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Working with Digital Health & Benefits Companies: Celebrating 3 Years!

Our team at Informed Consulting recently sat down to reflect on our 3rd birthday!

In the video below, the Informed Consulting team of Founder & Partner Jeff Oldham, Partner Sharon Bryan, and Consultant Anna Torchio gather to celebrate the company's 3-Year Anniversary. During this fun and insightful conversation, the team discusses the following:

  • The Vision When Starting Informed Consulting

  • The Purpose Behind the Brand Design

  • Lessons Learned Working with Early Clients

  • Jeff's Personal Mission with Informed Consulting

  • Coming Together to Partner with Sharon

  • What Drew Sharon to Informed Consulting

  • What Sharon Enjoys About Working with Jeff

  • Sharon's Personal Mission for the Digital Health Space

  • Where Sharon Has Been Able to Make the Biggest Impact

  • Growth During the First Three Years

  • The Next Three Years for Informed Consulting

  • Projects the Team Would Love to Work On

We hope you enjoy the conversation, and we've provided a transcript of the video below for your convenience as well.

The Vision When Starting Informed Consulting

Jeff Oldham, founder and partner at Informed Consulting: Hi, I'm Jeff Oldham a co-founder of Informed Consulting. We are coming upon our third birthday here in June of 2023. And so as a result, I've gathered our Partner Sharon Bryan and our newest Consultant Anna Torchio to ask some questions and for us to provide some thoughts relative to what we've learned in our first three years of existence.

Anna Torchio, consultant at Informed Consulting: I have some questions first for you. You are one of the original founders of Informed. What was your vision when you started Informed Consulting originally?

Jeff Oldham, founder and partner at Informed Consulting: It began before starting the company, and I just came upon two things. One, I read a book called The Patient Will See You Now, and it was by Dr. Eric Topol. It talked about how in his lifetime technology is going to play a more prevalent role in healthcare. Not just technology, but consumer-like technology. The ability to have a very similar experience to when you get in your car and you see your dashboard and you know how fast you're going, and what the oil pressure is, and the speed, that humans should be able to have that kind of insight into their own body. To be able to know when a warning signal comes on and what have you. So I read that book a couple of times and I thought this makes all the sense in the world.

Then quickly thereafter I really started researching companies that were focused on “digital health” and in particular offering their products to employers. I was fortunate at the time to work with another company where, a team of mine, we were able to look at these early-stage companies and assess if they would be a good fit for our employer customers and health plan customers.

I got to interview a bunch of entrepreneurs and venture capital folks. You know just this one idea kept coming back. That is lots of folks have good ideas. In particular, what I have found with entrepreneurs is 95 percent of them are trying to solve a problem that either happened to them or their family and perhaps they've created a product to be able to assist others with the same kind of predicament but they didn't know where to go. They didn't know who to talk to at health plans or PBMs or insurance carriers.

So, the overriding premise for Informed Consulting was to get a team of people that have a passion for learning because if you know anything about digital health it seems like every 12 months it's maturing and growing and going in different directions. Then two, to love the idea of taking these new and emerging technologies and identifying where they could fit best in the existing health ecosystem. So that way, we're helping entrepreneurs, VCs, health plans themselves, and other folks in the ecosystem. So, I just sort of enjoy bringing these two worlds together.

The Purpose Behind the Brand Design

Anna Torchio, consultant at Informed Consulting: Tell me about the brand design

Jeff Oldham, founder and partner at Informed Consulting: First of all with the name Informed Consulting I just kept trying to think of words that I thought provided insight into people that are just constantly curious and they want to remain informed relative to any and everything that's going on. Sometimes folks in our industry, you know perhaps, they're using the same vernacular they've been using for the last 20 years. Or the same sales approach or what have you. That's something I’ve found to be pretty dull. I like learning new stuff so Informed is where that word came from.

Then the design of the logo, I just always admired Apple and Google and the different colors within their logos. For me, it always represented the inclusion of everyone because everyone has incredible ideas. At Informed, I wanted to ensure that it was an environment where we were open to ideas, open to people, and open to thinking about the world differently in an attempt to be able to help people when it comes to managing their own health in different ways. So that's sort of what the variety of different colors means to me.

Lessons Learned Working with Early Clients

Anna Torchio, consultant at Informed Consulting: Tell us about some of your early customers.

