CEO of b.well Connected Health talks about how a near-fatal medical error inspired the company’s launch

Kristen Valdes, founder and CEO of b.well Connected Health, talked about why she formed the company. She explained the mission of the business is to provide transparency for health data, to help patients share their information, and to provide easy access to care for in-person, virtual, and digital formats, in response to emailed questions.

Why did you start this company?

I founded b.well Connected Health after a seven-year journey to find a diagnosis for my daughter and a near-fatal medication error that could have been prevented if two Electronic Medical Record (EMR) systems were able to communicate. At the time, I was an executive running a key business within United Healthcare, the nation’s largest health insurer. For seven years, ever since the birth of my middle child, Bailey, I had been working nights and weekends to find a diagnosis and treatment for Bailey, who was born with a significant autoimmune disorder.  We experienced countless misdiagnoses, costly repeat procedures, and diagnoses based on limited and siloed health data.  

Kristen Valdes

Finally, I was able to successfully pinpoint Bailey’s medical issue by aggregating, analyzing, and considering all pieces of her health data. Yet the many specialists we saw brushed off my suggested diagnosis and repeatedly asked me if I “had a clinical background”. Then, one day, Bailey was hospitalized with a life-threatening complication from a medication contraindicated to that specific disease. Only then did her doctors accept that there was something systemic happening with Bailey and aided me in obtaining a referral to the specialist she ultimately needed.

Just imagine how many others with similar issues might have received a faster diagnosis and avoided errors like the one that occurred with Bailey if only a person’s holistic health picture could be freely shared.  People need empowerment, navigation and personalization through the overly complex and fragmented healthcare system to become successful advocates for themselves and their loved ones.

I founded b.well (named for Bailey, who I have called “B” since the day she was born) in 2015 to solve this systemic problem by putting consumers at the center of the healthcare equation. We deliver the three things that consumers have been asking for — transparency to all of their health data with the ability to share it with whomever they choose; data use to proactively identify and respond to their personalized care needs; and a digital-first approach to accessing care whether in-person, virtually, or digitally. 

What need/problem are you seeking to address in healthcare?

The American healthcare system is at a crossroads, set to make a fundamental shift from a provider-driven model to one in which consumers are in the driver’s seat. The two questions facing every healthcare stakeholder today are, first, how can we enable a truly consumer-first digital experience that finally puts patients in control of their own healthcare journey? And, two, how can we support our move to value-based care by nurturing trust and loyalty among our population? 

Consumers have grown accustomed to technology that emphasizes their convenience when banking, traveling and shopping. Then you look at healthcare and it’s very fragmented with every doctor, hospital, lab, retail pharmacy and insurer having their own portals that store a fragment of a consumer’s overall health picture.  Patients are still required to do extensive research to find doctors, which usually results in frustration and asking a friend for a recommendation and then they have to call by phone to book appointments. With the increasing popularity of wearables, digital therapeutics, and virtual care there are just too many sites for a consumer to manage. Overall, they’re dealing with a system that is fragmented, overly complicated, and lacks convenience. When you layer on top of that the fact that consumers change insurance, change doctors, change wearables and solution providers, there’s also a need for portability of data so they’re not leaving all of their personal data behind when they move.

Additionally, healthcare is very reactive today; we typically wait for someone to get sick and present into the system to drive care. Yet value-based care requires providers and consumers alike to be proactive in managing health and well-being. With access to all data in one place we can digitally surface insights proactively to users and their providers to let them know when it’s time to take action and be proactive with their care needs. We can also preserve our most coveted resources in health, our nurses and doctors who don’t have time to pick up the phone to try to drive consumers in for care.

This shift away from fee-for-service to a pay-for-value model requires giving providers access to the full picture of an individual’s health so they know what’s happening the 99% of the time patients spend outside of the doctor’s office and can proactively intervene to prevent serious illness. To succeed with value and risk, they need to see data across the healthcare spectrum from wearable devices to medications refilled to encounters with specialists or doctors outside of their own practice. With the rise of digital health solutions, providers also need the ability to recommend solutions that can be helpful to a consumer’s health journey in between doctors visits.

Fortunately, government is increasingly supportive of interoperability and consumer rights. For the first time ever, CMS and ONC have empowered consumers through regulations to data that will help to create a “shoppable” healthcare experience.  Healthcare stakeholders are responding to the challenge and adopting approaches that utilize the full range of information available for their patients.  Something is working in healthcare for the benefit of consumers and many healthcare participants are in a prime position to benefit. 

