Startups Revolutionize the Future of Health Care…is This Reform for the Better?

Student launched healthcare startup web application, BeloDoc, is reshaping the way patients and doctors deal with the treatment of skin care conditions. An apple a day keeps the doctor away, but with web applications at play…are doctors kept completely at bay? As technology progresses, a common fear amongst professionals in every realm is whether or not they’ll move forward with the technology, or get left behind in the p i x e l a t e d   d u s t of our rapidly evolving digital world. Perhaps the most crucial of players in this rather rapid evolvement are the startup applications, the individuals bold enough, crazy enough, excited enough to risk it all in order to make a large impact and make it fast. They’re ferocious, they’re fearless, they are, as Forbes fittingly states, “the people that join together and make a company and are still making the explicit decision to forgo stability in exchange for the promise of tremendous growth and the excitement of making immediate impact.”

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Startups are exciting because they’re new, and with the start of anything (especially companies), there’s seemingly so much potential for so much growth. But, when these brand new companies enter a space that individuals have long inhabited, and in the medical industry, a place that many would argue thrives off of stability, they don’t just have the opportunity to scare the bejeezus out of the individuals who have long occupied the space; they have the opportunity to re-shape what some may have initially considered a rather dormant landscape. In my interview with the founders of BeloDoc, an online skincare application, it seems looking forward, the medical landscape is anything but inactive.

Check out the imaging camera, Zack mentioned, that may be able to diagnose and detect psoriasis before doctors can here.  Currently, if you visit BeloDoc’s website, many of the pages explain that they’re out of town. Josh Gottesman and Zack Neff are hoping to move forward with a different dermatologist in the future, and with this transition currently in the works, they have had to just recently put the brakes on providing any further current care.

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Womp. Womp. You can view the Terms and Conditions of the application here, but during the transition the BeloDoc is unusable. This transition and the idea of change within BeloDoc, itself, brings up a much larger, much more important question about the role many startups play in shaping the future of medical care. Are these eager startups entering and attempting to alter the medical space too fast? Is their eagerness compromising reliable care? Well, from just one Yelp! review it’s hard to tell if these downfalls apply to the work BeloDoc does.

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Screenshot of Yelp! Review on BeloDoc

But, with Josh and Zack’s hopes of continuing to expand and to change, it’s interesting and important to note that their eagerness and “learn-as-they-go” mentality might have more support behind them than you’d think. They’re definitely not the only two rooting for the success of health care technologies run by eager entrepreneurs, and this wider support is evident in the establishment and flourishing of large organizations such as Blueprint Health, “a community of healthcare entrepreneurs helping build the next generation of healthcare IT companies.”

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Screenshot of Blueprint Health’s Twitter Feed

They invest $20,000 in 20 healthcare IT companies each year, and the Blueprint Health staff and mentors work intensively with the companies for three months, helping them to meet and to achieve their business goals. Essentially, there’s been an entire organization dedicated to fostering the success of entrepreneurs looking to revolutionize the world of healthcare with technology, and by the looks of the clients they support- revolutionize is exactly what these companies have done.

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From smarter pill bottles to avatar psychologists, the companies Blueprint Health has helped come to fruition are beyond what one would even consider possible (let alone common) within the healthcare sphere. And while the term “revolutionize” often connotes drastic change for the better- not all professional healthcare providers would agree that the seemingly looming, digitized future of their industry is revolutionary in a good way. And, while Zack and Josh stress the future of healthcare being supplemented by applications and devices created by entrepreneurs to enhance patient care- it isn’t all entirely supplemental. I sat down with professional healthcare provider, psychiatrist, Mark Soverinsky (MD), to talk about why he feels the startup companies powering these huge technological shifts in healthcare may not be entirely for the better.

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Dr. Mark Soverinsky, MD

Rebecca Soverinsky: How do you feel about startup companies, in general?

Mark Soverinsky: I think startups, themselves, are cool. They’re new and they have a lot of potential. They make something from basically nothing in a relatively short period of time, and I think the ones that have become most successful have just been realistic about their goals and achievements, maintaining a steady growth and not getting swept up in the initial take off.

Rebecca: Why do you think startup companies are problematic when entering the healthcare space?

Mark Soverinsky: I think they start to become problematic when they enter spaces that don’t thrive off of that same sort of rapid change and newness. Healthcare is where people come when they want reliability, stability and sureness that they’re being treated with the best possible care. I think innovation within healthcare is important and inevitable, but the influx of startups powering all of these random, different ideas to change the field is just unnecessary. It creates more uncertainty. People just want good doctors. Why do we need applications to do that?

