The supermarket is ground zero for making unhealthy food choices. And while supermarkets don’t particularly care what you buy as long as you buy lots of it, healthier foods tend to be higher-priced. It’s no surprise, then, that supermarket chains have welcomed the recent trend of store-based dietitians. This year’s winner of the annual $100,000 Data Design Diabetes challenge, a competition put on by drugmaker Sanofi US, has created a tool for dietitians in grocery stores and pharmacies that makes it easy to deliver nutrition and diabetes counseling.
The founders of the winning team, dubbed PHRQL, met while students at Carnegie Mellon University. Paul Sandberg and Kumaril Bhattacharya were both working on to deliver patient-centered solutions around chronic disease management.
"We found an awesome opportunity to integrate with supermarket retailers beginning to deliver nutrition counseling and diabetes education," says Sandberg. "There was a need for a solution to help them do that, to integrate into the rest of system so they’re reimbursed by insurance companies, and on the consumer side of things integrate so customers can tie in loyalty programs and other services that are part of the retail experience."
The product, Connect & Coach, performs numerous functions. It consists of a piece of software, which lets dietitians offer nutrition counseling services like those found in hospital settings and assists retailers in getting insurance reimbursement for those services; and mobile phone apps that allow patients to manage personal health information and track food intake.
Patients can choose to share their food intake data with dietitians, doctors, and family members. Providers get easy access to all kinds of other patient data, including lab and clinical notes, health history, nutrition history, and medication data.
Michele Polz, a judge in the competition and AVP of Patient Insights at Sanofi US Diabetes, explains why Connect & Coach was chosen as the winner: "We know that community, support, and network is so key to the goals of living life with diabetes. When we saw Connect & Coach, it was a great opportunity for that intervention."
PHRQL has already deployed Connect & Coach at the Giant Eagle supermarket chain, where it has been used in over 6,000 counseling sessions. Now the startup is in talks with 16 other retail chains around the country. As for that $100,000?
"We have a team of folks back in Pittsburgh that have been working very, very hard, so I think we’ll take everyone out to dinner," laughs Sandberg. "After that, we’re focused on deploying the solution as quickly and broadly as we can."