Helping people understand and track their health | MIT News

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About half of all women over 50 will have a fracture at some point. These injuries can lead to significant setbacks in function and independence 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 levels of calcium and vitamin D. This is why many people want to monitor nutrient levels and bone density before they end up in the hospital.

But the process of planning such tests requires people to find nearby clinics, pay insurance deductibles or out-of-pocket expenses, and then look at complex results on paper to identify gaps. Tracking changes over time – in order to see how a new diet affects nutrition levels, for example – can be even more difficult.

Fitnescity aims to make health and wellness surveillance more manageable by providing access to in-person lab tests and visual analyzes. The company’s platform consolidates testing clinics and makes it easy for people to find, schedule, and pay for tests. It also presents the results to users in an easy to understand manner. Over time, Fitnescity can also show users the trends to help them understand how diet and lifestyle changes impact their health.

“We make navigating personal health a lot easier,” says Laila Zemrani, CEO of Fitnescity, MBA ’13, who co-founded the company with Çağatay Demiralp, a former visiting researcher in the Data Systems group of the Computing and Intelligence Lab. artificial intelligence from MIT (CSAIL). “Making healthy lifestyle changes is already a lot of work. The last thing people want to do is spend hours on Google figuring out what kind of clinic to go to and how to use their results. “

Fitnescity has partnered with hundreds of clinics across the United States to offer tests measuring levels of nutrition, fitness, metabolic performance, stress, and more. Such tests can offer crucial information for preventing illnesses and injuries that can only present themselves after years of negative health trends.

“Today, 80% of the most common and costly diseases in the United States are preventable, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes,” Zemrani said. “You can often prevent these diseases by making lifestyle changes. “

In pursuit of an idea

Zemrani began his classes at MIT’s Sloan School of Management in 2011.

I came to the United States for Sloan, ”she says. “In my application, I made it clear that I wanted to start a business here. For me, Sloan was the perfect place because it gave me access to the American market. And, as a new immigrant to the country, you want to be immersed, but you also want to network and acquire the technical and soft skills to start a business.

She also became a member of the Legatum Center and co-chair of the MIT Sloan Entrepreneurship Club. But she says MIT’s biggest advantage was the network she developed.

Zemrani first came up with the idea for Fitnescity following a difficult personal experience of planning health tests. Around this time, she met Demiralp through a mutual friend, and the couple began to create a platform to help people understand their test results.

In 2019, the co-founders partnered with Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, where they helped plan the first user tests. From there, they gradually spread to other medical centers.

“It’s very reproducible,” Zemrani says. “If it works in one location, you just need to bring this model to other locations nationwide. “

Zemrani says there is a gap between underused testing equipment and a growing demand for testing from people trying to become healthier. By simplifying planning and reporting 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 by aggregating we can provide a better experience, because the market is very fragmented, ”Zemrani explains.

When a test requires physician approval, Fitnescity and its partners work with a nationwide network of board-certified physicians to review test requests and results. The user can also talk to a doctor about their results at no additional cost.

By making pricing transparent at local clinics, Zemrani says Fitnescity also helps users save money whether or not they go through insurance.

“We help you find and compare options,” says Zemrani. “The test could be something the consumer wants that isn’t covered, or maybe it’s covered but it’s for someone with a high deductible – which is the majority of the population.”

And as the business has grown, the founders’ relationship with MIT continues to bear fruit. At first, Zemrani spent months researching companies like Quest Diagnostics and researching partnership opportunities. Finally, she realized that the CEO of Quest and the Executive Vice President of General Diagnosis were both Sloan alumni. She sent a cold email and was invited to the office to share more details about Fitnescity.

“I should have checked that at the start!” Says Zemrani, who remains connected to MIT through a program with the Sandbox Innovation Fund which sponsors startups in Morocco. “[Quest’s leadership] loved the vision for the company and they made the partnership come true, and basically what I was trying to accomplish for six months happened on the same day.

A force for public health

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in America, accounting for about one in four deaths nationwide. Still, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 80 percent of cardiovascular disease is preventable.

With the support of their doctors, many people are using tests like those on the Fitnescity platform to be more proactive about their health. A Fitnescity user, for example, lost both parents to heart disease within months of each other. 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 plan tests, including dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) analysis, and track the results. After months of diet and exercise changes, tests showed that although she was not losing weight, she was losing visceral fat – a fat linked to several serious health complications – and gaining muscle mass. , indicating that his lifestyle changes were paying off.

The partnership with Quest, which was sparked by a meeting in 2019 but officially announced in October, is a game-changer for Fitnescity. It will open thousands of Quest test sites in the United States for Fitnescity users.

The Quest partnership will also help Fitnescity add testing capabilities. Going forward, Zemrani sees Fitnescity expanding its offerings to more medical tests, like MRIs, that would be recommended by a doctor.

Ultimately, Zemrani believes Fitnescity is already helping fight America’s growing health crisis.

“Our value is really in making sure that you don’t just look at your body when you’re sick, or if you’re healthy, maybe once a year or every two years. We want to help you build a comprehensive, longitudinal view of your health, so you can see problems before they arise, ”says Zemrani. “It’s a lot easier to prevent than treating something when it’s already there. “


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