Rebecca Soverinsky: Being that you’re a psychiatrist, how do you feel about the fact that there is currently a startup web application called, that provides patients with access to a licensed healthcare professional through video chat appointments?

Mark Soverinsky: I think that’s completely ridiculous! I could go on about this for a while, but I won’t get carried away because it’ll just be me getting more frustrated. But, this is the perfect example of some of the ridiculousness that can come out of startups entering a space and trying to innovate to a point that it’s almost too convenient. It crosses the line of convenience and becomes outlandish, rather than practical. I went to medical school, and other doctors with my same education would back me up in the understanding that so much of the benefit of psychotherapy is in the face-to-face communication between the patient and the physician. You can’t really replace that with a video chat- it’s just not the same. That’s like saying if you’re in a different country and you’re immensely homesick, that talking to your mom on FaceTime would be the same and reap the same benefits as being with her in person.

Rebecca Soverinsky: What about more supplemental things like MyFitnessPal, an application that helps you track your dietary needs? Or patient portals for organizing information?

Mark Soverinsky: Look, I’m very old fashioned when it comes to this stuff, and it’s not just because I’m in my mid 50’s- plenty of my peers are using portals, but it’s harder in psychiatry because there are more privacy laws in place. Psychiatry aside, I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with the supplemental, but you were just talking to me about virtual mental health care, that’s really like replacing doctor visits altogether, and that’s where I take issue with the startups entering the medical space, creating things like that. People are full of ideas, especially entrepreneurs, and that’s great, but it’s easy to get carried away. When people are getting carried away with big ideas for technology in an industry that is dedicated to serving people with reliable care, to me, that’s not innovation it’s just problematic.

So just exactly how many healthcare providers are investing in healthcare applications to assist their practice?

As of the March 2015 study,  only 16% of doctors are currently using them in their work with patients and an underwhelming 28% plan to implement them within the next 5 years; HOWEVER, 86% of healthcare professionals believe the applications have the potential to increase their knowledge of patients’ conditions.

“Mobile apps for smartphones are changing the way doctors and their patients approach medicine and health issues”

“Patients with heart disease can send information about their heart rate straight to their doctors…Apps are improving healthcare professionals’ knowledge of their patients, while patients feel a lift in their quality of life.”

-Vincent DeRobertis, senior vice president of global healthcare at Research Now.

I’d be more than willing to trade in a slower process, messy paperwork and the logistical annoyances of office visits, if it consistently equated to the receiving of reliable and quality care, but as many of us know that’s not always the case. You can’t guarantee anything. Even if you’re seeing someone with a degree, even if you’re at an office that’s been running for 30 plus years, it doesn’t mean that every single visit and every single diagnosis is going to be perfect or accurate, and change is inevitable, but the change might be a slower process in a world where individuals are somewhat hesitant to adopt. Especially true, if you’re going off of last year’s figures that illustrate currently only 16% of doctors are actually using these applications to enhance their patient care. While it remains in question whether or not every health care provider is in favor of the way startups have began to reshape the field, and while there are pros and cons to the startup health applications’ presences, it’s no doubt that the future of medicine will continue to evolve, and the evolution looks, admittedly, pretty cool…

This question mirrors the many greater inquiries that surface when technology enters any space:

Are laptops in classrooms good or bad?

Are smartphones making us smarter or dumber?

These are the seemingly philosophical questions that arise with any innovation, and they may never have a definite answer. In the medical field’s question of:

Are health care applications revolutionizing the future of the field for the better?

There will be a similarly indefinite debate, and it may or may not come down to the application producers (the entrepreneurs) vs. the application consumers  (the doctors). So, whether or not the altering of the health care sphere by health care applications is for the better, one thing’s for sure, it’s definitely changing, and who better to lead a revolution with the potential to directly impact so many people than those crazy enough to dive right in there? The startups.




Dylan Barth: Journalistic Videographer

It’s only fitting that a publication started up by two students at Northwestern would evolve into a journalistic platform highlighting the many talents and varying journalistic styles of students at campuses across the nation. Spoon University is a start-up publication turned website that claims to be “building a network for millenials, by millenials.” On the About Page of the site, Spoon University says it’s “helping teach the next generation of journalists, marketers and event planners the best practices in digital media.”

