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Sports Startup Of The Week: Orca Health

Meet the new companies changing how we play sport. This week we focus on medical app Orca Health.

For many, injury is part and parcel of the sport they play.

From elite athlete to the Sunday League amateur, everyone faces the same risk of a prolonged period away from the sport. Anyone who has been unfortunate enough to spend a spell on the sidelines knows just how frustrating it can be at times to make sense the nature of your injury.

Countless trips to the physiotherapist or doctor often result in vague understandings about why rehabilitation work needs to be done. Breakdowns in communication and understanding between the medical practitioner and patient are a common occurrence. Very often the patient feels talked at and not talked with.

At the Web Summit last month, we sat down with Jared Huish, vice president of Orca Health, a US company trying to readdress the balance between patient and doctor.


Who are Orca Health and what do they do?

Simply put, Orca Health are a private, software-based company in Utah that develops mobile patient education software for physicians on Apple iOS. Through the use of interactive apps on Apple devices, Orca gives healthcare professionals a better and easier way to communicate with their patients.

Rather than being given a lecture about the nature of their condition, patients are walked step-by-step through the nature of their ailments with visual images, videos and in-depth notes. Once the patient leaves the doctor’s office, they receive a personalised email with all the content which the doctor has shown them.


Why is it important?

According to research done by Orca Health, more than half of all visits to a doctor’s office in the United States don’t result in optimal care.

The reason?

Patients don’t understand what their doctor is telling them. Identified as a ‘low health literacy’ issue, misunderstandings cost the US economy roughly $200 billion a year.

Patients don’t understand what’s being explained, doctors are struggling to explain it and everyone is suffering. In an effort to ease the process of rehabilitation, Orca have developed a series of iOS apps aimed at allowing physicians to educate their clients about their medical conditions and possible surgical procedures.


Does it work?

This is the important question right?

Research indicates that the use of the Orca Health apps has improved patient retention rates upwards of 15 %, meaning that more and more patients are beginning to follow their health carer’s advice.

As patients are beginning to understand, to a much greater extent why they are injured or ill and what they need to do, they are becoming much more proactive in their own healing process. Greater retention rates hopefully means much better recovery rates and of course, greater satisfaction for both doctor and patient.


Where did the idea come from?

The impetus for the application, in part, stemmed from Orca Health’s CEO, Mat Berry’s, football injuries as a quarterback and team captain at BYU in Utah. Whilst his recurring hand injuries were always treated, Berry was never in control of his rehabilitation.

Doctors talked to him and not with him. Many years later, a conversation with his father, a noted spine surgeon, led Berry to design his first app, aimed at empowering both the patient and the doctor.

The result was SpineDecide, an app dealing with spinal injuries that gave doctors the opportunity to connect with patients on a much better scale.

Through the use of the interactive app, doctors could show patients exactly what the problem was, write personalised notes and draw up rehabilitation regimes right in front of the patient. This has been the formula used by Orca in all of their subsequent apps.

So far it’s proved highly successful. The company introduced its prototype in 2010 and since then has gained serious attention from medical practitioners throughout the world. What began as a US problem has seen doctors from India, Africa and everyone in between, make use of Orca technology.


What are some of the reasons for Orca’s success?

It’s cost efficient, easy to use and most importantly of all, it’s effective. Part of Orca’s success also stems from their willingness to listen to their customers.

Orca regularly takes suggestions from both doctors and patients about how to improve their service. The result has been a much crisper interface and a better experience for all involved.


How did Orca get funding?

Unlike many emerging companies, Orca’s initial financing did not come through seed funding. Instead the money was raised from eight participating physicians. In effect this mean that the investors were also the contributors. Luckily for all involved, early on it was clear their time and money was worth the effort.

Within a few days of releasing their first app into the US iTunes Store, Orca Health’s SpineDecide app shot to the number one spot for US Medical Apps. It would remain there for nine straight weeks.

Since then, over a dozen apps have been released by Orca to the approval of thousands of doctors. In 2013, the company teamed-up with Harvard Medical to co-produce two more apps.


What could it mean for sport?

Whilst Orca Health’s apps may be of use to doctors and physiotherapists dealing with elite level athletes, it is much more likely that their influence will be greater amongst people like you and me. Professional athletes have access to the best medical advice money can buy, have almost daily contact with their doctors and have the time to devote to rehabilitation.

For amateur or part-time athletes, the Orca Health apps offer the next best thing to daily contact with your doctor. If the retention rates found in US patients are anything to go by, the introduction of Orca Health apps into Irish sport could see fewer injured bodies hobbling around the pitch on a Sunday afternoon.


More Information

You can find out more about Orca Health from their website here

Conor Heffernan, Pundit Arena

About The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team. If you would like to join the team, drop us an email at write@punditarena.com.