Whenever Deborah Kilpatrick speaks on panels or meets with venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, people are always surprised to learn that she previously worked as a structural analyst on the F-22 Raptor. But that’s just one of several unique, wide-ranging roles she’s held in a long career working at the intersection of science, technology, and healthcare. “I like to say that everything in my life stems from the fact that my father was a high school football coach in the rural south,” says Kilpatrick, a native of Georgia. “It was a distinctive, Friday Night Lights kind of upbringing.”
“I like to say that everything in my life stems from the fact that my father was a high school football coach in the rural south,”
Growing up in a family that valued hard work and education, Kilpatrick had a natural aptitude for math and science and developed a strong interest in health, physical fitness, and the human body. She studied engineering as an undergraduate at Georgia Tech and later entered the aerospace industry. This was a common career move for engineers who graduated in the late 1980s, Kilpatrick says, as the Cold War was raging and defense contractors were recruiting heavily for new talent.
But her lingering interest in health care and desire to be involved with clinical work eventually brought her back to Georgia Tech for a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering with a focus in bioengineering. She quickly made the move to Silicon Valley. “The thing I cared most about, the thing I was optimizing for in my career was not academic research — it was doing stuff that could actually impact patients in my lifetime,” Kilpatrick says. “That’s quite hard to do as a basic scientist.”
Building a company on data
As CEO of Evidation Health, Kilpatrick’s work impacts patients on an enormous scale. A data-driven company that links real-world health and behavior measurements from instruments like smartphones, wearables and medical devices with traditional medical data, Evidation’s studies can involve as many as 87,000 patients and frequently draw participants from all 50 states. “We’re doing this on a scale that no one really anticipated, thanks to computational power,” Kilpatrick says. “A study for us could just as easily be 500,000 people as it is 500. That’s never existed in health care before.”
Patients are monitored remotely under informed consent, meaning they can take part in the studies from home, from their retirement community — from anywhere. “We bring the system to them,” Kilpatrick says. Beyond reducing the burden for participants, this approach makes clinical research more efficient, more affordable and more representative of the overall population. Evidation’s primary partners are medical device and biopharma companies seeking new sets of information to help inform their product development.
Evidation has produced compelling research linking everyday data streams to patterns of activities and behaviors that directly relate to health outcomes. Last year, the company looked at the relationship between sleep patterns and mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. Using data from sleep patterns and biomarkers, researchers were able to quantify “how patients are doing” with their illness using standard clinical tools.
Another groundbreaking study that began enrolling in spring of 2018 is looking at chronic pain — a debilitating and often invisible illness that affects millions of Americans — by measuring how activity patterns and symptom patterns are expressed through sleep and mobility. “If you first understand and can quantify an experience a patient has with chronic pain, by definition you’re going to be able to develop better therapies,” Kilpatrick says.
Kilpatrick says the rise of digitally delivered treatments and therapies represents a profound shift in the way products are proven and delivered. As the technology advances and the data streams become integrated into the health care system, Kilpatrick believes there will come a day when patients won’t need to call the doctor — because the doctor will be calling us. “Imagine remotely monitoring patients under informed consent, in a way that’s fully transparent. Before we know there’s something wrong — someone lets us know that there’s something wrong,” she says. “It’s a really compelling view of the future.”
Addressing representation head on
Using computational technology to understand how the body works — and then using that knowledge to develop new products and therapies to improve patient health — is the thread that’s tied Kilpatrick’s career together. But she’s also been a champion for women in the infamously male-dominated landscape of Silicon Valley and in the larger fields of science, technology, and healthcare. In 2011, she co-founded the nonprofit MedtechWomen and launched its flagship annual event, the MedtechVision Conference in Silicon Valley.
The conference was born out of a frustration at the lack of diversity on panels and at conferences aimed at professionals in the medical technology field. She and her co-founders decided to do something about it and launched a new conference that would cover all the traditional topics expected of events in the field, but with one radical change — there would only be women on the podium. But the speakers wouldn’t just be token diversity — they would be experts in the field.
“The leaders around us in the sector making decisions need to be informed by the most relevant and important opinions and conversations that we can produce,” Kilpatrick says. “And by including the other half of the population, that’s inevitably better.”
Kilpatrick remembers worrying that nobody would show up, but the inaugural conference sold out — and has continued to sell out every year since. This year, attendees snapped up all the tickets in less than two weeks. With the steady demand, there’s now been talk of possibly moving to a bigger venue in the future. Kilpatrick says conversations about diversity and inclusion have become “materially different” within the last three to five years. Her work is part of a movement that’s driving change.
“Are we where we want to be in terms of gender parity in the tech sector? No. These are very difficult problems,” she says. “But they won’t be solved by just talking. We have to take action.”
To learn more about Evidation Health, please visit: evidation.com
To discover upcoming MedtechWomen events, please visit: medtechwomen.org
Can’t get enough Deborah? Our friends at MATTER hosted her for a great discussion that you can watch below.