Healthcare Looks to the Past to Predict the Future

Four-time entrepreneur and co-founder Nick Desai is on a mission to change healthcare for the better. I sat down with Desai, who describes himself as an “idea driven entrepreneur,” and found his passion for his start-up Heal to be contagious. The seed for the concept of Heal began in 2014 when late one night Desai and his wife and co-founder Dr. Renee Dua found themselves in the emergency room with their infant son who was ill and needed to see a pediatrician right away. They waited over seven long hours.

Desai explains that one day as his mind was noodling about ideas, he and his wife began reflecting on their experience in the emergency room.  They knew there had to be a better way. This led them to put together a business around bringing the doctor house call back to life.  Instead of waiting for long hours in the emergency room or doctor’s office, you could have a doctor come to your door.  This idea making house calls began long ago but is now revived with a new purpose and impact. Sometimes you may need to look backward to move forward.

For Desai, everything starts with a “blank sheet of paper” and the ability to turn nothing into something. He feels it is a unifying quality with founders that they love the blank sheet of paper. He is not alone in his thinking, as Steve Jobs was also quoted as saying “Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.” Founders have a lot of ideas, and they don’t always work. As a serial entrepreneur, Desai emphasizes to embrace both your failures and your successes. “A lot of ideas are bad ideas, and you have to embrace that fact, but every now and then you find a golden nugget,” Desai said.

As a speaker and consultant, I often talk about the value of curiosity and the importance of asking the right questions. This in itself is a critical skill for leaders.  In this case for Heal, the question was, why can’t we bring the doctor to the home and make it affordable for all? “Entrepreneurs have a fundamental desire and ability to ask the question, why does it have to be this way? At one point, somebody had to ask, why don’t we slice the bread?” Desai commented. It all starts somewhere, and the art of effective questions led to more than bringing the Heal “doctors on demand” concept into a viable business.  It led to a business model they feel is destined to transform the U.S. healthcare system. Heal used technology to design an app for the smart phone that brings a board-certified physician to your door, or as the company describes it, “Bringing the family doctor into your family room.” A Heal visit by a board-certified physician is $99.00 or your doctor’s co-pay and available 365 days a year 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in select markets.

According to Heal the company has driven $5.9 million in healthcare cost savings, reduced ER over usage by >62% and cut operating costs by >65% by using innovation. But that’s only one piece of the puzzle. According to Heal, the average wait time for a primary care doctor appointment exceeds 18 days, and 80% of Americans delay going to the doctor because of lack of time, transportation issues or work responsibilities. The question from this point would certainly be how does this delay in people getting care affect patient outcomes and preventative care?

According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion timely access to healthcare impacts:

  • Overall physical, social and mental health status
  • Prevention of disease and disabilities
  • Detection and treatment of health conditions
  • Quality of life
  • Preventable death
  • Life expectancy

A friend of mine in the Midwest recently got a letter from their family doctor who treated her special needs son. The letter stated that the doctor was closing her offices at the end of last year. The doctor did offer a referral for another physician, however when my friend called to set up an appointment the wait for a “new” patient was two months to see the nurse practitioner and three months to see the doctor.  Needless to say, they couldn’t wait that long and needed to find another doctor. My friend had no idea why the doctor closed her practice because the doctor was in fact very busy. Desai said, “Many doctors want to avoid the hassle of running their own business.” This is just one problem Heal solves. Regardless of what business you are in, you should look beyond the obvious to assess the situation. You need to look at all the pieces of the puzzle to solve the right problems at the right time.

So why is all this important? It’s important because it comes back to looking at the bigger picture of all the issues that could be related to your business, service, product or customer. In my work, I call this “connecting the dots.” This means that you look for patterns between different ideas and experiences. However, it also means you learn to connect the unconnected, finding hidden connections and opportunities as well as niche markets that can impact the customer.

As a consultant, I’ve always found that research deep into a concept is critical to staying ahead of the competition and in touch with consumer demands and expectations. The idea of bringing the house call back is no different.  A century ago most medical visits were made in the patient’s home until doctors thought it was more cost effective to have the patient come to them. Heal, and their competitors are proving that the costs and savings go beyond just dollars and are poised to shake up the broken healthcare model by combining technology and better patient care. As I began to research this niche market, I began to see that only those willing to step outside their comfort zone to see the big picture and assess the savings and innovative ideas in healthcare from a fresh perspective would be positioned to make a significant impact.

