Brian Carter, SVP of Product at Validic, joins the show this week to share how health tech companies can use their services to educate patients, and not just sell to providers. In this episode, you’ll learn how smaller health tech companies can develop new provider relationships, keep transparency at the forefront, and stay focused on solving a limited number of problems.
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Announcer: It’s time to think differently about healthcare, but how do we keep up? The days of yesterday’s medicine are long gone and we’re left trying to figure out where to go from here. With all the talk about politics and technology, it can be easy to forget that healthcare is still all about humans, and many of those humans have unbelievable stories to tell. Here, we leave the policy debates to the other guys and focus instead on the people and ideas that are changing the way we address our health. It’s time to navigate the new landscape of healthcare together and hear some amazing stories along the way. Ready for a breath of fresh air? It’s time for your paradigm shift.
Michael: Welcome to the “Paradigm Shift of Healthcare.” And thank you for listening. I’m Michael Roberts here today with my co-hosts Scott Zeitzer and Jared Johnson. On today’s episode, we’re speaking with Brian Carter. He’s the Senior Vice President of Product at Validic, a technology platform for convenient access to your digital health data.
Brian, thank you so much for coming on the show today.
Brian: Thanks for having me.
Michael: Absolutely. Absolutely. We were talking about who we could bring on the show, and so often when we’re talking about these giant tech companies, that’s what we think of as these monstrously large companies, but there are a lot of small and mid-sized companies that are making a huge impact on health tech. And I’d love to hear some about Validic’s journey as this mid-size health tech company, particularly with how you’ve created relationships with providers.
Brian: The first thing I would say is let’s remember that giant tech companies used to be small tech companies too.
Brian: The way they got there is if you really trace any of those companies, early on, what they have in common is they really knew what they were all about, what they do, and I think more importantly, what they don’t do. And, you know, I think in my role running product for Validic, a big part of what I have to do a lot of times is say, “Neat idea, but not really on our core path,” because as a small company, you know, we can only place so many bets at any given time. So, a way that we do that is I think it’s really important to identify a small handful of clients that really look like the types of clients that you want a lot more of, and stay very focused on them. And also, really importantly, identify ones that are going to push you, even when it’s frustrating.
I don’t want the client that just say…at least for this role and a client that just says, “You know, whatever you’ve got, Brian, we’ll figure out how to make it work.” I want those clients that are going to be saying, “I want to make it work in my organization. You need to do this and this for me to be able to make it work.” And then if I look across two or three clients and I’m hearing similar things, that really helps me kind of see where the groove is that I can really try to help grow our business. And being part of what, as a smaller or mid-sized company, we need to do, is really look at where we can augment the things that providers are already doing and the technologies that they have where there’s a hole, and then resisting the urge to try to go beyond what that specific need is.
As a specific example, Validic, we’re all about patient-generated health data and remote patient monitoring. And, you know, it’s really easy to start thinking, “Oh, well, we should also be a nurse documentation platform, and a virtual visit company,” and all of these things. And what you wind up with is…you know, I’m old enough that back in the day I had the combination stereo TV/VCR device and didn’t really do any of those features very well. And so you wind up saying, “Well, I just want a really nice display and a really nice sound system.” And, you know, really getting specialized and being the best at that thing that you’re trying to do really is the thing that we have to stay focused on as a smaller company.
Michael: So much there. I love it. That desire to stick to the main thing I think is so critical, you know, for anybody that’s developing product or anybody that’s trying to reach out and meet the needs of your group of customers, you know, especially within this market. You’ve talked about how important it is to resist those urges. Like, how do you resist those urges to try and be the everything solution? I think really, you know, as you’re looking against your competitors, against your competitors that maybe do what you do and also do something else, like you’ve talked some about really trying to excel on that. But can you give us some examples of how you feel that Validic is doing so, and really excelling and really paving the way there?
Brian: Yeah, absolutely. So, the easiest way to be able to achieve that and stay laser-focused on the mission is really kind of being problem-focused. So, what are the actual problems that we’re trying to solve? Rather than what’s the feature list that I think is going to get people all lathered up to sign a contract? It’s, let’s stay focused on the problems our clients have and how we can help them solve those problems. And so, a couple specific examples, diabetes, hypertension, these are very common chronic conditions in the United States and around the world. And one of the problems with both of those conditions is you don’t really daily feel the symptoms of those conditions. Like, sometimes you can say, “I feel like you’re really driving my blood pressure up,” but for the most part, you know, somebody doesn’t really feel that they have a high blood pressure or that their blood sugar is a little too high. They may feel it if it’s too low, but they may not feel anything if it’s too high.
