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Wellframe co-founder says health tech must be transparent on patient benefits

SNL ImageWellframe co-founder and Chief Innovation Officer Trishan Panch
Source: Wellframe Inc.

➤ With employers and health plans focused on improving their members' health outcomes while reducing costs, digital health tools can provide added value in a crowded marketplace.

➤ Disruption from technology has been slower for healthcare than other sectors, but can ultimately strengthen the relationship between patients and their healthcare providers, according to Wellframe Inc. co-founder Trishan Panch.

➤ Wellframe's latest Member Impact Report, published in May, found that members had four chronic conditions on average, and seniors benefited the most from the digital health tool.

Wellframe, a Boston-based company backed by Threshold Ventures Management Co. LLC, provides a digital platform that allows health plan members to track their care plans — including their medicines, appointments and biometrics — and share this information with their care team. Wellframe's co-founder and chief innovation officer, Trishan Panch, spoke to S&P Global Market Intelligence about how patient outcomes data and relationships with users can benefit health plans, and why the individuals who benefit the most from this technology can sometimes find it hardest to access.

The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

S&P Global Market Intelligence: How do health plans benefit from having information about their members, such as the impact report you released?

Trishan Panch: It's very difficult to know whether what you're doing [with] these kinds of initiatives focused on improving individuals' health and populations' health [has] actually worked. And one of the things that we've been very keen on from the start is that we would essentially bring that kind of build, measure, learn approach that startups commonly use, that is common in the tech industry, to healthcare. And we would implement these innovative solutions but then also show their impact and use that impact with the customers, to learn about how we can do those things better.

So I think it's critical that organizations have a focus on being transparent about the impact of their technologies and also being rigorous about doing so. Because if not, we're just replicating some of the, unfortunately, familiar problems with the health system ... which is that we're either looking in the rearview mirror or we're looking in the rearview mirror with our eyes closed, which is not a great way to drive.

One of the more surprising metrics of your report was that seniors were very positively impacted by using a digital health intervention. Why is that?

I think there's an almost depressing trend when we come in to start with health plans deploying Wellframe [and it] is that seniors typically tend to blame themselves for what really are the faults of the technology creators. They basically say, "I'm not really that good with technology" or "I don't understand this. I don't understand that" or "It's not really for me." But really what they're coming up against is the technology was designed by other people for other people and for other purposes.

If you're managing one condition, you can probably do it yourself; two, maybe. But once you get beyond that ... you're getting a lot of different visits, different [medications], different follow-ups, different things that you've got to figure out whether they're covered or not, side effects that come up. It's kind of overwhelming.

But a lot of the technology in healthcare is focused on this kind of understanding that I believe for the complex patients is incorrect certainly, that would be my medical experience that it's basically a do-it-yourself exercise, which it really isn't. We put technology in the context of a relationship.

As a primary care physician, how have you viewed the changes in primary care over the last year?

So primary care was a number of different things, all the way from skincare and haircare and sexual functioning through to palliative care for cancer. And that's what we're trying to do; that's a huge variety of things, and I really think there is a key role for a generalist.

But for many people, particularly those people who have those lower acuity needs, it's not the best solution to those problems. I think narratively we're seeing that unbundling of primary care, and to be totally frank, amongst my primary care colleagues, that is controversial. There's a fair amount of pushback around that, and then [there are] others who [say], "Yeah, this is just a secular trend; it's the inevitable future and we should get on board and [look] at providing primary care ourselves in a different way." And that speaks to the second trend ... around virtual primary care, and I think that makes a lot of sense as well.

How do you see technology affecting healthcare payers and providers in the coming years?

I think there are some things that will remain true even in spite of these trends going forward. They'll be true in 10 years' time, or I suspect they'll be true in 20 or 30. Especially for people with complex health conditions, that relationship [with providers] will remain central, and we need to look at a way of using technology to enable that relationship.

Disruption — although it's very appealing to talk about and it's important to the lifeblood of any economy and any market within that economy — in healthcare it's slow because the incumbents just have such structural advantages. So if you want to change healthcare in the short term, it's really important to enable the incumbents, as well as focusing on disruption. And healthcare will continue to be a network of networks, and the payer, the organizations bearing the financial risk, will be a key network in that, and there's a lot of potential for them to engage more in the co-creation of clinical outcomes with providers and patients.