By crunching data, Missoula tech firm gains traction in health care industry

Alex Philp (University of Montana photo)


An upstart analytics company approaching its first year of business continues to gain traction in the health care industry by harnessing data to head off a growing list of preventable diseases.

If governments use the application to its full capacity, company founder Alex Philp said this week, the savings could substantially trim the nation’s $3 trillion costs in addressing health-related issues.

“We’re focusing on health care analytics, specifically the prevention of disease,” said Philp, a Missoula-based entrepreneur. “The idea is to go upstream in the epidemiology of the disease to areas where you have preventable opportunities.”

Upstream Research, founded by a group of partners that include Philp, former hospital CEO Jay Henry and Nike advertising executive Scott Bedbury, among others, launched quietly last July.

The technology firm has spent the last year marketing its software application, a product Philp described as the first of its kind. If used to its full potential, he said, it could revolutionize the way the nation approaches health care by focusing its resources on the prevention of poor health, including socioeconomic and environmental contributors.

It could also help governments monetize the absence of disease.

“We spend the most on that which contributes the least to your overall risk and wellness,” Philp said. “There’s a lot you can do to reduce the likelihood of disease, and that’s what we’re focusing on. We think a pound of prevention is worth a lot in terms of the cure.”

The company’s marquise product, dubbed Navigator, crunches a mind-numbing amount of data and presents it on a local level. The resulting snapshot of information, culled from a wealth of national resources, allows local governments to address equally local issues that contribute to chronic diseases.

Issues like diabetes, obesity, cardio-vascular disease, lung disease and certain cancers can often be attributed to local factors, from air quality to the built environment. Going upstream of the problems could greatly affect the outcome, Philp said.

“We’re most interested in the convergence between your environmental context – the area you live, the air you breath, the water you drink, even the food you eat – and how that relates to other socio- and economic impacts,” he said. “You can reduce the likelihood of risk associated with disease by looking at the early stages of development.”

In a presentation this week to the Missoula City Council’s Committee of the Whole, Philp described the nation’s efforts to reign in the rising cost of health care. As it currently stands, he said, much of the $3 trillion spent on health care goes toward treating illness, hospital admissions, surgery and death.

Only a small portion is applied to address genetic, environmental and behavioral contributors. But that’s beginning to change, he said, and governments can play a role in improving the outcome by getting ahead of the problem.

“Based upon rates of poverty, rates of diabetes and what percent of your population is elderly, you can learn a lot very quickly about your health care costs, the trends and where you need to focus your resources,” Philp said. “What everyone’s trying to do is figure out what community resources are available to try and drive your population toward wellness.”

The firm’s research and permitting office is located in Missoula. It claims a small office in Bend, Oregon, while its main office is located in Seattle.