How My GI Health changed the conversation for patients

My GI Health features an animated video showing a patient visiting a doctor with questions about her gastrointestinal health. 

Nearly two years ago, while writing for MM&M's website, Tom McCourt, chief commercial officer and SVP, marketing and sales at Ironwood Pharmaceuticals, and Douglas Levine, Ironwood's VP, medical scientific affairs, described their burgeoning venture, My GI Health, as “a multidisciplinary, public–private partnership designed to leverage technology to advance the quality of patient–doctor engagement.” Translation? McCourt and Ironwood, frustrated by the inconsistent quality of point-of-care communication, were going to do something about it.

The motivating force behind My GI Health met initial resistance. After all, it came from a company executive who professed that his goal was to benefit all companies within that therapeutic area.

See also: Ironwood's McCourt bets big on data and the patient-physician dialogue

“Our vision was that it would cover all of GI,” McCourt says, “everything from swallowing disorders to hemorrhoids — so it wouldn't be specific to any one company's brands. It was doing the right thing for everybody.”

Dr. Brennan Spiegel, whom McCourt says was “kind of the architect” of My GI Health with his colleague Dr. William Chey, didn't initially buy into McCourt's selflessness. Spiegel relates, “We were like, ‘OK, EHRs are being foisted on us, which is good for the needs of administrators, but not for [MDs] and patients. We've got a way to make them work better. Let's go talk with this guy and see if he'll give us a million bucks.'"

Two years on, My GI Health is poised to deliver. It asks patients to download the app and input symptoms, complaints, and anything else they believe medically relevant. The app then automatically extracts a patient history that can be uploaded into an EHR.

See also: My GI Health: Reimagining the Dialogue Between Patients and Physicians

When it was sent out across a ­survey panel in 2015, My GI Health was received differently than its early boosters had anticipated. “What surprised us was the magnitude of suffering these patients have that they never communicate to their doctors,” McCourt explains. “We heard a lot of, ‘I'm suffering more than 150 days a year, these symptoms are disruptive to my life, whatever my doctor is doing it's not helping.' Getting those feelings out there can only help improve the dialogue.”

Initial skepticism about Ironwood's motivations has now vanished. “When Tom came with us to Athenahealth to talk about integrating them within the My GI Health platform, they were like, ‘What are you getting out of this?'” Spiegel recalls. “Tom said, ‘I want to strengthen relationships between patients and providers.'” Athena came back with, ‘OK, but what are you really getting?' Tom responded, ‘It helps Ironwood because it helps the market as a whole. Why wouldn't we want to help create an overall environment in which great products can thrive?' They were blown away.”