Validic’s technology, a big part of it is to help patients and members understand how their diet, how their medication adherence, how their lifestyle impacts the things that are happening inside their body that they may not really be aware of by being able to help them and their care team see the numbers, and see the… A story that we tell a lot is one of our patient advocates who tell stories about how the Validic platform has helped him. He has diabetes. He was going to his doctor on a regular basis. And every time they had the meeting, they took the blood test and things don’t look good. And they said, “Hey, you need to make sure you’re taking your meds. You need to make sure you’re eating low glycemic index foods.” And he said, “I’m doing all that. I’m doing what you told me to do.” And all they would look at is, “Well, here’s the blood draw that we do once a quarter and it says you’re not.”
And so, when he found a new physician who was using Validic’s technology and he was taking his blood glucose several times a day, suddenly they were able to see that there was a pattern where every night around 9:00, 10 p.m., his blood sugar would spike. And so, they said, “Well, what’s happening around 9:00 or 10:00 at night?” And he said, “Well, you know, my kids are home for the summer and we’re watching movies and eating popcorn most evenings of the week during the summer.” And they said, “Well, popcorn is corn and that’s sugar, and that’s driving up your blood glucose.” And he thought he was…it’s the no butter, no salt, healthy for you free food popcorn. And by being able to really quantify what was happening with him, they were able to figure out what was going on. And suddenly, three months later, his hemoglobin A1C had dropped by almost two points all because they were able to figure out that it was that popcorn during movie time that was driving it up.
Scott: That’s really fantastic. It’s one of those, you know, where you feel good about doing your job. You come in and you hear this and you go, “Yes, I knew we would…”
Brian: One hundred percent. One more quick example for you on this one. This individual that we just talked about, he’s kind of managing a longer-term chronic condition, but at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we kind of dropped our roadmap. And I sat down with my team and said, “Our metaphor pretty much was the world is on fire and we have a fire truck. We got to figure out how we can go help.” And so, you know, in about six weeks, we were able to create a COVID-19 rapid response monitoring solution for health systems. And we have one health system specifically in the mid-Atlantic who has told us story after story the way this solution works is they had patients that they diagnosed with COVID-19 but they were not sick enough to go into the hospital. So they sent them back home but said, “You know, we’re going to have you join this program that’s going to have you check in with your temperature, your blood oxygenation, and your symptom recording, cough severity, shortness of breath, etc., and you’re going to do that twice a day. And if anything starts to look out of whack, we’ll be alerted and we’ll be able to figure out what to do next.”
And the first time somebody flagged, they told us the whole story, very long-detailed that I’ll try to keep short here, which is the blood oxygenation had suddenly dropped. And this individual also said they weren’t feeling any symptoms. I can breathe fine. I’m not coughing much. But we saw that the O2 Sat was down to like 89%, and that’s really low. And so, they brought this patient into the hospital against their wishes. They didn’t want to come, but they said, “No, you really need to come back into the hospital.” And this patient, they said that if that patient had waited even eight more hours before they came into the hospital, they probably would have been on a ventilator and they probably would have died.
Brian: And that was the first story. And then they sent us a second story that was very similar. And after about the fifth one, they just sent us an email that said, “Hey, every day we have a story like this, so if your team is wondering whether they’re making a difference, you’re literally saving people’s lives.”
Scott: That’s just awesome. I kind of wanted to get into your company’s approach to patient education in this. You’re providing a lot of real-time data back to your company, or the hospital, or the provider, etc. How do you empower the provider to have good education about what data you’re keeping, what data you’re not keeping, how it’s protected, etc.?
Brian: Yeah. Transparency is really critical in helping patients feel comfortable using digital health technology. Depending on the survey you look at, there’s anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 health-related apps out in the Apple and Google app stores. And, you know, trying to, as a consumer, sort through all of that to find which ones are going to be effective, I think is a fool’s errand. Really, what is important is…and we see this in survey after survey that as much as Dr. Google and all of the different online health resources are touted, people still say that their physician is the most trusted source of health information for them to make good decisions about their health. So, we spend a lot of time with our clients and with the physicians, specifically at our clients helping them understand how this technology is going to work, how it can benefit the patients, and how to talk to the patients about what this solution is, so that first and foremost, the patient is warm transferring effectively into this experience. And then when they arrive inside the Validic experience, we provide transparency and control to the patient all throughout.
So, if you’re going to connect a pulse oximeter to this platform, you explicitly, as the patient have to authorize that data to be shared. And it’s very clear what data is going to be shared, why it needs to be shared. And I think why we need the data is as important as what we’re going to do with it so that they can really understand, “Okay, it makes sense why you’re asking for this information. I’m comfortable sharing it,” and then make it very clear where you can go to stop sharing it if you ever want to opt back out of it. And so, first, we want the provider to be able to talk about it very clearly, and then when the provider hands the patient off to that experience, it reinforces everything that they’ve just been told.
