Helping employers to more effectively care about their employees' welfare, and in turn improve each company's bottom line.
Jan Swaney talks with Rep. Chris Kelly about how MO SBTDC support gave her
the confidence and steps to follow to start Longitude Health
Helping physicians to more meaningfully help their patients achieve healthy outcomes.
And, most importantly, helping people take ownership of their health, thereby promoting their prospects for longer, healthier, productive lives.
These are the goals of Longitude Health Inc., a guided health and wellness service, based in Columbia, Mo. and Somerset, N.J. Dr. Jan Swaney and her partner Tracy Korman cofounded their health-promotion company nearly three years ago.
After meeting at the opening session of the 2006 annual conference of the Disease Management Association of America, Swaney and Korman each discovered they both had more than a passing interest in methods of promoting individual wellness.
"We learned our attitudes and goals about promoting patient wellness and our professional talents and experiences were compatible and complementary," explains Swaney.
Following considerable discussion and planning Swaney and Korman joined forces to establish their unique health-promotion venture.
Swaney, who serves as chairwoman and chief medical officer for Longitude Health, brought to the company more than 20 years of experience as a practicing physician, medical school professor and managed care executive.
While the chance to help patients through her practice offered certain rewards, it also presented frustrations. The one-to-one doctor-patient model — in which Swaney offered guidance, prescriptions and encouragement to individuals who needed to reverse the years-long practices of less-than-healthy lifestyles — had its limitations.
She could only visit with each patient an average of 15 minutes during an appointment. And in many cases, she was seeing patients at later stages in their lives, long after unhealthy habits such as smoking and poor nutrition had taken a toll on her patients' bodies and life-expectancy prospects.
She wanted to serve more people. She wanted to reach them earlier in their lives. And she also wanted to help her fellow physicians improve their patient care.
Longitude Health is intended to achieve these goals through an Internet-based connection called MyHealthVillage.com. The service — along with a personal HealthGuide — is designed to educate, motivate and reward employees, consumers and patients to exercise, eat right and practice healthy lifestyles.
"The resources at MyHealthVillage.com, linked to the personal HealthGuide and the primary care physician, can help lead to real health improvement for many individuals," says Swaney.
Of course, in order to improve patient health, Swaney and Korman also realized they needed to devote attention to the health of their newly founded company. To promote its chances of survival the enterprising entrepreneurs have explored several avenues to encourage their firm's commercial viability.
One road has led to the state of Georgia. There Longitude Health is working with the state's Division of Public Health to give private employers access to wellness benefits, information and advice for their employees. Currently three companies, each with 100-to-300 employees, are enrolled in program.
"As the economy improves we anticipate that additional companies in Georgia will enroll in the program," says Swaney.
"Employers — especially employers who have bases of loyal, long-term, talented employees — find the benefits of encouraging employee wellness far outweigh the expense of the program. They'll reap rewards in a healthier employee population that takes fewer sick days and ultimately extends productive careers as a result of practicing healthy lifestyles."
Another avenue of revenue generation for Longitude Health leads to research Swaney hopes to pursue. With the help of the staff at the Missouri Small Business and Technology Development Center at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Swaney has applied for a $210,000 research grant from the National Institutes of Health. The road to that application was a long and winding one.
"I learned about federally-funded SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) grants about two years ago at a one-day workshop in Columbia conducted by Paul Rehrig, a commercialization specialist with the SBTDC," explains Swaney.
Following that workshop Swaney applied for a $5,000 MoTIP (Missouri Technology Incentive Program) grant. She soon received the stipend. That money enabled her to hire the help she needed to write an SBIR proposal to the NIDDK (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases) office of NIH.
Today the grant application is in the hands of NIDDK, which has expressed interest in Swaney's research proposal aimed at improving the lifestyles of diabetes patients. Ultimate approval of the proposal's funding will be dependent on the final NIH budget for the current fiscal year.
"I remain hopeful this SBIR funding will come through soon," says Swaney. "The resulting research could lead to improvements in self-motivation for a population of patients whose diabetes diagnosis requires more vigilant attention and devotion to healthy lifestyle practices."
She also is grateful to the staff members of the MU SBTDC for all their help and encouragement.
"The series of sessions I have had with these business specialists has opened opportunities that can lead Longitude Health down the path to helping more people improve their long-term health," says Swaney. "Without the help and valuable advice from these SBTDC professionals, I may never have arrived at this point in my quest for research funding."
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This story was featured in the Nov. 2009 newsletter.
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