Welkin Health is working to provide continuous patient support, using a mix of technology and people with the hope of better serving patients and their families. Most of the tools Welkin Health provides help care teams work better together, but they also make it easier for patients and caregivers to get the information they need, when they need it.
I got a chance to speak with Chase Hensel, Co-founder and CEO to talk about his vision for Welkin Health.
Why is now the time to tackle chronic care management?
Chronic disease is an epidemic in this country. As of 2012, half of U.S. adults had one or more chronic health condition. We are seeing more and more patients with chronic illnesses who need to be monitored in order for them to be able to successfully self-manage. At a time when the state of healthcare is in crisis for so many, we wanted to create a platform that would empower healthcare providers to give the best care possible to this population, moving the system in a more positive direction— for patients and providers.
What inspired you and Gideon to found Welkin Health?
Healthcare has been a passion and interest of ours for some time. Population health management is antiquated at best. It’s not consumer friendly, it’s ineffective for patients and providers, and it hasn’t progressed to meet today’s rising population of chronically ill patients. To us the solution was clear; create a platform that will help case managers keep in better touch with patients during the critical time between office visits.
Human relationships are at the center of successful disease management programs, and we wanted to make technology to support the formation of strong relationships between patients and their care teams. The beauty of the Welkin platform is that it can be tailored to meet the unique needs of care coordinators and their programs. Our goal is to give providers the latitude and creativity they need to run programs that will optimize their patients’ health and wellbeing. Our platform enables them to do so.
Patient adherence is notoriously low. How does Welkin Health help make it easier for patients to follow treatment plans?
It’s about putting a greater focus on making it convenient for patients to engage. Welkin’s platform gives patients and providers the tools necessary to easily communicate on a daily basis via whatever means is most comfortable for the patient, whether that’s phone calls, SMS, email, or our smartphone app. This helps ensure that patients adhere to their medication, diet plans, and exercise routines and have the support they need to stay healthy.
We sit down and have conversations with the program organizers in order to configure a system that will give life to their opinions and best support their programs–whether it’s for diabetes, substance abuse, mental health or another area they want to focus on. Providers know best what will bring their patients the most success so we help them put those protocols in place.
Patients and caregivers aren’t familiar with care pathways and providers are managing many patients at once. Would you say Welkin’s tools help ensure proper follow-up care is scheduled?
Absolutely. Follow-up care is critical for the patients living with chronic disease and the providers treating them. We configure our platform so that it prompts care teams to reach out to patients and their caregivers according to their organization’s standard of care as it applies to that particular patient’s situation. Welkin can also be configured to send automatic reminders, messages, and encouragement to patients in whatever way the organization thinks is best.
The role of the ‘care coordinator’ is becoming more common. What do they do and who was previously filling this role?
The care coordinator serves as the “go-to person” for patients after they visit the physician’s office or leave the hospital. It’s a critical role for patients with chronic disease where good follow up care and healthy lifestyle choices are so necessary for patient success. The care coordinator keeps in close contact with the patient on a frequent basis — answers questions, address concerns, help monitor the patient’s diet, exercise and medications, ensures follow up appointments are made —and regularly updates the patient’s doctors. Previously this role fell to busy doctors and nurses who simply did not have the time or the resources to effectively track patients once they left the office. Effective communication with the patient suffered. As we see chronic disease rising and patients who require more frequent care, the development of the care coordinator role was born from necessity and has improved patient care for the better.
Can mobile health apps change the way patients receive care, even if they aren’t particularly tech savvy?
If patients aren’t tech savvy, then you need to engage them via channels that they are comfortable with or you will not get good engagement rates. That’s why the Welkin platform has focused on making phone calls, SMS and email really easy and accessible for patients in ways they are already used to, so that they don’t need to learn new tools in order to benefit from our platform.
Do regulatory requirements, such as HIPAA, create a serious burden to building tools that are easy to use?
Protecting our patients’ information is critically important to us so we use requirements such as HIPAA as guidelines rather than obstacles to ensure we develop the most secure technology possible. At Welkin security is a full company endeavor and we take many additional security measures beyond the basic HIPAA requirements, such as multiple encryption passes, to protect patient data. Having the right company-wide policies and procedures in place is also key. Building tools that are easy to use is more of a usability/user experience challenge — healthcare has a lot of complex workflows, and the biggest challenge is designing tools that are easy to use for both providers and patients.
Some people fear that technology will come between them and their doctor. Is that something that might happen?
We think it’s the opposite. We see technology as a tool that’s helping to bridge the gap between patient and provider that often occurs once the patient leaves the office. It’s creating a pathway for more consistent, effective communication for one of the populations that needs it most—in this case patients living with chronic disease. Taking it a step further, many patients are finding comfort using social media platforms to learn more about their illnesses and share experiences with a larger community. It also gives doctors a chance to learn from patients if they are tuned in.
Knowing the huge costs of chronic disease to patients, their families, and the healthcare system, do you see Welkin Health bringing about a significant change?
We do. We’re finding that when patients are engaged, their overall health outcomes will improve and hospitalization rates are reduced. We recognize that healthcare providers know how best to work with their patients to bring them success. Our goal is to elevate their care programs by giving them the best possible communication platform for them to deliver personalized care to their patient populations outside of the clinic. We don’t expect providers to build their programs around our technology — we configure the technology based on what they need to make their program run smoothly and effectively. Treating chronic disease is costly, but many chronic diseases are preventable and can be managed if patients and providers are armed with the right tools to do so.
You can connect with Welkin Health on Twitter.