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April 23, 2018

Catalia Health: Innovation at the intersection of healthcare and technology

Aging is fast becoming one the most significant social transformations of the 21st century and Cory Kidd, founder and CEO of Catalia Health, is motivated to face the challenges that are bound to come.

Daniel de Wolff

Cory Kidd has been working at the intersection of healthcare and technology for more than 20 years, including his time as a masters and PhD student at the MIT Media Lab. It’s a period he refers to as the basis of his current work as founder and CEO of Catalia Health. He’s spent significant time working to solve one of the big healthcare issues of our time: With a rapidly aging population, the extent of chronic conditions has become more and more prevalent. According to the United Nations, aging is fast becoming one the most significant social transformations of the 21st century. In fact, it’s estimated that there are more than 960 million people, or 13 percent of the population, aged 60 or older around the globe, with a growth rate of 3 percent per year, making this age group the fastest growing of all. By 2030 the projected number of older persons is expected to reach 1.4 billion. The fact that we are living longer, in part due to improved healthcare, means that people are dealing with healthcare issues we simply didn’t have to face in years prior. Cory Kidd and Catalia Health are facing these challenges head on.

Cory Kidd,
Founder and CEO of Catalia Health

With far-reaching implications across social sectors and industries, Kidd says it’s no surprise that much of what we hear and read on the subject is focused on the economic and delivery aspects of healthcare. But on an individual level, one of the key challenges that patients face is simply how to properly manage illnesses on their own on a day-to-day basis. Kidd addresses the issue: “At Catalia Health, one of our main concerns is really trying to understand the challenges patients are facing when it comes to sticking with therapy.” Kidd has found that the greatest personal issues for patients aren’t about remembering or forgetting to do something—taking medication, for example. “Rather, the challenges tend to focus around symptoms, side effect management, and psychological issues that are common for people dealing with a chronic disease,” says Kidd. The advent of new technologies, including Catalia’s robot healthcare coach that has garnered significant media attention, may just solve these problems.

With Kidd at the helm, Catalia Health is delivering a care management system to patients. “We’re not selling a piece of hardware or software. Rather, we are providing a service to help engage patients,” says Kidd. To understand what he means, we have to first understand the status quo. At present, healthcare facilities either send someone to a patient’s home or, much more commonly, a nurse calls a patient a few times a month. And of course, these days there are more devices and apps on the market than ever before; most of them involve glowing, beeping devices that serve as reminders and have screens that patients must navigate, as with any other application.

At Catalia Health, however, the interface is unique: each patient is provided with a small robot named Mabu that can be sat on the kitchen counter or coffee table. “There are very specific reasons we use this type of interface,” says Kidd. “And the reason we use Mabu the robot has a little to do with technology but quite a bit more to do with psychology.” While most people spend an inordinate amount of time communicating via phone and computer screens, the simple fact is that human beings are more engaged during face-to-face conversations. Not only do we pay more attention and find ourselves more involved, but it turns out that in-person conversations function to provide an essential sense of credibility. In fact, Kidd, during his time as a researcher at MIT, explored this very phenomenon and found that the importance of credibility and trustworthiness provided by face-to-face interactions carried over into the world of technology. “In other words, when we put a robot in front of a patient that can literally make eye contact with them,” this leads to the aforementioned psychological effects of credibility associated with a person-to-person, or in this case person-to-robot, interaction.

In terms of technology, Kidd points out that Mabu, the interactive voice-enabled robot interface, functions in much the same way as many of the devices that we are familiar with today—it allows for back-and-forth conversation in a similar way to Amazon Echo, Siri or Google Home. What’s really happening behind the scenes is that Catalia Health’s proprietary machine learning algorithms are generating conversations tailored to each individual patient. “We’re building models in the background,” says Kidd, “medically, psychologically and biographically about each patient, and we’re using our AI algorithms to create a conversation for that patient instantaneously.” Catalia Health then gathers the data, maintaining HIPAA compliance throughout, and reports to the doctor, care manager nurse, or pharmacist. “While the technology that makes Mabu tick is complex, the interface to the patients is as simple as a conversation,” Kidd assures us.

It’s an exciting time for the San Francisco-based startup with deep MIT roots. Catalia Health is currently in the process of launching Mabu to hundreds of patients in early 2018. And they’re going out at scale. Most of their partners are hospital systems and large pharmaceutical companies delivering healthcare management programs. “Right now, we are rolling out our heart failure product with Kaiser Permanente in California, which is particularly exciting,” says Kidd. And while Catalia Health’s current clients are based in the U.S., they are in talks with customers and partners around the world. Though he’s understandably hesitant to share details at this time, we can expect public announcements over the course of 2018, as Catalia Health starts rolling out to patients and clients at scale. And the world is taking notice. Kidd was recently named Entrepreneur of the Week by Longevity Network, and the traction gained by Catalia Health is evidenced by spotlights from media heavyweights including Wired and the New York Times.

For Kidd, becoming a part of STEX25 is particularly gratifying. “It’s been a lot of fun for me as an MIT alum to witness the evolution of an already robust Institute ecosystem develop around entrepreneurialism and innovation. I experienced it during my time at MIT, and it’s grown tremendously, so to be invited to participate in STEX25 is amazing.” While Catalia already has a host of important commercial clients in the healthcare domain, teaming up with MIT ILP provides an opportunity for greater outreach to even more potential industry partners.

As we move through 2018 propelled by the latest innovations, Kidd takes time to reflect: “I’ve been in this field for more than 20 years. The practical applications coming to the fore in just the past two to three years have been astounding. It’s an incredibly exciting time as the crossover between technology companies and healthcare companies becomes more prominent.” Given that these are Kidd’s fields of interest, the cross-pollination occurring is particularly intriguing. “For Catalia Health,” says Kidd, “we’re inspired by the prospect of helping more people around the world than ever before.”

About MIT Startup Exchange, STEX25, and MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program (ILP)
MIT Startup Exchange actively promotes collaboration and partnerships between MIT-connected startups and industry. Qualified startups are those founded and/or led by MIT faculty, staff, or alumni, or are based on MIT-licensed technology. Industry participants are principally members of MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program (ILP).

MIT Startup Exchange maintains a propriety database of over 1,500 MIT-connected startups with roots across MIT departments, labs and centers; it hosts a robust schedule of startup workshops and showcases, and facilitates networking and introductions between startups and corporate executives.

STEX25 is a startup accelerator within MIT Startup Exchange, featuring 25 “industry ready” startups that have proven to be exceptional with early use cases, clients, demos, or partnerships, and are poised for significant growth. STEX25 startups receive promotion, travel, and advisory support, and are prioritized for meetings with ILP’s 230 member companies.

MIT Startup Exchange and ILP are integrated programs of MIT Corporate Relations.