Most people who recover from cancer feel grateful. For John Crowley, 36, surviving lung cancer triggered a mission: to put patients’ health records in their hands via mobile phones.
His resolve stems from a nine-month nightmare five years ago while suffering repeated bouts of pneumonia. A father of two young daughters and a former college athlete, Crowley stayed in shape with gymnastics, sprinting and weightlifting. He thought he was healthy.
But while traveling frequently for his job as an oncology drug salesman based in Nashville, Tenn., Crowley found himself repeatedly visiting emergency rooms in different cities fighting bouts of pneumonia. Following protocol based on data available, each hospital treated his illness as a first incidence, not the third or fourth.
“I would say, ‘I know you’re going to give me a CT scan [which produces computerized body images]. Can we try something else?’” he recalls. “Finally, I threw a grown-up tantrum and said, ‘You are not putting me in that machine again.’”
The doctor relented and performed an endoscopy, an interior examination revealing a cancerous lung tumor.
Within two weeks, Crowley—who didn’t smoke or have lung cancer in his family history—had the lower and middle lobes of his right lung removed. In the hospital, he told his wife, “I have to make something good come from this.”
Crowley knew if he’d had access to his first CT scan to share with subsequent doctors, his cancer might have been detected earlier, and he might still have his entire right lung. Working with a friend’s start-up company offering new information-sharing technology, he suggested the idea could benefit patients and health care providers.
One part of the 2009 federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is the offer of government grants to health care facilities to establish electronic medical records, including patient portals, or websites that allow individuals to access their health information with a username and password. Crowley knew that facilities, eager for government money, would be interested in any tool that provides patients easier access to their medical records.
He began consulting with technical experts and working with The Entrepreneur Center, a nonprofit center in Nashville that pairs entrepreneurs with mentors, money and other resources.
The result is MedQB (short for medical quarterback), a mobile phone application that gives patients access to their health records for free. “First, it gathers patient portals [from each hospital or doctor’s office] into one location so that patients can use a single sign-on to access all portals,” Crowley says. “Second, the patient can view all the information in each portal and share that information with anyone.”
Crowley dealt with federal privacy rules, mandated by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996, by using a secure computer server. He’s currently testing the application and plans to sell it to health institutions, which can offer the service to their patients.
“Patients are telling us what they like and don’t like,“ he says. “We are constantly updating so that we can roll the app out by Sept. 1.”
Now CEO of MedQB, Crowley plans to pursue his new passion and make his living through his company. “If I’d had this app, I’m convinced I’d still have my lung,” he says.
His health now restored, Crowley has overhauled his health habits in the wake of cancer: “I immediately went to a plant-based diet, and I don’t drink [alcohol]. I don’t do anything that isn’t beneficial to my body.”
Since last October, Crowley has been working on MedQB full-time and living off his savings.
“I didn’t have a mission before,” he says. “I was just going through life, thinking that a title or the amount of money I earned was important. Cancer completely changed that. When you leave here, it’s the lives you impact that matter, and I hope to impact lives with MedQB, even if it’s just one.”