Everywhere I look I’m seeing acceleration in healthcare to move more towards digital-first.  But it’s important to note that it’s not just about being digital; it’s redefining today’s complex workflows to simplify them to deliver on the personalized experience consumers demand in today’s digital world. Creating an application is the easy part. Putting the work in to rethink how the healthcare delivery system operates today to create a personalized consumer-centric digital experience is what is new and difficult for healthcare stakeholders.  There is a real time and expense to rethinking models that are often siloed into complete consumer experiences.  I believe that there has been a real intent to get more digital and consumer centric for many years but now we’re seeing leadership get behind the change needed with budget dollars and timelines.  It’s a very exciting time to be involved in the digital transformation of healthcare.

What does your product do? How does it work?

B.well is the new platform that brings the full picture of a consumer’s health together with every app and company they want to use, to deliver on the experience they are demanding and that providers and payers need to achieve a value based model by bringing all kinds of companies together to create a holistic experience. We deliver the three things that consumers have been asking for — transparency for all of their health data with the ability to share their information with whomever they choose; data use to proactively identify and respond to their personalized care needs; and easy access to care both in-person, virtual, and digital. 

How do we do that? The b.well platform operates on behalf of individuals and integrates and analyzes data from virtually any source and presents it in a way that encourages and incentivizes consumers to improve their health while lowering costs. B.well is effectively a launching off point for consumers where all of the programs, all of the data and all of the information that they need about their health can be launched from one simple navigation location on their smartphone.  Moreover, we’ve created an ecosystem that brings together all of the partner companies that consumers use to manage their health, in one place for easy access.

To accomplish this, b.well leverages FHIR-based application programming interfaces (APIs), along with more traditional data standards, enabling consolidation of a 360-degree view of real-time health data from virtually any source. This includes labs, pharmacies, Medicare, the Veterans Administration, third-party apps and devices, and any FHIR-enabled health plan or provider—access that is now mandated by the Patient Right of Access law.  B.well is also integrated with providers’ enterprise applications, including Epic  and Cerner electronic health records (EHR) to ensure continuity at the point of care. Patients can use b.well on their phone or a PC to do all of the things they could do through their provider’s web portal, plus view and share information from any outside source in a way that previously would have required them to maintain multiple logins and passwords.

Unlike existing EHR patient portals, b.well gives patients, employees and community members the ability to coordinate health information across providers, pharmacies and healthcare systems, including third-party providers. Users gain secure access to their provider and insurance information, can manage their medications, schedule and conduct in-person or virtual visits, and receive alerts and reminders on future care needs, such as immunizations and preventative care. Moreover, through our HealthCircle feature, users of the app can help to manage the care of family members and friends who give them permission to monitor their medications, order refills, make appointments on their behalf, review their records, and generally serve as the family care navigator to ensure patients adhere to their providers’ treatment plans and that important care is not overlooked.

Overall, the platform delivers a unique digital technology for health information interoperability and aggregation, empowering consumers to manage all of their healthcare in one location that is persistent, mobile, and personalized. For health systems, the platform serves as a new “front end” to health – a leap beyond the “digital front door” that delivers new insights on patients based on their behaviors; new communication tools to deliver personalized population health messages (i.e., “it’s time for your A1C test”); simple and direct navigation into in-person and virtual services; and deep consumer engagement. 

What really excites me about our platform is that it’s a “learning platform” across the healthcare delivery system. To explain what I mean, consider that we uniquely work with every stakeholder – employers, health systems, and payers—and they are all working on different challenges aimed at consumerism and the shift to value-based care. One may be working on accountable care measures like improving the prevalence of mammograms, or colorectal cancer screenings. Someone else might be working on what’s the most appropriate way for consumers to find and access the appropriate care, or how to update provider directories so they can match people to the right doctor the first time. Another may be working on direct contracting initiatives with Medicare to help navigate referrals and care to keep costs down and quality outcomes up. But no two of our customers are working on the same problem, and none of them can be working on all iterations of the problems they face. 

To do that, they need our help. How do we help?  When one customer configures our solution in a way that drives value, we can go to other customers and very quickly flip on those feature flags for them. In doing so, we can help to create a rising tide where every healthcare stakeholder doesn’t have to solve every problem independently. Instead, they can start sharing best practices and working together. So I call b.well an acceleration platform because customers on our platform get the value not only of their own innovation in digital transformation and consumerism, but also that of all of our other customers, and they can start to share best practices.

Is this your first healthcare startup? What’s your background in healthcare?

I have been a part of three healthcare startups in my career but b.well is the first company I personally founded. I started my career working with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on the first national payment integrity programs for Medicare and Medicaid.  I then helped to build XLHealth, one of the pioneering Medicare Advantage plans for the chronically ill.  I was responsible for maintaining and growing the profitability of the plan and was instrumental in its acquisition by UnitedHealthcare in late 2012 for $2.4 billion.  I continued as an executive at UnitedHealthcare, where I led Medicare Advantage plans across 12 states. 

