Elder-care challenges prompt tech executives to create startups, apps

Elder-care challenges prompt tech executives to create startups, apps
Stephanie Tilenius' company launched Vida, a mobile app that lets patients consult with a team of professionals, including doctors, nurses and nutritionists, from their smartphone.

SAN FRANCISCO - For years, Google Inc's commerce chief, Stephanie Tilenius, held a demanding job and helped oversee the medical care of her parents, an experience that led her to leave the Internet search giant in 2012 and start a company to help patients combat chronic disease.

Earlier this year, Tilenius' company launched Vida, a mobile app that lets patients consult with a team of professionals, including doctors, nurses and nutritionists, from their smartphone. The programme costs $15 (£9.64) a week and includes reminders to take medication. Caregivers and family members can request access to the app to keep up to date with a patient's progress.

Tilenius said her father, who eventually died from heart disease, could not afford regular medical consultations that could have helped him lose weight and manage stress.

"There was a total lack of resources on my parents' side," Tilenius said in an interview.

A growing number of high-level Silicon Valley executives from the "sandwich generation" - those who are simultaneously caring for children and parents - have left their jobs to launch mobile and digital health startups. In interviews with Reuters, many say they have been prompted by their experience of helping ageing parents with one or more chronic conditions, and the discovery of how the US healthcare system fails to serve them.

Some say they are finding both customers and partners in the large technology employers where they once worked.

INFLUX OF SILICON VALLEY EXECS

After a similar experience caring for an ailing parent, fellow Google employee Munjal Shah left the company in October 2011 to develop an app called Hi.Q, which aims to improve people's health knowledge. Groupon Inc's former product development chief, Suneel Gupta, quit his job in December 2012 to start a nutrition app called Rise and support people like his parents, who struggled with diabetes, cancer and obesity.

Caring.com, a community forum and information provider for caregivers, was started by Andy Cohen, who said he was inspired to leave his job as a vice president at SuccessFactors after his parents fell ill. SuccessFactors, which makes talent management software, was acquired by SAP SE in 2011.

The infusion of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs into healthcare is already making an impact by advancing the "triple aim of better care at lower cost, with better service," said Aneesh Chopra, the former chief technology officer for the United States and now the co-founder of a startup called Hunch Analytics.

In the past, it had been tough to recruit talent from the largest tech companies to tackle healthcare issues, said Missy Krasner, managing director for health and life sciences for Box, a cloud computing company.

"The view is that health is very insular and regulated," said Krasner, who previously worked at Google Health.

The division aimed to store personal health records but shut down in 2012 after it failed to gain much traction.

Since 2012, Google has pushed more deeply into health and ageing with wearable tracking devices. It backs a biotech initiative called Calico to research and potentially combat diseases the afflict the elderly, in partnership with drugmaker AbbVie Inc. Apple Inc has also announced plans to move into healthcare, with an initial focus on fitness and wellness.

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