Scott: Brian, do you come out with specific marketing materials, education materials that are specific say to the provider as well as to the patient?
Brian: We haven’t gone to the extent of actually pre-creating those materials for the provider. Generally, we like to look at what types of materials, you know, because this isn’t the first wave for most health systems or most physician’s offices. They’ve already gone through a wave of getting patients to sign up for their patient portal or to download their patient app and things like that. And so, what we really want to do is find ways that we can help continue or augment the things that they’re already doing, back to that point of not trying to reinvent technology they’ve already got in place. We also don’t want to reinvent or try to override the dense and extensive marketing standards that most health systems have in place. So, we try to push into what they’re already doing rather than reinventing that.
Scott: Got you. Like more of a reinforcement tool, so to speak.
Scott: And is that the same philosophy you take when you’re speaking “directly” to the patient, or do you just essentially empower your provider to talk to the patient?
Brian: Yeah. Even in the patient-facing experience of the Validic platform, we actually provide to our clients an administrative toolkit where every little bit of copy that patient is going to see throughout the entire experience is in the control of our clients. We do provide starting content, but we also really encourage our clients to really make it their own take on their brand voice, take on the way that they have built up how they talk to their patients. So, yeah, we provide a lot of starter content. This is how you introduce a remote patient monitoring program, how you talk about the benefits, etc., etc., but then we really want them to kind of put their own flavor on it, their own stock imagery, their own logos, all of the things that really make their brand their brand. We want them to push into that experience.
Michael: It’s a really interesting way to take that. Actually, we’re just talking about how resistant some companies can be to that concept because, well, if we gave somebody else the control, they’re going to say to take three aspirin instead of two aspirin, and it’s going to completely throw off everything. And so, we’ve seen so many companies lock down way too hard on the opposite end of that spectrum of this is how it’s going to be presented and it can never be shifted again. So, I think it’s wonderful that you guys are allowing some flexibility there.
Brian: Great, thank you.
Michael: We’ve talked some about how you’re interacting with providers, interacting with that patient experience. As the company is trying to get that conversation started with a health system for the first time, what does that look like? You know, trying to get out there if you are that size of company that people may not know your name yet when you walk in the door. How does that approach go?
Brian: It’s a lot of work. There’s no two ways about that. We are fortunate that Validic has grown its industry presence. We have a long history, specifically more on the health and wellness side of the world of being the company that can aggregate this Wild West ecosystem of personal health devices. And we’ve got a long-proven track record literally managing millions and millions of people on our platform from the last 10 years of work that Validic has been doing. But when we go into a new health system and we’re trying to really spin up interest in adopting a remote patient monitoring strategy, it’s really important, just like any sales process to identify, who are my champions? Who are my stakeholders? Who are the people that are going to really benefit the most from this program?
And really kind of spending a lot of time early on educating them on both Validic’s experience as well as the benefits that their organization can achieve. Because what we so often don’t think about whether we’re talking about client service, or sales, or whatever, everybody has got a boss and everybody has got a team that they work with. And after that call is over, or back before the pandemic, that onsite meeting is over, people are having follow-up conversations. People are sending emails. And you’ve always got to really arm people with being able to tell the story to reinforce the things that folks heard maybe a half an hour meeting by making sure there’s somebody super educated inside that organization that can continue to carry that forward.
Michael: Absolutely. Absolutely. And you’re so right. There are so many more challenges to that process now without having the onsite meetings, without having the conferences the same way, that sort of thing. So, yeah, it’s definitely a much different kind of challenge.
Jared: So, Brian, when you think about all of this, especially the thought, the goal that I still see for Validic is making personal data actionable. How does that improve the experience? I know we tend to focus on the patient experience, but this is really the consumer experience, is it not? This is not necessarily healthcare that’s only happening when you’re at a healthcare facility. It is healthcare that is happening kind of passively day-to-day, which is a different experience. I mean, it’s something that there wasn’t a whole lot involved with until platforms like yours have come about. So, talk us through the experience itself. So, you’re a consumer, and you’re providing this data, and you do have a relationship with your provider that they are making recommendations to your health and wellness based on it, you know, if I understand things correctly. How does that change, like, the whole healthcare experience for somebody in that situation?
