Helping people understand and track their health | MIT news
About half of all women over 50 will suffer a fracture at some point. These injuries can cause significant functional and independent setbacks from which some patients never fully recover. Fortunately, maintaining bone density can prevent such injuries. One way to maintain bone health is to get adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D. Because of this, many people want to track nutrient levels and bone density before they are hospitalized.
But the process for planning such tests requires people to find clinics nearby, pay insurance deductibles or home expenses, and then look through complex, paper-based results to identify deficiencies. Tracking changes over time – for example, to see how a new diet affects nutritional levels – can be even more difficult.
Fitnescity aims to make monitoring health and wellbeing more manageable through access to personal laboratory tests and visual analysis. The company’s platform aggregates test clinics and enables people to easily find, schedule, and pay for tests. In addition, it presents the results to users in an easy-to-understand way. Over time, Fitnescity can also show users trends to help them understand how diet and lifestyle changes are affecting their health.
“We’re making it a lot easier to find personal health,” says Laila Zemrani, MBA ’13, CEO of Fitnescity, who run the company together with ÃaÄatay Demiralp, a former visiting researcher at the Data Systems Group at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory of the WITH (CSAIL). âMaking healthy lifestyle changes is already a lot of work. The last thing people want to do is spend hours on Google trying to figure out what type of clinic to go to and how to use their results. “
Fitnescity has partnered with hundreds of clinics across the US to offer tests to measure nutritional levels, fitness, metabolic performance, stress and more. Such tests can provide critical insights into preventing diseases and injuries that may take years of negative health trends to show up.
“Today, 80 percent of the most common and expensive diseases in the United States are preventable – things like heart disease and type 2 diabetes,” says Zemrani. “You can often prevent these diseases by changing your lifestyle.”
Looking for an idea
Zemrani began teaching at MIT’s Sloan School of Management in 2011.
“I came to the US because of Sloan, âshe says. âIn my application it was clear to me that I wanted to start a company here. For me, Sloan was the perfect place because it allowed me to enter the American market. And as a new immigrant living in the country, you want to immerse yourself, but also build a network and learn the hard and soft skills needed to set up a company. “
She also became a fellow of the Legatum Center and co-president of the MIT Sloan Entrepreneurship Club. The biggest advantage of MIT, however, was the network it developed, she says.
Zemrani came up with the idea for Fitnescity after a difficult personal experience planning health tests. It was around this time that she met Demiralp through a mutual friend, and the couple began building a platform to help people understand their test results.
In 2019, the co-founders partnered with Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, where they helped plan the first user tests. From there they gradually expanded to other medical centers.
âIt’s very reproducible,â says Zemrani. “If it works in one location, all you have to do is bring this model to other locations at the national level.”
Zemrani says there is a gap between underutilized test equipment and a growing demand for testing from people trying to get healthier. By making scheduling and reporting easier for consumers, Fitnescity enables local clinics and laboratories to reach more consumers.
“For someone who is already in the market for a test, we are the aggregator and through aggregation we can offer a better experience as the market is very fragmented, âsays Zemrani.
When a test requires a doctor’s approval, Fitnescity and its partners work with a national network of certified doctors to review test requests and results. The user can also speak to a doctor about their results at no additional cost.
By having transparent pricing in local clinics, Fitnescity also helps users save money, whether they buy insurance or not, according to Zemrani.
âWe’ll help you find and compare options,â says Zemrani. “The test could be something the consumer wants that isn’t covered, or maybe it is covered, but it’s for someone with a high deductible – that’s the majority of the population.”
And as the company has grown, the founders’ MIT connections continue to pay off. Early on, Zemrani spent months researching companies like Quest Diagnostics and looking for partnership opportunities. Eventually, she discovered that Quest’s CEO and Executive Vice President of General Diagnostics were both Sloan alumni. She sent a cold email and was invited to the office to share more details about Fitnescity.
âI should have checked that at the beginning!â Says Zemrani, who remains connected to MIT through a program with the Sandbox Innovation Fund, which looks after startups in Morocco. “[Questâs leadership] I liked the company’s vision and they made the partnership a reality, and basically happened on the same day, which I wanted to achieve for six months. “
A public health force
Cardiovascular disease is the leading killer in America, accounting for about one in four deaths in the country. However, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 80 percent of cardiovascular diseases are preventable.
With the help of their doctors, many people use tests like the one on the Fitnescity platform to be more proactive about their health. A Fitnescity user, for example, lost both of her parents to heart disease within a few months. The losses motivated her to adjust her lifestyle to reduce her own risk in the hopes that her son could avoid the grief she was going through.
Fitnescity helped her schedule tests, including the Dual Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry (DEXA) scan, and track the results. After months of diet and exercise changes, the tests showed that while she did not lose weight, she lost visceral fat – a fat that has been linked to several serious health complications – and gained muscle mass, suggesting that her lifestyle changes were underway paid off.
The partnership with Quest, triggered by a meeting in 2019 but officially announced in October, is a turning point for Fitnescity. It will open thousands of Quest test locations across the US to Fitnescity users.
The Quest partnership will also help Fitnescity add testing capabilities. In the future, Zemrani sees Fitnescity expanding its offering to include other medical tests such as MRIs that would be recommended by a doctor.
Ultimately, Zemrani is convinced that Fitnescity is already helping to combat the growing health crisis in America.
âOur value is to make sure that you don’t just look at your body when you are sick or when you are healthy, maybe once every year or two. We want to help you get a comprehensive and longitudinal view of your health so you can spot problems before they happen, âsays Zemrani. “Prevention is much easier than treating something when it’s already there.”