Why I co-founded Amino

A better way to make confident decisions about health care

David Vivero
Oct 20, 2015 · 6 min read

This is the story of why I co-founded Amino, which publicly launched today. It’s a story for anyone who feels frustrated and helpless when it comes to navigating the maze of health care — and for those of us who believe that we can improve the complicated health care system that exists in America today.

I’ve felt very alone at two specific moments in my life.

The first was when I was diagnosed with hereditary hemochromatosis at age 19 — the result of a lab test ordered by a curious and caring doctor. Hemochromatosis is a metabolic disorder where your body fails to filter out excess iron, eventually leading to dangerously high iron levels in your blood and organs. If untreated, it can lead to infertility, kidney failure, liver failure, heart failure — the list goes on. I was diagnosed early, so my treatment regimen is simple: I give blood regularly. (I jokingly call my doctor a vampire.) Nearly 15 years after my diagnosis, I’ve still never met anyone else with my condition.

The second time I felt alone was when I applied for health insurance in 2013 and was denied coverage. I had left my role at Zillow, and COBRA didn’t seem worth the price tag. I went online, listed my condition in the application, and received a cryptic reply saying that I didn’t qualify for coverage.

I entered the health care labyrinth many of us know all too well: finding a different plan and a different doctor — and making sure I could afford it. These decisions about my health care seemed huge, but I had no context or expertise to make them confidently. It was a shot in the dark.

Sadly, what I went through is quite common. It seems like everyone is anxious about health care, whether they’re counting white blood cells or costs. Health care choices are incredibly complex, and the American health care system is not getting any easier to navigate.

I believe that we can do better.

Meet Amino

Earlier today, my team and I launched a consumer health care company called Amino. We’ve spent two years building the most comprehensive database of information on American health care, and our goal is to use it to help people make confident decisions about their care. We aim to help people answer questions like “What doctor should I see?” “What should I expect from this treatment?” “How much is this going to cost me?” And perhaps most importantly, “Am I getting the best care?”

Along the way, we’ll have to answer a few daunting questions ourselves (like what does “best” mean when it comes to health care?). It will take many years, some of the most talented people in health care and consumer technology, and constant iteration to find the answers. Make no mistake, we recognize that this is a huge challenge — a challenge that we feel is necessary, and that we’re excited to take on.

Putting data to work for you

We’re launching Amino at a really exciting time for health care innovation. Over the past 10 years, there’s been an overwhelming amount of progress. From electronic health records and DNA services to wearable devices and 3D printed prosthetics, we’ve truly come a long way.

But there aren’t many compelling services that help people make sense of their choices. Everyone talks about “consumerization of health care” but no one is actually speaking to consumers. Some companies sell software to save money for employers, some sell ads for drug companies, and others focus on sending new patients to doctors who pay for featured slots on their site. Websites and online health care services have a clear bias, distracting advertisements, and recommendations that lack depth and rigor. Patients — though I prefer to use the word “people” — are rarely put first, and it shows.

Before starting Amino, my co-founders (Roger Billerey-Mosier, Maudie Shah, and Sumul Shah) and I had all worked in online real estate, which has been transformed by data. We saw how access to information tipped the scales, giving consumers more power than ever before. With regards to health care, data has only been made publicly available in small, fragmented pieces, and it’s extremely difficult for people to make sense of it.

We seek to change that by compiling the most comprehensive health care database in America. At the heart of Amino is a database of patient de-identified health insurance claims from the past four years, covering 188 million Americans, nearly 900,000 practicing doctors, and 3.9 billion health care interactions — from procedures like getting a flu shot to having knee replacement surgery, and everything in between.

Fueled by data, we have built our first product: a free, personalized service that lets you find and book appointments with doctors based on the number of people like you they’ve seen (people with the same condition, sex, and within the same age range).

You can filter by specific procedures, accepted insurance and other personal preferences, like the doctor’s gender and office location. Explore our “How it works” page for more details.

Amino lets you pick a doctor based on your preferences, from the office location to the doctor’s gender. Here’s a screenshot of an example search for “pregnancy,” which lets you check out detailed stats on each doctor’s experience.

“Finding a doctor is just the first step in a lifelong path to getting care, and access to data can make a huge difference in the way we decide what doctor to see.”

Our diverse team of experts in user experience, design, medical informatics, statistics, machine learning, and big data engineering have undertaken a colossal task: translating the health insurance claims in our database into meaningful, human-readable diagnosis and procedure insights. We’ve developed novel and extremely useful decision factors that help people using Amino interpret the information they get when searching for doctors.

Finding the right doctor is just the first step in a lifelong path to getting quality care, and access to data will make a huge difference in the way we decide what doctor to see.

The kind of company we’re building

Our journey in creating visibility, both inside and beyond health insurance claims, has just begun. Here’s what you can expect from Amino:

  • A consumer health care company that puts people first
  • Continued work building out and updating our data
  • Products that avoid bias and influence of outside interests
  • The highest standards around privacy and transparency about how we store and analyze information
  • Respectful engagement with the health care community about how we can improve Amino to help people get better care

Since co-founding Amino, my close family members have been diagnosed with and received treatments for brain tumors, lung cancer, infertility, leukemia, nasal polyps, complicated pregnancies, and asthma, among other things. Some have recovered well, others remain under treatment, and one has sadly passed away.

If you or someone you’re close with has a condition, you often feel powerless to know what doctor is right and what to expect from treatment and procedures. Our goal at Amino is to allow people with questions about health issues to see real care patterns and outcomes. Everyone deserves to know what to expect from their care.

What you see on Amino is just the beginning. We’re grateful to have $19.4 million in pre-launch funding from some incredible investors, including Accel, Charles River Ventures (CRV), and Rock Health, and plan on using the funding to build more services that will help guide people through the frustrating complexities of the health care system.

If you’d like to stay in touch with us or provide feedback on our products, please email support[at]amino[dot]com or follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Medium (Amino).

Interested in tackling some of the biggest problems in health care through web and mobile development, machine learning, biostatistics, medical informatics, or other areas? Check out our careers.

David Vivero

Written by

CEO and co-founder @AminoHealth