Brian: For sure. And before I answer that specifically, you know, if we zoom out to the whole consumer world and we think about other industries, healthcare really is kind of the last major consumer-facing industry to go through digitization and all of the second and third-order effect. So, I think it’s instructive to think about what digitization did in some other industries. So, like, think about the music industry. Like, in the analog world, we had vinyl, we had 8-track, we had cassette tapes. Every iteration of that technology was still really the same consumer experience. You went to a store. You bought a piece of plastic. You put it in a machine and it played the music.
When we digitize, the first, you know, generation of digitizing was really just converting from tapes to CDs. Still exactly the same consumer experience. Behind-the-scenes, the technology, that was a quantum leap, but really the consumer experience was the same. But now that it was digitized, we saw second-order effects like Napster, and LimeWire, and iTunes, and being able to download music and play it on a machine wherever you are. But then the exciting thing was the third-order effects that led to those Spotifys, and Pandoras, and YouTube, and TikTok. And if we look at retail, we saw the same thing. Brick and mortar stores gave way initially to batteries.com, and books.com, and spatulas.com.
That wasn’t super exciting. I didn’t have to go to the store, but I still had to find the right store. It was really when we got to the Amazons, and really the third-order effect is when you see things like Etsy where now anybody is a seller. As we look at each of those industries, the consistent themes really are first the control or authorship in that industry and burden. And now much more it’s the consumer that has controller as the author, you know, Etsy or YouTube. Like, you think about Justin Bieber was discovered on YouTube, not by a music agent.
You know, we also see increasing degrees of personalization. If you are doing paper banking with a checkbook, you can’t really do the things that Venmo and GoFundMe let you do. And also, more frequent micro-transactions, and I think that’s the tie in to the question that you asked, which is, isn’t it weird that even somebody that’s a fairly ill person only spends about 1% of their life inside of a health system? And yet, we’re making all of our healthcare decisions based on what happened in that 15-minute visit with the provider. And so, you get this very slow-moving strobe light effect of being able to see what’s happening with this person? Come back three months later, and now we’re going to try to adjust things. What if we could turn on the floodlight?
And like the story I mentioned earlier about the popcorn or the SpO2 that’s dropping precipitously throughout the day, if it was a, we’ll check in once a week, that person might not have made it to that next check-in. And so, when we talk about changing the consumer experience, the effect of digitizing everything that we’re doing in healthcare, you know, if we look at those consistent themes, if we think about inverting creation and authorship to the consumer, now I can track multiple metrics, I can layer intelligence on top of that so I don’t have to have a fleet of people keeping track of what’s happening with all of the patients in our population, flagging people who are most critical. And also, as we continue to get more effective with this technology, even increasing the amount of self-management. So, now I can start actually being a member of my care team instead of the car on the lift in the auto shop.
You know, if we think about increasing degrees of personalization, without technology that can absorb all of this information from individuals, process at real-time, and really create targeted guidance for what needs to happen with that person, if you don’t have technology to help you with that, it’s just not feasible to ask a human physician to keep track of every possible permutation of everything that could happen with every person they’re taking care of. The human brain just can’t do that.
And so, this technology really starts to help say, “Hey, this is happening different with this person and this person, and here are the things to look at to understand why.” And again, on the more frequent micro-transactions, rather than doing quarterly checkups, what if there could be an augmented virtual checkup that happens every day? And rather than requiring a human physician to do that checkup every day, there’s technology that’s helping do that so that when the physician’s knowledge is needed, everything has already been digested and prepared for them to be able to make the clinical decisions that we still need our physicians to do. I’m never going to say, I think technology can replace our healthcare professionals. The technology really should be there to help them be much, much more effective.
Scott: I couldn’t agree more. Yeah. You’re not going to replace the doc. It’s about empowering both the doctor and the patient to have a better interaction, and that’s what this does, essentially, you know. It’s like either the patient can say, like, “I don’t feel well, and would you mind taking a look at my data?” Or, in the case of the person who didn’t think they were having a difficulty with their oxygenation levels, hey, you’re not feeling well, go on it. You know, and that would be impossible to do without that device.
Brian: Exactly, exactly.
Michael: Brian, thank you so much. I think there’s so much that’s exciting here as a patient or as a provider to think about. And I really do appreciate sort of a behind the curtains look there at how you’re working with providers directly. You know, a lot of companies that we interact with I think that also listen to the show are going through those adjustments as we’re all figuring out how to operate in a pandemic kind of world. So thank you for that. Obviously, guys, you know, where can they go to find out more about your product and your website?
Brian: Yeah. We’d love them to just visit our website, validic.com, V-A-L-I-D-I-C.com, or you can email, email@example.com.
Michael: Perfect. Awesome. Guys, thanks so much. Thank you for listening today, and have a great week, everyone.
Brian: Thanks for having me on.