Petaluma company merges wellness, social media

  • Jock Putney, WellFX President and CEO, right, leads a meeting at their office on Tuesday, July 9, 2013 in Petaluma, California. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

It's one of the long-standing conundrums for family doctors: When the exam is over, how do you ensure your patients eat right, get enough exercise and take their medicine?

Local technology entrepreneurs Jock Putney and Jeff Thompson believe they have an answer — a hyperlocal, demographic-specific patient engagement algorithm called WellFX.

That's tech-talk for a social media platform that encourages patients to stay on the right track toward a healthier life. Think Facebook for patients who share the same health condition, whether it's diabetes, obesity or heart disease.

But this is no social network clogged with status updates about cute pets and bad weather. WellFX, a Petaluma-based company, offers an online environment that is chock-full of features, such as video-based exercise programs, virtual patient group visits and patient-specific health information.

The platform allows patients to interact with one another online in a secure environment that complies with privacy rules established under HIPAA, short for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

At its core, the online service is a way of engaging patients and getting them to change their behavior and lifestyle, WellFX co-founder Jock Putney said. That becomes imperative when considering the cost of skyrocketing rates of diabetes in the United States, he said.

"If we want to turn this around, the way to do that is socially," Putney said. "The only way to lower health care costs is to keep people healthy."

Putney said the online service is geared toward health care providers, such as community health centers, employers, primary care physician groups and large integrated health care providers such as Kaiser Permanente.

Its early adopters include the West County Health Centers in Sonoma County and Columbia Valley Community Health Center, in Wenatchee, Wash.

At West County Health Centers, the platform is being used among staff, but eventually the group hopes to roll out the service for patients.

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