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PETALUMA -- WellFX, a technology start-up in Petaluma, recently secured $5 million in Series A funding from private investment firm CMT Ventures, which will help the company embark on a platform that aims to integrate cloud-based social media with some of the region’s health care providers and their patient bases.

[caption id="attachment_58135" align="alignleft" width="180" caption="Jock Putney"][/caption]

With the emergence of social media such as Facebook and Twitter, to name just a couple, health care providers in particular have been looking for ways to tap into potentially vast networks of consumers that increasingly use the internet for health inquiries, said Jock Putney, president and chief executive officer, adding that the potential of such a connection could lead to better health outcomes and reduced health care costs.

[caption id="attachment_58134" align="alignright" width="180" caption="Jeff Thompson"][/caption]

Mr. Putney and co-founder Jeff Thompson, who is chief information officer, both have experience in the health care arena. Mr. Thompson helped found HealthPro Solutions, which was later sold to WebMD.

“Providers are trying to use traditional social media, and we knew that in 2010 that wasn’t going to be possible,” Mr. Putney said. The traditional social media outlets aren’t compatible for health care, Mr. Putney said, because the fundamental business model is to mine personal information for advertisers. “The minute you upload any information, (the social medial outlet) essentially owns that information,” he said.

That’s where WellFX hopes to come in -- providing a platform that is secure and encrypted and geared toward providers, with the goal of offering accurate health information that can contribute to better patient outcomes, Mr. Putney said, adding that WellFX will be “100 percent HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) compliant.”

 “Over the years, what we’ve seen in health information is that one of the main things is patient engagement,” Mr. Putney said. “How do we get patients to be more engaged? We make them part of the care team, and now more than ever, that’s become more of an issue as you see more Americans going online for health information.”

Already, Mr. Putney said WellFX is working with some of the region’s largest federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), including the Petaluma Health Center, West County Health Centers and Santa Rosa Community Health Centers. Others could be down the road, and WellFX has also set its sights in independent physicians associations as possible partners. The Redwood Community Health Coalition, a consortium of FQHCs in Marin, Sonoma, Napa and Yolo counties, is working with WellFX on a pilot project, Mr. Putney said.

The company’s website features a note from Mary Szecsey, executive director of West County Health Centers, which says: “We think using WellFX as a platform for our patients to communicate with others extends the health home into a much wider community of resources for our patients.”

And that is precisely the goal, Mr. Putney said -- patients can securely confer with one another, without the worry of their personal data being mined, about health issues that affect them such as obesity or diabetes. And their provider will be able to steer the conversation with sound medical knowledge and advice, an element that is thoroughly disparate and confusing on much of the Internet, Mr. Putney said.

“What we really are is a social network that is provider directed,” Mr. Putney said. “Most organizations don’t have anything like that, but they know they need it.” He added that both smaller clinics and larger integrated systems alike could potentially benefit from such a network operated by its providers.

By giving health care providers direct access -- and influence -- over a cloud-based network, the interactions with patients can lead to better communication and thus better outcomes, specifically with chronic diseases, Mr. Putney said.

“The reality is that as people go out and get this information, they are going out and finding information that is just not helpful, and people come back with questions that aren’t relevant,” he said. “When it’s provider directed, you get the right result.”

The company was founded in July 2011 by Mr. Putney and Mr. Thompson. Mr. Thompson was also part of then-Santa Rosa-based YoHolla, which was a private social network that was geared toward college-aged students. That operation shut down in December 2011, but WellFX was operating in stealth mode until recently, after getting the round of funding from CMT Ventures. In February of this year, Mr. Thompson said the new venture for the company would be in health care.

WellFX officially established its headquarters in Petaluma in May, after leasing a little less than 2,000 square feet at 1318 Redwood Way. The  company said it is aggressively seeking talent to fill a number of positions.

The Petaluma location is ideal, Mr. Putney said, because of its proximity to a busy health care sector and to both San Francisco and Silicon Valley at a much more affordable price. Additionally, the region has a well-established focus on wellness, a key component of the provider-driven network, according to Mr. Putney.

Mr. Putney cited a 2012 Health Research Industry Report that found 40 percent of respondents reportedly said information found via social media would affect the way the dealt with a chronic condition or their approach to diet and exercise.

“The good news is that we know social media is a tool that patients want to use,” Mr., Putney said.