Heartbeat: Cardiology, Modernized
Heartbeat is a medical practice company that combines technology and specialist-level knowledge to diagnose and manage heart disease—and its risk factors—as early as possible through a comprehensive program. I had the chance to speak with two of its founders, Jeffrey Wessler (second from the left) and Aakriti Gupta (fourth from the left), about the company, including everything from its aha moment to the company’s evolution over time.
Alex Culafi (AC): To start off, I’d like to learn more about your background. What were you doing leading up to the founding of Heartbeat?
Jeffrey Wessler (JW): My experiences to date have been in academic cardiology, focused primarily on clinical care and research involving trials and cohort studies. What I learned first-hand was the incredible emphasis on advanced care in cardiovascular disease, managing the sickest patients with the most advanced therapies available. This left me feeling slightly uneasy; it’s good that we’re able to care for people once they get sick, but why aren’t we doing more to prevent disease in the first place? As my focus shifted toward early and upfront care, I began seeing the potential for a proactive approach that targeted younger and healthier people before they got too sick.
Aakriti Gupta (AG): Through my experiences from medical training and research fellowships, I have come to appreciate the enormous role played by heart disease in population health and the multiple ways through which cardiovascular medicine can improve people’s lives from prevention to cure, from bench to bedside, and from population to policy. Over the years, I have grown increasingly interested in healthcare quality improvement and the broader socio-economic, demographic and behavioral forces influencing patient outcomes that I have tried to explore through my research. The natural next step for me was to draw upon my background and develop methods to improve healthcare delivery. This is what inspired me to work toward a data-oriented learning healthcare delivery model with patients at the center, and that constantly seeks to customize the intensity of diagnostic and therapeutic efforts based on individual risk and a balance among safety, efficacy, and cost.
AC: Tell me the story of how the company was founded. What was the aha moment?
AG: When in cardiology training, I was really impressed by the degree of technological advancements in cardiology that allow for complex interventions in patients with blockages in the blood vessels of their heart, implanting artificial heart devices and replacing heart valves. While all of these interventions are potentially life-saving, they come into play once patients have developed advanced heart disease. And while these are great tools for us as physicians to offer to patients fighting for their lives, we are not able to restore them to their baseline quality-of-life. And knowing that heart disease is a lifestyle disease, preventable in 80% of the cases, always made me wonder why technology was being utilized to our patients’ advantage only on the far right of the disease spectrum and not on the left, something that could prevent progression to the right, and could have huge implications for patient outcomes and costs.
I used to have very spirited discussions in our call room with my fellow colleagues, Jeff and Edo, who shared my dilemma. After a particularly intense clinical rotation in the advanced cardiac care unit where we took care of patients on life support machines, we came up with the idea of developing a healthcare delivery model that utilizes technology to optimize care on the left side of the disease spectrum. That is, it focuses on prevention so that patients never have to need life support in the first place. And just like that, while getting lunch in our cafeteria, we called it Heartbeat.
AC: How has the company/product evolved since its founding last year?
JW: We found our CTO, Nayan Jain, who has built healthcare tech in the risk management, scaled services, practice management, and patient experience domains and was able to take us from concept to product in a matter of months. We then opened our clinical doors and began to see patients in earnest, testing assumptions about what is necessary to bring younger healthier patients in and give them an experience that changes their understanding of heart disease and health. We went live with insurance this past summer and opened a second office and we’re now in full swing assessing patients online for elevated cardiovascular risk and bringing those who need it in for diagnostic testing and ongoing management.
AC: Who are your customers? Any examples you can offer?
AG: We pride ourselves in the fact that we are relevant to most people. Given that majority of the people are at risk of developing heart disease in their lifetime, getting plugged in with Heartbeat can place them ahead of their disease curve and can potentially prevent or delay the onset of heart disease for them. Having said that, we find that young professionals are increasingly utilizing our services given the ability to engage with us seamlessly despite their busy work schedules. One of the recent success stories is that of a 40-year-old gentleman, a lawyer, who came to Heartbeat for a routine risk assessment and did not have known heart disease. He started having chest pain while undergoing a treadmill test at our facility. Dr. Paz, the treating cardiologist, diagnosed him with a heart attack and arranged for him to receive the necessary services including a coronary angiogram and bypass surgery immediately. Three days later, the patient was discharged in good health. He is an active member of the Heartbeat community now and engages in regular physical activity and a healthy diet regime, which he reports to our online platform on a regular basis. Patients like him constantly remind us of how privileged we are to be able to make a difference in our patients’ lives and encourage us to constantly strive to improve further.
AC: What are some of the cool things you’re working on right now at the company?
JW: Our focus right now is on elevating the in-person experience to one that is simple, fun, visual, and personal. This means a streamlined visit that starts online, involves no waiting, prioritizes time with you and the doctor, along with same-day testing and results delivered to your phone in a clear and visual way that becomes the foundation to your ongoing management.
AG: I enjoy working with data and constantly seek to learn ways to improve data visualization. We are working on developing methods to improve communication of risk for heart disease with interactive visualization techniques, that Heartbeat users will be able to utilize. We also strongly believe in developing Heartbeat as a learning healthcare system powered by patient-data. We working on developing methods to harness the troves of data collected passively in our electronic medical records to inform our quality improvement measures. We are also developing Heartbeat as a platform to enable the conduct of cost-effective and efficient healthcare research with our patients as collaborators.
AC: What comes next for Heartbeat?
JW: The next 12 months will focus on improving the overall flow of a patient through the world of cardiology, including how someone decides to see a cardiologist, who they see and where and when they go. By focusing on the communication of cardiovascular risk, we’re branding the cardiovascular care experience and organizing the funnel into cardiology care to make it as easy as possible to get to work on improving your heart health.
AC: What kind of positions are you hiring for right now?
JW: We’re looking for great engineers, including a Principal Software Engineer. You can visit us at https://heartbeathealth.com/careers to find out more.
AC: Any final thoughts?
AG: Now, more than ever, healthcare is at the crossroads of technology, data science, precision medicine, and implementation science, and we owe it to our patients to focus on the convergence of these elements to provide the best possible care for the best possible outcomes. That’s precisely what we are trying to do at Heartbeat. We hope to partner with primary care organizations, hospitals, and most importantly our patients to expand our reach and impact.
JW: Heartbeat’s vision is to implement a preventive cardiology program for younger and healthier people before they get sick. By improving the experience of getting your heart checked, we’re arming you with an understanding of what your cardiovascular risk means and what you can do to fix it, and in doing so, we’re creating the largest network of cardiovascular patients and providers positioned to prevent or delay the onset of heart disease by 7-10 years.