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The NiemanLab report brings up a very important question, and one that Spoon University has already addressed itself. “What if news outlets decided to flip their model, so that the editorial staff was not subservient to the brand, but the “brand” become a platform for talent?” Well, this is exactly what Spoon has done- you gotta hand it to the start-ups, they always seem to be two steps ahead of the game. Spoon University is a website that follows the flipped model where co-founders Mackenzie Barth and Sarah Adler aren’t the ones writing the articles or defining the brand, but rather the 1,000s of contributors from over 100 different campuses are the voices and personalities that have shaped the digital publication to make it what it is today. Spoon has become a platform for showcasing the differing journalistic talents and styles of students across the globe. (Yes, globe– they have chapters at McGill in Canada and the University of Delhi in India). Talk about a far-reaching effect.

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Portion of the giant list of Universities that contribute to the website courtesy of

The reading goes on to make a point that “many outlets are getting their ‘talent’ out there increasingly, having them do more media to help promote company brands.” Further promoting and leveraging the Spoon brand, the publication has dedicated an entire team to creating recipe videos, which often get millions of views on Facebook and drive a large audience to the website. There is now an entire section on Spoon called, “WATCH” where consumers can go to view videos, but this section didn’t exist at Spoon’s initial conception. As the reading notes, and as Spoon has followed, the website has helped leverage its brand by dedicating an entire time to creating these videos, resulting in an entire section of the website and increased viewership. They’re also constantly trying to get contributors who normally write articles involved in the video production process.

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Post in Spoon University Network Facebook group, encouraging contributors to try video

One of Spoon’s video contributors, Dylan Barth, spoke to me about her experience leveraging Spoon’s brand through the creation of her videos, and how she has created a brand for herself with her video-production niche.

Rebecca Soverinsky: Was video always your thing? Or, did you ever write?

Dylan Barth:Throughout middle school and high school, I had always liked writing, and my parents constantly told me I was a great writer, but I never felt that confident in my writing skills. My freshman year, I started on Spoon (as a writer), but I knew I wanted to mostly make videos for them-there just wasn’t an established video section at the time. So, before I really started making videos regularly for Spoon, I had written a few articles here and there, but I knew video was what I wanted to do from the start.


Rebecca Soverinsky: Do you feel like, now, since your videos have become so successful, it would seem out of character  or “off-brand” for you to contribute articles to Spoon?

Dylan Barth: I really feel that making videos is my strong-suit and that I should definitely stick to doing video work more than writing full articles. But, with each video I create, I am required to write a little paragraph to go with it, so it’s not totally out of character for me to be writing for Spoon. I’m very familiar with the “Spoon voice,” But I definitely consider myself to solely a video contributor for Spoon. I’ve built that sort of brand for myself.


Rebecca Soverinsky: Have people ever become familiar with your videos first and with Spoon second?

Dylan Barth: Not usually. Since Spoon’s Facebook page is mostly where my videos are shared and published (besides Spoon’s website and my own Facebook page sharing links), most people will see first see a Spoon video and then, after, they’ll realize it’s my video. However, A lot of my friends will say to me, “I can always tell which videos are yours!” Just because of the way I film and the word choice and captioning I provide to enhance the videos.


Rebecca Soverinsky: Speaking of enhancement, how do you think video has enhanced Spoon’s brand, and where do you see video taking Spoon in the future?

Dylan Barth: I think video has been a hugely important and beneficial addition to Spoon’s brand. Facebook’s automatic-play feature on videos, as you scroll through your newsfeed, makes it so easy to watch and share videos, and this has really helped Spoon grow their following. Video has also helped Spoon gain a following on Snapchat, which is another amazing platform for growing a brand. Spoon’s videos have been featured on Food Network’s Snapchat Discover, which reaches millions of viewers (obviously helping get Spoon’s name out there.) I think the possibilities are endless for Spoon’s future with video. They are still working on perfecting the formatting and the style of their videos, and they are constantly improving. Video has (and will continue) to help Spoon connect and partner with other companies and grow their brand in that way, as well.

Dylan has used her personal brand as a journalistic videographer to help enhance Spoon’s brand, while further establishing one for herself. Going forward, she foresees that video work will be something she’ll continue to do, and maybe one day, she’ll contribute her talents to other publications and platforms to both enhance and continue to grow her personal brand and further catapult the brands of other publications. While her video work has branded her as such, it’s helped her find a niche, and ultimately, by niching her talents, she’s been able to greatly explore the depths of this specific skill set.