Jeff Oldham, founder and partner at Informed Consulting: So first of all we were lucky. We started in June of 2020 and we got two or three customers very early on. Then, full disclosure, the whole

Livongo/Teledoc thing happened in July 2020. That's when digital health money started falling from the sky.

One of our first customers was an artificial intelligence decision support customer that was very

near and dear to the world that the three of us come with ben admin or benefit technology. So that was a great example of when we got there we were told by advisors that the product was one thing and then the three of us and others got deep down into the product we found out this product actually does this and here's why. So what I found early on there like within the first two to three weeks is a good idea can be very raw and it takes people who come from the industry and spent a lot of time here to shape it. Perhaps the original idea is what the founder or co-founders anticipated and sometimes it's not. That's not necessarily a bad thing but I guess what I learned there is to be very open. Having worked with insurance carriers a long time ago, when they sit down a product it's been it's gone through the State Department of Insurance, and every you know every box has been checked and it's like here's your product, go. In our world it's clay. So that's what I learned from the first customer.

The second customer was an artificial intelligence primary care physician and what I learned very early on is the number of different levels of integration that need to occur within these products. What I mean by that is sometimes I've read these articles that you know entrepreneurs will come out and say, “Well hey, the existing health plan and healthcare world is the problem and I'm going to solve it. You know I'm going to stay away from the existing infrastructure. I'm going to solve it over here.” That doesn't work, except for maybe in the movies.

You've got to create products that align well with the existing plan and make that better. So what I learned with the AIPCA is that partnering with a health plan or what have you isn't enough. A primary care physician is an excellent example of you the proverbial digital front door and so you need to integrate with a myriad of sub-specialties in addition to health plans and PBMs. It was a Series A company and they wanted me to run a project around getting thoughts for B2B and what it would take for them to be successful. So that level and detail of integration I think was very eye-opening to me.

What I would say is just like every customer is different, you can't say that once you’ve seen one early-stage digital health company, you’ve seen them all. Maybe they have similar attributes but they're all different. So there's a reason why I guess a brochure for this doesn't exist at HBS

or Stanford. It’s something where you've got to be very open when working with these companies and very open in particular to what these companies can become.

I would say that's one of the better things that Sharon does. She can look at a product and be able to determine where it fits, where it can go, and where it should best be utilized. To work in our world, you can't be linear. You have to use the right side of your brain. That's what I enjoy in working with Sharon. She has a wide-eyed curiosity. You have to have that kind of open-mindedness in working so closely with all of these digital health startups in order to really help them.

Jeff's Personal Mission with Informed Consulting

Anna Torchio, consultant at Informed Consulting: What do you identify as your personal mission?

Jeff Oldham, founder and partner at Informed Consulting: To take good ideas and to make them available to as many employees or members as possible. To do it the right way. To make sure that things are driven by data and analytics. That the product is vetted. The onboarding, the implementation. It's not just say find a good product and put it in the healthcare ecosystem and walk away. There are so many different levels around making sure the product does well. You can have the best product in the world but if the product doesn't deliver what it says or it does or can't be implemented, then that’s not a benefit to people who buy it. There are many other things besides the product that matter. My mission is to work with companies who have the desire to not only build good things but to implement them and service them equally as well as they've spent the time building them.

Coming Together to Partner with Sharon

Anna Torchio, consultant at Informed Consulting: In late 2022 you brought on a new partner in Sharon Bryan. In addition to her wide-eyed curiosity, tell us about how that partnership came to be and what that's been like.

Jeff Oldham, founder and partner at Informed Consulting: Sharon is incredibly passionate. Sharon is not afraid to voice her opinion when she sees something that needs to be fixed. You may be thinking, “Well, everyone can do that.” I would just say that sometimes when you're working with entrepreneurs or what have you, they're surrounded by people who just like to say yes. You actually need somebody in your huddle that is willing to take a step back and go, “I think there are other ways for us to do this, or maybe the original intention isn't right.” So Sharon is incredibly curious and hungry. She's crazy smart but then also she's not afraid to have the difficult conversations. This can be with the founder. This can be with a prospective partner. This can be with an employer.

I have found that Sharon is the best in the business at being able to find something that's not working and convey why it's not working and everyone drops the phone call thinking, “Wow that was the most professional thing I've ever heard, and she really articulated that very well.” In fact, Sharon and I were on a call with a prospect two or three weeks ago, and the founder out of nowhere texted me and said, “You know that was the most that was the most in-depth conversation that I ever had about his product.” His product has been in the market for 25 years so Sharon's able to convey all of that super quickly and come across well immediately.