Today, I am a board member of the CARIN Alliance, a non-partisan multi-stakeholder collaborative that aims to enable consumers to access their health information with less friction. I also mentor women-led startups on my own and through organizations such as Springboard Enterprises, whose mission is to accelerate the growth of entrepreneurial companies led by women through access to essential resources and a global community of experts; and with the GuideWell Innovation Center, whose mission is to serve innovators and entrepreneurs dedicated to solving urgent challenges in health and wellness. I am also on numerous boards as an independent director and serve on several non-profit and for-profit advisory boards as well.

What is your company’s business model?

We operate as a SAAS-based subscription, and the business model is to provide a healthcare digital transformation platform for health systems. For self-insured employers we provide a packaged solution that helps them manage employee health in the same way that a health plan manages a population. It enlists tools that put the patients/employees at the center, so they can access all of their health data, which empowers health journeys that deliver measurable outcomes for our customers. 

Who is your customer?

Our customers are health systems, insurance companies, self-insured employers and pharmacy chains. B.well is currently under contract for over 7 million lives across our customer base and has consumer end users in all US States.  

Reference customers include the health systems MedStar Health, UnityPoint Health, and ThedaCare; the employers Pentagon Federal Credit Union (PenFed), L&F Distributors, and Virginia Eagle; and Walgreens. 

How do you generate revenue?  

We’re a technology platform, designed so stakeholders don’t have to spend millions of dollars and several years trying to deliver on a consumer-focused model as they move from fee-for-service to value-based care. B.well is all about helping them with speed and getting to market more quickly while saving them the time, money and expense of trying to do it themselves. It’s a missing piece of architecture. We are helping healthcare stakeholders to deliver on their digital transformation objectives and the vision of consumerism much faster than they can do it on their own. 

Do you have clinical validation for your product?

In its first year of use, the white-label version of b.well used by ThedaCare Health in Wisconsin, called “Ripple by ThedaCare,” has generated significant adoption and engagement. 83% of Ripple users who are designated as “high risk” due to their condition and 70% of ThedaCare’s ACO population is now using Ripple, with an engagement rate ranging from 74% to 95%. Among Ripple users, ThedaCare-reported improvements in population health include:

  • 45% increase in telehealth utilization  
  • 20% increase in breast cancer screenings
  • 15% increase in closure of dyslipidemia care gaps
  • 8% increase in compliance with diabetes management

One of the largest health systems in the mid-Atlantic region uses b.well as their enterprise solution for consumers across their coverage area (both patients and non-patients). As a result of having the platform installed, the health system was able to quickly configure a triage and scheduling process for COVID vaccines in advance of their approval. In the first month alone, over 500,000 consumers triaged through the process with over 40% of them being net-new to to the health system, making b.well an engine for both building patient loyalty and for new patient acquisition.

L&F Distributors, a Texas beverage distributor, uses b.well to engage its 1,200 employees in the use of onsite health clinics and other health benefits. Through digital engagement, b.well increased the number of employee patients in the clinics by 57%. Use of b.well reduced L&F’s employee per member per month medical cost from $229 to $198, reducing total medical cost by 14%.

Pentagon Federal Credit Union (PenFed), the nation’s second-largest federal credit union, uses b.well to provide its 2,700 employees with easy online and mobile access to everything from personalized medical information to mental health and financial resources. Among the outcomes achieved through PenFed’s use of b.well is a significant one-year increase in health screenings among b.well users compared to employees not on the platform:

  • 41% increase in breast cancer screening vs. 22% for non-b.well users
  • 11% increase in prostate cancer screenings vs. 3% for non-b.well users
  • 20% increase in cervical cancer screenings vs. 5% for non-b.well users

Virginia Eagle, a Virginia-based beverage distributor, saw preventative prostate cancer screenings increase by 33% in the year after introducing b.well to its employee base. Condition requirements for those diagnosed with dyslipidemia (such as an annual PCP visit and an annual lipid blood panel) increased by 21% resulting in a $7 reduction in per member per month spending. Condition requirements for those diagnosed with diabetes (which adds HbA1c testing) increased by 20%. Understanding the importance of an annual physical, b.well pushed the population to connect with their providers since this visit can accomplish many important tasks and lead to impactful discussions.

In2019, 62% of all registered employees completed a primary care physician appointment. In 2020, 86% knew this was an important part of their healthcare and made that appointment.

Photo: Urupong, Getty Images

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