Burlington startup illustrates patients' case histories for doctors

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) A Burlington startup is helping patients get answers to tough medical cases by getting the most out of visits to their doctor.

"My whole life I've been diagnosed with everything under the sun," said David Justice, who spent the better part of his 40 years in pain every time he ate. "I used to say it felt like barbed wire was working its way through my intestines and my body."

He met with dozens of doctors And says it always felt like starting from square one. Until a friend of his, Katie McCurdy, suggested a different approach. "The idea of preparing for a doctor's visit was so new to me. I can't believe I never thought to do that," Justice said.

McCurdy runs Pictal Health, a startup that through interviews, takes a patient's medical history and turns it into a visual timeline that a patient can bring with them to their doctor's visit. McCurdy, a designer by trade, has a background in health care and felt medical records didn't tell the whole story.

"There's just not enough time in doctor's visits to really talk through someone's story, and we don't tend to tell our stories in a linear way," McCurdy said.

She says her charts give doctors a more complete picture of a person's past, weaving together life events with symptoms, tests, and diagnoses, so that all the doctor has to do is look. "Having a visual, I think, tends to help doctors process what's going on, see what a patient has already tried and doesn't want to try again, and give them clues about what additional testing could be done to get to the right answer," McCurdy said.

She says it isn't useful for every patient. But for people like Justice, who have mysterious or rare conditions, it can help run through the past quickly, leaving more time in the appointment to focus on what's next.

When Justice brought it to his appointment at Dartmouth-Hitchcock a year and a half ago he said it empowered him to be more involved in the conversation and helped them get to a correct diagnosis. "I don't think about it anymore. And it's not because I'm in denial and ignoring it, it's because I don't have to," Justice said.

Mapping out a person's whole health history can take McCurdy anywhere from seven to fifteen hours. It costs $500. But her goal in the future is to create a product that will make it online and more accessible to people at a more affordable price.