Curious, smart, and then also really good critical thinking skills. That’s Sharon.

What Drew Sharon to Informed Consulting

Anna Torchio, consultant at Informed Consulting: I'm going to transition to Sharon. You joined Jeff as a partner in January. What was it that drew you to this opportunity to assume a leadership role?

Sharon Bryan, partner at Informed Consulting: Thank you, Anna. I worked with Jeff at his first client as he mentioned. I've known Jeff before but I got to work really closely with him and I would just say, I think to Jeff's point, I really like consulting. It allows you to touch many different pieces of a business. So often in sales, you have very direct metrics and it's not your job to give feedback on other aspects of the business. So I love being able to kind of look at things holistically and help remove roadblocks that are associated with maximizing sales or retention or whatever the goals are for the company.

I worked with Jeff as a consultant all of 2022 and then joined as a partner early this year. I worked really closely with him before when he managed me at one of his clients, and I think what I learned really quickly is that I really enjoy working with Jeff. I think we are all a combination of the people we spend the most time with and Jeff is really good as a manager. He can see who people are and help them excel in their strengths. As individuals, we all have strengths and weaknesses and I think it's so helpful to have someone that doesn't ask you to be just like everyone else but really utilizes you in a way that is both fulfilling for you professionally and allows you to learn and continue growing. It just feels like you're doing something that's important.

What Sharon Enjoys About Working with Jeff

Anna Torchio, consultant at Informed Consulting: How would you describe Jeff in three words?

Sharon Bryan, partner at Informed Consulting: I promise I did notes. I had this down before but we've said this a bunch now. Jeff is always curious. That would be the first thing. I really love that for someone who has been in the space this long to be so curious and to continue to want to learn about new things. He’s always reading about new things. I love that piece of the business.

What he brings to my thought process on things, it's very level-headed so I feel like he's been through everything. Jeff alluded to that I'm very passionate and so it complements me very nicely.

Then finally, he leads with integrity. He really follows through, and I think when you're in this business long term you want to associate with people that have a really high moral compass.

Sharon's Personal Mission for the Digital Health Space

Anna Torchio, consultant at Informed Consulting: What's your personal mission in the world of digital health and helping startups and potentially making a difference in the employee benefit space or healthcare space at large?

Sharon Bryan, partner at Informed Consulting: I came to the startup space after spending the majority of my career on the broker side. I saw so many well-meaning sales reps and products that just didn't understand the ecosystem, and I don't feel like they truly understood how important it was to really fit very tightly within that ecosystem. So my primary driver for helping these companies is having tighter Integrations so that you can have a better user experience. Similar to a restaurant that starts with a great chef but fails because they don't get the operational side or the management side, it’s the same with digital health startups. Maybe the piece they don't understand in full is the distribution piece. So helping their great ideas come to fruition and find their space within the ecosystem is something that is a win for the user, and broker, and then, of course, it's a win for the company themselves.

Where Sharon Has Been Able to Make the Biggest Impact

Anna Torchio, consultant at Informed Consulting: Where have you found that as a consultant to entrepreneurs, you’ve been able to make the biggest impact with Informed Consulting clients?

Sharon Bryan, partner at Informed Consulting: I would say we are really fortunate to have a ton of contacts that we've worked with over the years. Oftentimes founders have advisors but maybe they haven't talked to different stakeholders within the industry. So they focus a lot on large employers. It's helpful to be able to support them in facilitating conversations with health plans, or a care navigation company, or just for them to understand how broad this space is and how important indirect influencers are, and how important they can be to the profitability of their business.

Growth During the First Three Years

Anna Torchio, consultant at Informed Consulting: The company's really grown since 2020. What do you attribute this to?

Jeff Oldham, founder and partner at Informed Consulting: It's probably two or three things. One is the pandemic really accelerated digital health. I'll never forget when the Livongo/Teledoc merger occurred. One of the CEOs said, “This is something that is happening three to four years before I thought.” I would say it's solely because of the pandemic so I think one of the reasons why we're growing is that the market is growing.

