The idea for Northbrook health care startup TapCloud wasn’t sparked in a corporate board room but in the home of founder Tom Riley’s mom.
“I was not trying to build a company,” says Riley, 53, of Glenview. “I was trying to figure out how could I be a better son.”
Starting in 2007, the former Blue Cross Blue Shield executive was the primary caretaker for his mother, who was facing ovarian cancer. Over the course of five years, he discovered that his mother — like many elderly patients — struggled to describe how her body reacted to medications and treatment.
“Everyone’s vocabulary is different, and we might call something by a name that makes it sound innocuous when it’s actually the exact complication we’ve been warned about,” Riley says.
One person’s dry skin, say, might really be a rash. The feeling of “pins and needles” might be considered numbness.
Sometimes, the problem went deeper because of a complete absence of communication.
“One of the most insidious things in health care is when an elderly patient says, ‘Well, I don’t want to be a bother, it’s not that big of a deal,’’ Riley says. “And so they self-edit. My mom was a champion at that.”
That meant she wasn’t conveying important symptoms.
Riley’s mother eventually lost her fight with cancer. But he was determined to do something with the elaborate pen-and-paper system he created to help bridge the communication gap between his mother and her health providers.
In 2013, the Wilmette native founded TapCloud, a web-based service and mobile app to help patients and doctors better monitor side-effects of more than 15,000 medications and clinical indicators for over 100 different diseases and also to help people prepare for and recover from about 30 surgical procedures.
“All that stuff that I did manually for my mom? This system does automatically for you,” Riley says.
TapCloud presents patients with a daily “word cloud” of symptoms. They tap or click on words they think describe their health or symptoms.
“We kind of mix in terms that are clinically relevant with how you might describe something to your spouse or your family member,” Riley says.
TapCloud lets doctors and nurses see a patients’ condition and pain level through the app and helps them prioritize who needs follow-up phone calls or extra attention.
“It helps you predict which patients are headed for trouble early enough so you can catch them before it turns into trouble,” Riley says.
Six years after Riley founded the company, TapCloud now has 17 employees, and it’s being used by Amita Health and six other hospital systems throughout the country. A study of 100 palliative care patients in rural North Carolina published last year in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management reported “overwhelmingly positive experiences” by those using TapCloud.
Riley has stepped away as chief executive officer of TapCloud but remains chairman of its board.
“The mission statement has not changed by a punctuation mark since the day I started it,” he says. “And that was to create a new standard of care where the voice for the patient is at the center.”