that’s the entrepreneurship side of the story. The interesting part is that one night last year at Hillstone while having advisory red wine, I found out that I had known Lucas Felt’s mother, who had been an editor at the Arizona Republic when I was in my previous incarnation as a “PR maven.” Both Lucas and I were amused when we discovered that, but we let it drop.

Last night we had another session of advisory drinks, and I realized my knowledge of the workings of the Arizona legislature with respect to health care might be useful to him. We made a preliminary plan for me to time travel back to the days when I lobbied the legislature on behalf of health companies, and then Lucas got a text message.

It turned out that his wife and his mother were in the dining room at Hillstone! We ran into the dining room and Susan Felt and I had a joyous reunion and made plans to see each other again.

That’s part of the joy of spending a long career in the same city. I might have made more money somewhere else, but I feel like I’ve had a bigger impact in Arizona, and at the end of the day, isn’t it all about making yourself useful and helping people? I think it is.


Aging 2.0: More Technology, More Fun

I spent two great days at the Aging 2.0 Optimize conference in San Francisco last week. It was a good conference for Phoenix, because our local Aging 2.0 Global Pitch Competition winner, Silvernest, came in as First Runner Up out of all the global Aging 2.0 chapters. Silvernest also got accepted into the Digital Health track of 500 Startups, and the head of that track, who happens to be a friend of mine, told me that Wendi Burkhardt, its founder, is a kickass CEO. We need to welcome her back to Phoenix after 500 Startups’ Demo Day.


Silvernest is a roommate matching service for seniors and Boomers who want to stay in their homes as along as they can. As a homeowner, you can sign up for the service and make some extra money by taking in a roommate. The roommates, needles to say, are screened carefully.


Because other members of the team are from Colorado, Silvernest has rolled out in Denver first. Once it perfects the model, it will come to Phoenix.


I saw many other interesting companies in the aging services space, including Senssassure, a notification system for managing incontinence. Sensassure’s Smartpatch attaches to the outside of any adult brief, giving caregivers insight into when a resident has or may have an episode of incontinence. It has already resulted in 73% less time in wet briefs for the residents of the three care homes in which it had been tested.


Sensassure had by far the best story of the show, having been founded by six 20-year-olds who actually moved into a senior facility and slept in its conference room for a year to get to know the residents and what their biggest pain points were. Incontinence proved to be the most important, so that’s what they attacked, going so far as to try their own product to see if it worked.


Another startup,  Ekso Bionics, which has produced an exoskeleton to help stroke victims and spinal cord injury victims stand and get moving again.


And I personally pre-ordered Nuheara’s IQBuds, intelligent wireless headphones that take the place of hearing aids for those of us who destroyed our hearing listening to music. Apparently, we’re so unwilling to endure the stigma of hearing aids that it takes most people who have hearing loss ten years to give in. I’m somewhere in that decade, but since I also just received my iPhone 7 without a phone jack I’m going to have to spring for wireless earbuds anyway. These aren’t much more expensive than Apple’s Airpods. I’ll let you know:-)


Another highlight was Dr. Adam Gazzaley, head of Neuroscape, a lab that is testing the extent to which video games and virtual reality can help aging people regain “cognitive control,” by teaching the brain new skills that can be transferable. It’s almost like lighting up the brain again. His newest research, Body Brain Training, which integrates physical movement with cognitive training is probably one of the killer apps for virtual reality.


But far ahead of him in consumer deployment is a company called Rendever, which brings virtual reality headsets into care facilities so seniors can attend their grandchildren’s recitals virtually or tour a museum they always wanted to see.


Companies like Rendever focus on another common problem of aging, social isolation. I guess this is what I have to look forward to: either I’ll be in a care home with nobody to visit me, or I’ll be at home without my car keys.


Thank goodness the windup keynote was from Jennifer Haroon, Head of Business Operations for Google’s Self-Driving Car Team, who gave a demonstration of how autonomous vehicles will provide mobility solutions (one day) for seniors. Not quite yet, however.


In the meantime, we can all use GoGoGrandparent, which allows seniors without smartphones to call Uber, Postmates, and all those other on-demand services. Acting as a senior concierge, is another way for seniors to stay mobile and engaged, or at least to order food delivery.


Me and My Microbiome

Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 12.16.51 PMIf you don’t already know what your microbiome is, you soon will.  It’s the hot new thing in the advancing study of health and aging. Basically, it’s a bunch of microbes, some good and some bad, that live in your body and mine. Well, actually it’s trillions of microbes and can account for 1-3% of body mass. Some are bad, but many are good.

About twenty years ago, scientists began to do research into the microbiota in the gut, suspecting they might have a role in the immune system. That’s when people started telling you to take a probiotic after an antibiotic, remember?

That research has progressed past pure science, and you can now have your biome sequenced the way you can have your genome done.(23andMe). Early adopter that I am, I had my genes sequenced before the FDA stopped 23andMe from releasing health information, and I found out I had an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease, and no special risk for anything else except some conditions women get when they are of child bearing age. Fortunately, I passed all of those — the genes didn’t express. Now I’m trying to get the Parkinsonism gene not to express. It turns out you can do that by fostering your immune system.

That, for those who know me, is the reason I turned vegan five years ago. I know that genetics doesn’t doom you to illnesses of aging, it simply predisposes you to them. You can still save yourself, as I clearly did without knowing it by exercising, not smoking, and phasing in and out of vegetarianism through my entire life.

So now they’re finding out that the bacteria in your gut influence your immune system, and that — guess what — you can influence your biome. So I just signed up with ubiome to have my microbiome sequenced.

And after I did that, I was wandering around their site and found the following research:

1)dogs can share bacteria with and between people, and couples who cohabit with a dog have more bacteria in common than couples who don’t. I cohabit with one roommate and five dogs. Apparently, I  have many microbes in common with my dogs, and not so many in common with other dogs.

2)children who grow up with a dog have less tendency to develop allergies and asthma, giving strength to the hypothesis that young children need exposure to bacteria and dirt to develop their immune systems. Dogs make houses dirtier, and this is good for children.

3) The University of Arizona is doing a study to find out whether giving dogs to older people will improve their health. They’ve given dogs adopted from the Humane Society to people over 50 who’ve never had one or not had one for a while. Their theory is that good bacteria from the dog will be transmitted to the owner, causing a health improvement.

So if you were putting off getting that dog…

I’ll let you know my results when I get them.