Second, we’re in this unique phase of digital health in that digital health 1.0 started very broadly, and 2.0 is getting more personalized which means there are more companies that need more help. To give an example, behavioral health is a common one where lots of behavioral health companies are in the market and have been for a number of years. It's very cool to see adolescent behavioral health, women's behavioral health, behavioral health for parents, and very specific groups of people. I think it is terrific. So that's another reason that we're growing. We all have an innate desire to help people in general and all of these products that are being created are to help people. The majority of them allow people to manage their own conditions at home.

Then the third thing that I would say is you know there are acronyms in our space: SDOH (social determinants of health) and HPSAs (health plan shortage areas). The truth of the matter is the math is not working. There are not enough physicians in medical school. We are not educating as many physicians as are needed to be in brick-and-mortar settings. So alternative ways of allowing people to manage their health have reached a point where it's incredibly important.

Then, secondarily you actually just have a lot of Americans who live in areas that don't have access to brick-and-mortar. They say with SDOH you have a lot of Americans who live in food deserts where they don't have access to fresh vegetables and food. As a result, they have high

healthcare spend. Then low and behold though, they don't have access to brick-and-mortar. I see all of these things closely aligned, and I think people are more cognizant of them now.

As people begin to determine what drives SDOH, a commonality is going to be ensuring that digital health continues to grow to help people regardless of gender, race, education, religion and what have you. As Dr. Topel said, “Democratize healthcare.” So, that's the third reason that we're growing. You've got more people focused on trying to fix this problem than ever before.

Anna Torchio, consultant at Informed Consulting: Sharon would you add anything?

Sharon Bryan, partner at Informed Consulting: The only thing I would add is that because there's so much money in healthcare, people see the money and say, “Well I want a piece of that.”

Secondarily, the plans used to cover the majority of an employee's out-of-pocket expenses so an employer was able to shield that member from how expensive and oftentimes not excellent quality the medical services at times were. Now, because it is so expensive and employers are having to cost share with their employees more, I think employees are much more open to finding other ways to receive care that might be more convenient while also knowing now that their dollars are at play. So, they're much more focused on how do I have a better consumer experience.

The Next Three Years for Informed Consulting

Anna Torchio, consultant at Informed Consulting: What do the next three years look like at Informed Consulting?

Jeff Oldham, founder and partner at Informed Consulting: I don't see this just digital health thing slowing down anytime soon. Like I said earlier, if anything I think it's becoming even more and more personalized. There is still a myriad of opportunities for new companies to come in and deliver. I hate the term disrupt because in healthcare you don't really disrupt. You have to get along well with others and fit within the existing paradigm so I don't think our curiosity is going to wane. If anything, the products are going to get better, faster, cheaper, and cooler so I'm looking forward to continuing what we do. It'll be fun to have this conversation three years from now to see how many new products have shown up and what if any influence we had on them.

Anna Torchio, consultant at Informed Consulting: Sharon would you add anything?

Sharon Bryan, partner at Informed Consulting: We've had a lot of fun and we're still kind of testing out if this is a channel that we will continue to expand in working with larger companies to help them better assess the digital health and the startup space. It's been really fun to use the same experience, but we have just flipped it so our client is the larger company looking to either revamp an existing channel that they have or just get a better understanding of where the market's going.

Projects the Team Would Love to Work On

Anna Torchio, consultant at Informed Consulting: As the last question, why don't you tell me about a project that we haven't taken on yet that you see as being exciting or something new?

Jeff Oldham, founder and partner at Informed Consulting: I can think of a couple. Just off the top of my head, a former SVP at Google created a mechanism via AI to assess people's sleep patterns and give them breathing lessons every night before they go to sleep. Within two months 89 percent of people have been able to overcome insomnia.

There are a couple of cool cancer companies such as with breast cancer that I'm looking forward to.

I know you said one and here I am giving you three, but I really like all this new behavioral health stuff. I love adolescent behavioral health solutions. We just had a conversation with a woman who's the CEO of a parent-type of behavioral health solution.

The fun thing about our world is that we're talking to companies and every 30 days, we're talking to four to six new companies that we didn't know existed. So I just like all of this inventiveness and creativity.

Sharon Bryan, partner at Informed Consulting: Jeff is the idea person, so he is always reading about all the new companies. I look to him for all of the creative ideas but from a business perspective, there are so many solutions out there that I think there'll be some consolidation in the market. I would love to have the opportunity to be involved in the merger or acquisition with two companies that make a ton of sense in fitting together.

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