Reframing chronic disease management – with George McLendon PhD, Founder of SensorRX; and VP for Therapeutics Research & Development at Atrium Health

On the surface of it, this week’s podcast is about a new migraine solution.  But, the bigger story here is really about reframing how we think about chronic disease management and rethinking the importance of self-reported patient health data.  This story is also about the power and elegance of simplicity; the value of customer discovery and agile prototyping; and the absolute primacy of paying attention to the user interface interface/consumer experience.

What’s particularly refreshing about the way this product was created is that it was developed through listening to patients and providers.  Listening to patients, who define value; and to providers, who create it – and being open to continuously revamping one’s design based on what one is hearing and observing.  

This week’s guest is Dr. George McLendon.  George has an impressive academic & entrepreneurial background.  He’s published over 200 research papers in chemistry, physics & biology; and holds multiple patents, which has led to the founding of several successful life science companies.

George and his colleagues at SensorRX focused on headaches for a number of reasons.  Over 40 million people in the U.S. and nearly 1 billion people worldwide suffer from migraine headaches – making it one of the most prevalent chronic medical conditions.  The impact on U.S. employers is also profound – reaching tens of billions of dollars a year in medical costs and lost productivity.  

The customer discovery process that George and his team took led them to a number of observations and learnings. Here are a few of their discoveries you’ll hear about in this interview:

  • Physicians made their decision about which migraine medications to use, and the medication dosing based on only 4 or 5 pieces of patient reported symptoms.
  • Patients grossly under reported their symptoms – more specifically, the frequency and intensity of the headaches they had been experiencing.  In their studies, the SensorRX team discovered that well over 50% of patients were under reporting their symptoms!
  • As a result of this under reporting, providers were under treating the migraine headaches – leading to months and years of prolonged headaches.  It was this key pivotal discovery – the critical importance of reliable self-reported patient health data – which became the centerpiece of their solution.
  • Patients would not use an app that took longer than 15 seconds to record and document their symptoms.  People wanted a quick and easy product.

These realizations led the team to construct an app that literally takes 12 – 15 seconds to use each time a patient has a migraine.  The app records the necessary pieces of data; and can convey that info to the treating provider in a number of ways that makes it easier for the provider to treat the patients’ headaches more appropriately.  

In their unpublished trials to date, the team has witnessed an overall improvement in quality-of-life scores of over 30%, with many patients seeing much greater improvements.  This standardized quality-of-life survey – known as MIDAS – measures the negative impact headaches have on one’s work and social life. Clearly, the efficacy has yet to be proven in more rigorous, peer-reviewed studies; but the anecdotal reports to date are compelling.  

George and his team are also applying this approach to other conditions – such as asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, epilepsy and emphysema… conditions in which patient reported health data play a critical role in determining how physicians treat their patients.  

There is another part of this story here that shouldn’t be lost – Dr. McLendon’s intention.  One only need listen to his telling of the story of ‘Sally’ and her daughter to appreciate that his overarching mission is to alleviate the avoidable suffering of patients with chronic conditions. This is a trait shared by most of the leaders and innovators interviewed on this podcast series.  The lesson here may be that empathetic purpose & intention are key factors in redesigning successful healthcare solutions from the consumer/patient perspective.  And, that may be one of the most significant lessons we can derive from this and other episodes of ‘Creating a New Healthcare’.