David Fuehrer, Co-Founder and CEO, GRYT Health
Social connections are undoubtedly a crucial aspect of an individual's “quality of life,” in the absence of which, many might experience loneliness. In fact, studies report that a significant majority of U.S. adults sometimes or always feel alone. This graph is on an upward trajectory due to the social isolation experienced by individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic. Though quarantining people was a much needed step to ensure the containment of the virus, prolonged social isolation significantly increases the risk for premature mortality.
However, feeling socially isolated or lonely, is in no way a new concept, especially for people suffering from physical and mental health conditions. Ask anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer. You’d know that there are multiple emotional, physical, psychosocial, practical, and spiritual changes that follow a diagnosis and treatment of cancer. These, in turn, affect a cancer patient’s body image, self-esteem, fertility, sexual functioning, and forever changes the way they perceive life. We see most of these patients or survivors socially distant because they struggle to share what they are experiencing, and even if they do, people around them cannot comprehend it. It is only when they meet another person who is (or has been) in the same boat, can they really communicate. For this reason, cancer support groups have proven to be a great source of help for both patients and their families as it provides them with much-needed emotional support and directs them towards better treatment options.
However, as unique and powerful these support groups might be, they come with a long list of disadvantages. Group therapies fail to cater to patients and survivors with physical limitations that worsens with time or becomes permanent after a series of treatments. They lack confidentiality and are ineffective on members who cannot function with a degree of normalcy or have social phobia. Nevertheless, there are many social media pages and online chat forums dedicated to helping cancer patients with physical or mental barriers. Sadly, these options can compromise the individual’s privacy, can overwhelm them with medical information or worse, provide them with unreliable information. Even if we choose to look beyond these setbacks, the effectiveness of online therapies doesn't come close to what face-to-face support groups offer.
So, what can be done? This was a question that Dave Fuehrer asked himself after surviving cancer for the second time.
Research with a Flair of Cause and Purpose
As an oncology researcher who dedicated his life doing patient experience research, Fuehrer’s life took a turn when he went through two cancer diagnoses in his late 20’s.
“That moment was so ironic. Even though I had researched patient experience for the majority of my professional career, I couldn’t have anticipated what patients truly undergo until I became one. I felt I should have been able to ask for help and find what was available, but I was too overwhelmed by cancer and too full of shame by what was happening to me to be able to ask. So, what should individuals like me do?" says Fuehrer. GRYT (‘grit’) Health was born out of this simple question. Everyone at GRYT Health has been personally affected by a cancer diagnosis. In Fuehrer’s words, the company is their way of healing themselves, while helping others undertaking the same journey.
Founded in 2016, GRYT Health is a digital health company and an oncology solution provider on a mission to move healthcare forward by increasing the survival rate of cancer patients and improving their quality of life. Through its global health platform and partnership with the top healthcare organizations, the company helps advance the treatment, care and experience of those affected by cancer. They do this by creating opportunities for socializing and learning, paired with research, marketing and clinical trial services that put people and caregivers first.
“We work to integrate the patient experience—from early-stage treatments through long-term survivorship—to ultimately improve health outcomes,” says Fuehrer, the co-founder and CEO of GRYT Health.
Two Prongs, One Goal
The company’s offerings to the society and global healthcare at large can broadly be divided into two categories, that work in synergy with each other. First comes the GRYT Health cancer community, a patient-centric, desktop and mobile, socializing platform for cancer patients. The application is built with proprietary algorithms that match people based on what situation they are in—like age, type of cancer, stage, where they are in the treatment journey, etc.—so that it can help individuals connect with others who understand these very nuanced situations patients find themselves in; while dealing with cancer.
We work to integrate the patient experience—from early-stage treatments through long-term survivorship—to ultimately improve health outcomes
Today, the app is used by over a million users across 120 countries in North and South America, Europe and Asia.
Secondly, GRYT Health provides research, patient education and clinical trial services to pharmaceutical companies. The industry is moving towards leveraging real-world evidence (RWE), with many organizations investing time and effort to understand patient experience and how they live on treatment after going through a clinical trial process. Though big data and EHR can do most of this work, there remains a significant gap in understanding what patients undergo. With the ability to learn directly from people what their experience is like with a diagnosis and treatment, GRYT Health helps its clients increase and deepen their understanding of what it's like to be patient with cancer.
To further broaden cancer awareness and help healthcare decision-makers develop drugs and treatments that are more patient-centric, GRYT Health had even hosted the largest global virtual cancer conference (GVCC19) in October 2019. This event brought together the collective voices of patients, survivors, caregivers, non-profits, healthcare providers, hospital systems and biotech/pharma professionals from across the globe to solve the most pressing problems facing people affected by cancer and expanding the dialogue around creating a new paradigm of trust and respect—where everyone’s ideas and experiences matter.
