Health IT

With ‘refluxologists,’ Internet startup hopes to disrupt treatment of GERD

Instead of developing a new diagnostic tool or medical device to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease, a startup is taking advantage of the e-patient movement and establishing a new treatment protocol, a network of physicians and an online patient community to improve treatment and cut down on the overuse of proton pump inhibitors. RefluxMD wants to […]

Instead of developing a new diagnostic tool or medical device to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease, a startup is taking advantage of the e-patient movement and establishing a new treatment protocol, a network of physicians and an online patient community to improve treatment and cut down on the overuse of proton pump inhibitors.

RefluxMD wants to be the ultimate resource for educating the one-fifth of the American population that experiences GERD symptoms at least weekly. CEO Bruce Kaechele is working with physicians Tom DeMeester, Para Chandrasoma and Chris Dengler to establish what they’re calling the Pasadena Protocol for acid reflux treatment, which categorizes GERD into four different stages, each with several substages. An online assessment tool would help patients decide whether PPIs are right for them, offer them a library of resources, connect them with similar patients and point them to a specialized physician deemed a “refluxologist,” Kaechele said.

Proton pump inhibitors, a common drug treatment for GERD, account for nearly $14 billion in drug sales annually, according to a 2010 study published in JAMA. Although they’re generally effective in treating GERD symptoms, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued a warning about an increased risk for bone fractures associated with some kinds, and other studies have also tied them to increased risk for pneumonia, C. difficile, and iron and B12 deficiency.

“There’s research that lots of people on PPIs aren’t actually refluxing, and we believe there’s $4 billion of excessive spending on PPIs,” Kaechele said. “But the biggest issue is the fact that, because they mask the biggest symptoms of GERD, you tend not to make lifestyle changes you should make.”

That can lead to esophageal cancer, Kaechele said (although research hasn’t exactly agreed on that, and the incidence rate of esophageal cancer over the last 20 years has been steady, according to data from the National Cancer Institute [PDF]).

Currently in beta mode, the website should be ready for a quiet release in July, with a full blown launch planned for later, Kaechele said. The San Diego-based startup is currently raising a $500,000 friends and family round and planning for a series A starting next month.

This company is reminiscent of Ageology and Crohnology, two condition-specific Internet healthcare startups MedCity News reported on earlier this year. It’s hard to judge the success of either just yet, but they at least demonstrate a continued entrepreneurial interest in niche e-patient communities.

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