Checking in with Waldo Health

Categories: Latest News.

What’s happening now? The Waldo Health team has been ‘heads down’ in pre-market activity:  continued hardware/software integration and development, more clinical pilots and – of course – assembling documentation for FDA approval.  In February, they gained Series A backing from TEXO Ventures, a ‘hybrid of the angel and venture capital firm models’ (Austin Business Journal).  TEXO’s managing partner, Dr. Phil Sanger, a former partner in HealthSpring, is also a key advisor.

Why a new ‘touch screen’ telehealth/telemedicine interactive system for chronic disease monitoring?  Intel Health Guide and Bosch Health Buddy have taken years to get to what are, in reality, larger-scale pilots.  Is there room right now for another entrant? Fuller and Weiss see the ‘room’ as being created by rethinking two areas:

Cost. Providers have told them that costs are too high with present systems.  So at this stage, they are wringing out as much cost as possible in the system while keeping features and function. 
Value proposition: Existing business models—even in telecare—tend to compare the system cost (including ongoing costs) versus hospitalization.  Fuller and Weiss did not see this as valid. Instead, their model compares Waldo Health’s costs to nursing and doctor’s office visits on average without the system over a period of time.  In their view, this is more realistic; hospitalization is a high, episodic cost, not necessarily valid for chronic disease management and may be at times necessary.  Scaling to a forecast of visits also factors in an unpleasant trend—fewer doctors and nurses to care for more people with chronic diseases, estimated in the US to be about 125 million people (45%).

What about the design?  It’s certainly different. And why ‘Waldo’? What stands out about Waldo Health is that the design is different.  The Waldo monitor is larger, fits upright on a tabletop or desk with a relatively small footprint and has large, easy to read graphics.  According to Weiss, it was designed for users from the start, thinking about what end users wanted and would find acceptable in an advanced monitoring product.  (Raymond Loewy’s* dictum of MAYA—most advanced yet acceptable.)  Their core concept was ‘friendly fun, serious healthcare’.

Clinicians/caregivers. The clinician access system was designed to adapt to clinician/caregiver workflow and to be customizable to their needs, with pre-built management modules, support for existing programs and flexible delivery of alerts and reports. 
Patients/clients. The user features are designed for easy use by a wide variety of ages, and appear to take into account vision and mobility limitations.  The touch screen uses buttons, larger type and graphics, plus a built in camera for its videoconferencing features.  There is no conventional keyboard or mouse.  The monitor itself is aesthetically pleasing in the home and appears to be easy to clean.  And there appears to be room for more interactive functions such as education.

But what is most noticeable about Waldo Health is…Waldo the character.  In Fuller and Weiss’ view, Waldo helps to take away the clinical ‘sting’ by adding some fun and interest to the self-monitoring process.  Many of our readers are familiar with the ‘Where’s Waldo’ children’s book series (and finding Waldo in the picture—Wally to our UK readers).  While this is not the same character (and the client’s not searching for anything, we hope), it adds a touch of personality to what is a bit of a chore.

Are these pointers to the future as a model for telehealth design? Is adding a little personality to the clinically bare bones of monitoring appealing?  Will there be room for another entrant in the client self/interactive-monitoring area?  And will this help with the last two of the Four Big Questions that a company can most directly influence (who’s receiving the data, and who is ‘actioning’ it)?  We’ll be checking back with Waldo Health later this year.

And as always, we invite our readers to comment on these issues.

*  Raymond Loewy, perhaps the leading ‘father’ of industrial design, 1920s-1970s