One of Barth’s recipe videos

BRCK: The Solid Base for Start-ups of the Future

Imagine you’re a coder. You’re coding away, engrossed in your work, which just so happens to be the newest software for health care technology, and this software is going to change the world, when suddenly- darkness. The power goes out.

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You lose all your work. The time you spent, wasted. The progress you made, pointless. You’re probably thinking, “That’s bananas. Anyone working, in the United States, on a software that could change the world would never be in this position,” and you’re probably right. But, what if you were designing software that could change the world, and you weren’t from the United States? What if you were from Nairobi, Kenya? Does this seem more plausible? This is entirely plausible, and entirely the basis of BRCK, a device created in 2014 by a technology start-up team that outsmarts both electricity and problematic Internet connection due to poor infrastructure.

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The device acts as a back up to the Internet, so that when the power goes out and an individual is working on a world-changing technology, it connects over to the nearest GSM (Global System for Mobile Communication) network. As the picture so eloquently states, it’s “your backup generator for the Internet.”

Said best in a TED about the device talk given by Juliana Rotich, an information technology professional,  “Mobile connectivity in Africa is pervasive.” (full video can be found here) Developers of BRCK wanted to leverage that pervasive connectivity, and thus, the device was conceived. It also has an eight-hour battery life, so if and when electricity goes down, the BRCK can act as the base of your work-life, just as bricks act as the bases of many people’s home lives. For rural areas (where brick homes, as well as Internet connection are much less common), BRCK can be that primary source of connection.

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Photo courtesy of

As shown in the above graphic, you can have an on-ram for “the Internet of things.” You could, essentially, attach a weather station to this device and successfully achieve Internet connection in very remote areas. There would have been so much less blood in the movie, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, had the characters had this handy-dandy BRCK device to connect to the internet and to contact help in the remote area of which they were stranded, and ultimately, well, massacred. Eeeesh…poor girl.

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But seriously…what does this mean for the start-up nation? Forget nation. What does this mean for the start-up globe? This means everything. In order to grow businesses and products, connectivity is essential. How can entrepreneurs expect to catapult and launch their businesses and products without having unlimited and boundless access to the people across the world? With this evolutionary product on the market for only $250, small companies, global companies, and really all companies, have access to more connection and more power-saving resources than ever before.

For start-up businesses just starting out, a group of people may be working out of a barn house. This small and relatively cheap device, for the services it provides, gives customers the ultimate form of convenience for their circumstances. BRCK is making connectivity just as accessible for the entrepreneur working out of a field in Kenya as it is for the CEO working out of the high rise in Manhattan. Not only was the product, itself, created and currently being run by a technological start-up, it has the potential to pay it forward to its fellow start-up peers in both the near future and in the long run. Even more inspiring and providing further evidence of BRCK’s long term reimbursements to future start-up companies, BRCK has founded a new model for tech-based teaching in Africa.

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BRCK Education was launched in Nairobi, Kenya to address the country’s education problems, including a lack of access to technology and a lack of overall technology literacy.  Forbes says,“Clever confluence of technology and entrepreneurial spirit is the way it has been designed to teach both unknowledgeable teachers and children about technology.” A device that pays it forward to both its fellow start-up starters and the future (potentially start-up powering) brains of the world? I know what you’re thinking, “This innovation is hitting me like a ton of bricks.” Me, too.

In an article published by WIRED, the man who wants to turn clothing into modular gadgets says, “Communication has always been the drive for technology…to enable communication in an organic, smart-phone free way,” he’s creating clothing that is embedded with wifi access points, a GPS, a crowdsourced playlist and a battery pack. He’s creating, essentially, a wearable communication hub. A communication hub similar to the goals laid out by BRCK.

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In a sense, BRCK aims to provide this same communication necessity to countries and infrastructures with limited access to this often taken-for-granted luxury. If the United States is at the point where we’re able to create wifi-ladden clothing for convenience beyond belief, BRCK is a much more modest and more heroic version of this convenience. It’s providing those, who aren’t normally granted the luxury of necessary communication, with access to an affordance that so many individuals, in more affluent countries with reliable infrastructures, don’t even think twice about. Seriously, we’re at the point of wearable wifi. Although this device might not seem as snazzy as a wifi jumpsuit, the least the start-up developers of BRCK can do is provide connectivity to places that normally lack it, and hey, maybe someday Kenya will be on the fast-track to wearable wifi, too.