The End-to-End Research Partner
“Our mission is to put patients first and support them. This enables us to do research and educate differently. In fact, our clients tell us that we are different than the traditional approaches because of our relationships with patients and caregivers. We can learn from them and understand the real experience,” prides Fuehrer.
To elaborate, Fuehrer highlights an instance when Amgen, an American multinational biopharmaceutical company, came to GRYT Health with several queries about bone health in cancer patients such as what the current state of awareness regarding bone health was among U.S. patients with cancer, what amount of bone health educations patients receive from healthcare providers, and the gaps that exist in bone health education, to name a few. The company was even looking for ways to identify specific patient populations that would benefit from educational programs related to bone health.
These were queries that required answers from the patients themselves, rather than doctors or the healthcare system.
GRYT Health worked with Amgen to design the Bone Health Education Needs Assessment (BEACON) study, a survey of multiple myeloma and bone metastatic solid tumor patients (breast, prostate, and lung) at risk for skeletal-related events. After co-authoring the survey tool and the study protocol with Amgen, GRYT Health gained external Institutional Review Boards (IRB) approval and completed pilot testing to ensure survey functionality and address any issues of clarity and understandability.
With its extensive connections and unique direct-to-patient approach to recruitment, GRYT Health interacted with 100,000 patients to enroll 125 patients for the study, comprising of four different cancer types, in a matter of months. GRYT Health collected and analyzed the resulting data, presented its findings to Amgen as a concise set of recommendations, and collaborated on a poster presented at the annual meeting of the Journal of the Advanced Practitioner in Oncology (JADPRO). Through collaboration with GRYT Health, Amgen is becoming more patient-centric and continuing to build a relationship with patients based on trust and mutual benefit.
“One of the reasons that Amgen decided to work with GRYT Health is that we can handle all study needs in-house. Because of our reach and dynamic approach, we solve challenges and complete work in months that would take other approaches a year or more,” says Fuehrer.
By combining its capabilities to connect patients and understand their experience at a very personal level with the team's expertise and a strong passion for redefining how patients live and how the industry functions, GRYT Health has—at present—reached a position to help the world defend themselves against COVID-19. Fuehrer elaborates, “As we are a virtual company, we’ve been able to continue conducting research and doing patient education amid the crisis. We use the platform to support patients around the world by bringing together organizations that are working to treat and support people going through cancer and COVID-19.”
“We are patients ourselves and understand the sensitivity of the situation these people are in. Unlike a technology provider or a data aggregator, we are a relationship company. Our focus is on patient experience and helping them find their voice. We use it to support other patients and move healthcare forward”
In fact, the company recently collaborated with Bristol Myers Squibb to launch the Global COVID-19 Advocacy Resource, a virtual platform to unite advocacy organizations, patients, and industry in the exchange of information. GRYT Health has been in ongoing communication with the global patient advocacy community across disease areas—including oncology, cardiovascular, immunology & fibrosis, hematology, and multiple sclerosis— to understand how the current crisis is impacting them, and what resources they most need to continue to fulfill their missions. This new, entirely virtual platform will convene advocacy groups to synchronize their efforts, facilitate resource sharing with each other and with patients and affiliates, and provide an opportunity for increased collaboration, both now and over the long-term.
Ethics and Passion Goes Hand-In-Hand
There is no doubt that the company is extremely passionate about what they do, and their efforts to drive change is genuinely commendable. But the fact that GRYT Health’s work revolves around sensitive patient data puts them in a sticky spot as there are a lot of concerns about transparency and data protection/privacy. This is where the company's ethics stand out. Fuehrer prides himself on the fact that GRYT Health never uses patient information without their permission. The company is completely transparent with patients on how their data is being used.
Furthermore, they follow up with every participant to first thank them for their contribution, update them on the status of the research, and enlighten them on how they are helping to make a difference in healthcare. “We are patients ourselves and understand the sensitivity of the situation these people are in. Unlike a technology provider or a data aggregator, we are a relationship company. Our focus is on patient experience and helping them find their voice. We use it to support other patients and move healthcare forward,” says Fuehrer.
"Not for Profit or Fame, but to Bring a Real Change"
Healthcare today is undergoing a natural shift from focusing on keeping patients alive to improving their quality of life. Cancer treatments are moving away from treating just the infected parts to helping patients by emphasizing on their overall well-being. Gone are those days when health was measure by how long a person survives. Today, it's about the type of life they live during and after treatment.
Fuehrer adds, “I’m proud that we are part of moving that needle forward, helping to improve quality of life. What makes me even happier is the acknowledgment we have received from patients and the industry.” The fact that GRYT Health was recognized for being a leader in patient centricity in the SCOPE - Summit for Clinical Ops Executives—a leading conference for the development of new treatments—for the last three years in a row testifies this statement.
“At the end of the day, anybody who works in healthcare cares deeply about keeping people alive and helping them live better lives. We are proud to use an innovative approach that puts patients first, and work with other leaders in the industry to share what is working and discover how we can improve through collaboration,” Fuehrer proudly concludes.