Let me provide an example. One might say, by bringing the doctor to your doorstep you are paying for convenience, but if you look closer, it is so much more. Yes, in many cases it could be more convenient if the doctor comes to you and you don’t have to take time off from work or load up the kids in the car, stress in the traffic or miss school. Also, you may not be physically mobile, or perhaps you have transportation issues. However, another advantage is you don’t have to wait in an office with other sick patients and risk getting sick yourself when maybe you were just there for a physical. The trail blazers always look beyond the obvious benefits to the bigger picture.

Desai describes the scenario of how the doctor can look at the home environment and get additional information that might help the patient. One Heal patient had been being treated previously by other doctors for migraine headaches and had numerous tests with no cure or diagnosis in sight. When they finally called Heal, the doctor that arrived discovered some black mold in the home that can cause migraines.  Another example is patients often forget to bring their medications.  If the doctor is in the home, he or she can ask the patient to go and get them. These are some small and simple advantages; however, they have the potential to lead to a better doctor/patient relationship and improved outcomes.

A doctor in the office might see as many as 40 patients a day, whereas a Heal doctor will see about 12 and be able to spend more quality time with the patient. Desai feels that doctors want to get back to practicing quality medicine in an unhurried environment. This leads to another issue of doctor satisfaction that is also being explored. Much has been written about the correlation between doctor satisfaction and improved doctor/patient relationships. This is simply another piece of the puzzle to be addressed in the ongoing healthcare journey.

I asked Desai about what makes entrepreneurs different from other people. He remembered a story his mom would often tell him. “There could be an elephant in the room, and a lot of people will ask, ‘Why is there an elephant in the room?’ but then they just walk around it to get to the other side. However, others will move the elephant to get to the other side. Entrepreneurs are good at moving the elephant,” he said. Heal is well funded to move the elephant and is currently located in areas throughout California and now expanding to new markets.

This brings us full circle. A century ago most medical visits were made in the patient’s home. Does that make it old school or an innovative idea for a changing healthcare environment? Is it possible that looking backward one can move forward by taking a new twist on an old concept?

Healthcare isn’t the only industry looking to the past. Many in the music industry once thought that vinyl records were a thing of the past because of CDs and digital music. It was a surprise to many when vinyl records started making a comeback in 2009. According to the Recording Industry Association of America statistics for 2015 vinyl sales increased by 32% to 416 million, the highest level since 1988. While vinyl sales only accounted for 6% of the overall music market, it is worth noting that physical revenue grew to 21%. According to an ICM poll, nearly 50% of vinyl buyers are under age 35. Monthly subscriptions are available to get them delivered right to your doorstep. You can also now walk into select Urban Outfitters, buy a pair of jeans and while you are there you can purchase a vinyl record. Some of you reading this may have fond memories of a record player and some of you may have never even seen one. But they’re back. Are there hidden niche markets within your business model that allows your brand to stand out? Are there hidden or overlooked opportunities that would position you to solve a problem or meet a need for your customer or the community you serve?

So, what does this have to do with healthcare and leadership? Everything. Regardless if you are in business, government or a nonprofit, and no matter what industry you are in, it is important to be sure you don’t discount the past. Look at the changing consumer dynamics, challenges and insights that just may disrupt an entire marketplace.  Not only looking at the past but digging deep to discover opportunities or new ways to serve within your niche. As a leader, where do you seek new information? I remind all my clients the importance of reading books and magazines outside of their industry if they want to learn to “connect the dots.”

Leaders need to get their teams to think differently and be more open to new and “old” ideas that just may be new again. The moral of the story is to be curious, ask questions and don’t be afraid to look to the past to predict the future.

How are you expanding your leadership skills to connect the dots in business, government, community and non-profit to make an impact on society? We would love to hear your stories.

Jodi Walker
Chief Creative Catalyst, Success Alliances

Jodi is one of fewer than 300 women in the world to receive the highest earned Certified Speaking Professional designation from the National Speakers Association and the Global Speakers Federation. To learn more about Jodi visit her website at, www.JodiWalker.com. You can contact Jodi at Jodi@JodiWalker.com  or 661-297-6821.