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Photo Assignment

This is the story of a student’s usage of Companion, a mobile application created by three students at the University of Michigan that allows lone travelers the extra precaution and general peace of mind by asking a friend to track their location as they travel to their destination. You can find out more about Companion here 



Visualizing the Up of Start-Ups

Silicon Valley’s title as the epicenter for startups is no joking matter, and this data visualization created by Business Insider makes the seemingly mystical land of growing innovation more tangible than ever. As they say, seeing is believing, and that’s essentially the core of what’s most effective in this data visualization project that examines the growth of start-ups in not only San Francisco, but in New York and Austin, as well. The visualizations of all three cities are time lapses from 2005-2014, and through the passage of time, the viewer can see where venture funding, dedicated to fostering growth within these start-up companies, is going.

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San Francisco’s 2014 venture capital poured into start-ups

San Francisco’s growth is particularly mesmerizing, as it captures the more recent explosion (2009-2014) of start-up funding and essentially squashes the sizes of the other two cities represented, New York and Austin. The viewer can see that, while both cities definitely have a startup presence, San Francisco’s is much greater and spread out. It’s also interesting to see how New York start-ups are more keen on the “hip” areas of New York, such as Soho and Flatiron, as opposed to the more traditional Midtown. (If you don’t believe me that Soho is one of the coolest spots in NYC, check out this Instagram account).

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New York’s VC funding of start-ups (Soho is where the black is, with a lot of overlap)
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Austin’s VC funding of start-ups

And lastly, sweet ol’ Austin-just barely keeping up in terms of funding. Looking at Austin’s map, it’s made clear to the viewer that they haven’t received nearly as much start-up funding in as many places as both San Francisco and New York have, but after watching the time-lapse it’s clear that it’s been a relatively steady growth. Contrastingly, New York and, even more so, San Francisco have a recent accelerating growth in start-up funds within their cities.

This visualization is effective for a couple of reasons:

  1. It grounds it’s data in location.  
    1. It’s not just a pretty visualization of numbers, it’s data collected on funding, and it’s connected to an exact area as part of a major city. It could have been a data visualization of the amount of funding in each of these cities, but it took it one step further by pinpointing exact areas where funding is going in the cities.
  2. It looks at three different places to give a more comprehensive view
    1. It’s not just Silicon Valley. It’s three major cities, two of which aren’t usually as regarded for their funding in start-ups. The inclusion and visualization of the funding of both NY and Austin shows these two cities deserve to be “put on the map” (sorry, couldn’t resist) for their dedication to fostering start-ups.
  3. It’s simple
    1. It’s very straight forward. Here’s the map. Here’s the city. Watch the bubbles, look at the time and see where and when funding has been allocated to growing start-ups.

As cool as the visualization is, it definitely comes with it’s disadvantages, disadvantages that could be accounted for in more traditional forms of journalism. In traditional journalism, people are able to understand why, and this is approximately the downfall rooted within data visualization. Nieman Lab talks about the appeal of explanatory journalism, noting that “the complicated how-and-why questions are what we need to understand.” It’s one thing for journalism to tell us what’s happening, it’s another (and arguably more valuable) for it to connect the dots and contextualize information. It’s really hard for data visualization to completely explain to the reader why something is happening, because the more complex the visualization, the more confusing it gets. The more confusing the visualization gets, and suddenly, it loses the advantage it has, that being the ability to effectively conveying information because of simple and engaging imagery.

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This particular data visualization lacks a lot of why, which is why it’s not entirely effective. It tells the viewer three simple things 1) where the venture capital funding of start-ups is going 2) when it’s being given and 3) what it looks like in relation to two other cities. But a big downfall, is that it doesn’t explain what start-ups are being benefitted or how much money is going to them. Even more disconnecting, the dots don’t show, relatively, where certain start-ups are getting more funding than others. It’s not like the bigger the bubble on the map, the more funding given to that particular start-up. It simply shows where funding is given and at what period of time. Even the creator of the data visualization maps, Karnik, says this particular visualization isn’t totally comprehensive. He says, “Cities have very different histories and social dynamics that can either foster or stifle entrepreneurship” and notes he “would like to look at population growth and development versus the rate of venture funding to gain further insights.” Maybe this would give the reader a bit more understanding of why certain places are experiencing more growth than others, but even still, words and contextual explanation are things traditional journalism could give information like this, and it’s something data visualization can’t.