Digital Health Assistants as the Next Frontier for Patient Empowerment
Episode 530

Varun Goyal, CEO at Illuminate Health

Digital Health Assistants as the Next Frontier for Patient Empowerment

This episode features the outstanding Varun Goyal, CEO, and co-founder of Illuminate Health. Varun talks to us about how his company leverages technology to simplify and personalize organizing medications, connect patients to support systems, assist physicians in making better care decisions. He also shares the impact of their platform on telehealth, comorbidity management, patient usage of the app, and more. There are so many great insights buried in this interview, so don’t miss it! Please tune in for our exciting conversation with Varun Goyal.

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Digital Health Assistants as the Next Frontier for Patient Empowerment

Episode 530

Mr. Goyal is a health care technology executive with 18 plus years of consulting, product management, and strategy experience. He has held global leadership roles with Availity, Hill-Rom, Oracle, and Motorola. He holds a Bachelor’s in Computer Engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology, Masters in Computer Science from the University of Chicago, and an MBA and health care strategy and marketing from the Northwestern Kellogg School of Management.

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Saul Marquez:
Welcome back to the Outcomes Rocket, Saul Marquez’s here. And today, I have the privilege of hosting Varun Goyal. He is the CEO and co-founder of Illuminate Health, a digital health startup helping patients and family caregivers optimize medication therapies supported via telehealth. Only 12 percent of U.S. adults have proficient health literacy. And as a result, five hundred and twenty eight billion dollars is spent on non optimized medication therapies impacting millions of people. Eliminate Health is on a mission to be the digital care assistant to help people with self care at home where a majority of health care happens. Mr. Goyal is a health care technology executive with 18 plus years of consulting, product management and strategy experience. He has held global leadership roles with Availity, Hillrom, Oracle, and Motorola and holds a Bachelors in computer engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology, Masters in Computer Science from University of Chicago, and an MBA and health care strategy and marketing from Northwestern Kellogg School of Management. They’re doing some fascinating things, leveraging the telehealth wave that we’ve got going on now with Cauvin. But even before that. And so just truly a privilege to be here with you. Varun, excited to dig into what you guys are up to at Illuminate.

Varun Goyal:
Thank you. Happy to be here.

Saul Marquez:
So before we dive into the value offering, tell us a little bit about what inspires your work and health care for an.

Varun Goyal:
Sure. So after working in various industries from a technology consulting perspective, it was it was kinda interesting to work in healthcare where it seemed like it was this complex puzzle that needed to be solved. And, of course, having that technology background, you know, it was fascinating to me how how behind the technology adoption curve health care was. So that’s what drove the initial interest in getting into healthcare after business school.

Varun Goyal:
And of course, you know, health care is personal, right. So so over time, what what is interesting, working in health care in this turn of work in consumer health was, you know, that’s kind of the time where my wife and I were starting to start our kind of family and, you know, got to a point where we were fortunate in avoiding a potential miscarriage due to a medication error. And so that really made me realize the care gaps or the room for error, despite all the systems in place and the experts. And not that anyone intends for anything bad to happen. But, you know, things can slip through the cracks. So. So that kind of was the original inspiration for, you know, more specifically what is now Illuminate.

Varun Goyal:
And over time, as I’ve seen and talked to different patients, you know, with my my dad was a diabetic and, you know, spends close to sixty six minutes a day on self care with medications and other things he has to do or or seeing a friend go through, you know, substance use disorder recovery. There’s just a lot for people to worry about and do. And that’s what, you know, kind of inspires me is is to use technology to to provide that assistance to make their lives a little bit better on a day to day basis. You know, that personal level. But, you know, if you kind of zoom out a little bit, it’s also the public health implications. You know, so, so if we can help folks not just with chronic conditions, but with a substance use disorder, you know, addiction, given the opioid crisis, can have such an impact from a public health perspective. So all of that together really, you know, keeps me keeping going.

Saul Marquez:
Yes, some some great motivations there, personal story that sort of made you say we got to do better here. And so talk to us about Illuminate Health and the value you’re offering to the to the health care ecosystem.

Varun Goyal:
Sure. So, you know, the value really is in simplifying what would needs to be done. And from a patient perspective, that is in providing the guidance which is driven by clinical intelligence to tell them exactly when and how they need to be taking their meds or, you know, what other daily activities should they be performing as part of their care plan. You know, given health literacy in the country, it’s just really tough. You know, people are taking the wrong dose of a medication or not taking medications properly and having complications.

Varun Goyal:
And so the approach we’ve taken is, you know, starting out with this personalized daily schedule that we generate for the patient, aligning with their existing routine because research has shown compliance to be higher from that perspective. And then automating a lot of the medication safety checks, so the patient and the family member has peace of mind and has that trust. And last but not least, connecting them to to their support system, whether that’s their friend, family or their clinician, to to really close that loop. And that’s proven to be to be a powerful combination. So so I’d say that’s really our value in terms of what we bring.

Varun Goyal:
And from a clinician perspective, you know, it’s that productivity and efficiency and making it easier to have those engagement points with their patients, better information as they make care decisions, you know, and automating some of the tasks they already do. So with this for the pharmacists and nurses, you know, in discharge education or medication education, you know, all of that now can be a little bit easier given given the approach we take. And, you know, it’s even more crucial given where you’re living through the Covid crisis, where patients are forced to stay home. And so with the underlying conditions, you know, now they can have this this digital tool to guide them on on taking their medications accurately or connect them with their clinicians so that they can be monitored and and directed to appropriate care.

Saul Marquez:
Fascinating platform. And I mean, the problem’s a big problem. We’ve got, you know, 50 percent medication adherence. So that’s like over a half or a little bit over half that hour. And it’s it’s a half a billion dollar problem every single year here in the U.S. alone. No doubt what you guys are doing is hitting the mark. How does it work? And and in particular, is this a B2C product technology platform? Tell us a little bit more about how users engage with you and who engages with the technology.

Varun Goyal:
Yes. So you get it from from a business model perspective, you know where we’re going B2B2C, So we’re talking to the health systems and the payers, self-insured employers where, you know, it’s it’s offering it to to the consumer, if you will, through that channel. So the patient experience, you know, depending on how to get access to the app, is essentially downloading the app and and getting connected from an org code perspective to their sponsoring organization.

Varun Goyal:
And they can provide us with their daily routine in terms of, you know, when they have their meals and bedtimes and such. And, you know, ideally with with an interface to the EMR or a claims file, we’re able to populate their profiles, you know, with the medication lists and so on. And of course, that can be augmented by by the member or the patient as well. And and then a lot of the automation, the background, you know, highlights, you know, if there’s any potential for a medication safety event, like, you know, there’s two medications that interact with each other. Or if we find that, you know, a certain medication dose is not accurate or if there’s duplication in therapy. So those are some of the, you know, instantaneous, you know, value points that the consumer and or their connected clinician can have. And then it’s that personalized daily schedule where the patient just has to follow, you know, the suggested schedule, which, of course, we develop, you know, building it on top of how the doctor has prescribed medications to them. So it’s providing that last mile of translation, really, where, you know, if if a patient is taking, let’s say, ciprofloxacin and a doctor’s order says, well, Varun, take this twice a day for 10 days, you know, I’m still not sure what that really means to me if I’m taking other meds or, you know, my routine and our engine comes in and says, oh, Cipro is is one of those drugs that should not be taken as food so Varun since you have breakfast at eight o’clock.

Varun Goyal:
You know, why don’t you take Cipro at 10 a.m. and then the second dose at. Say, 10:00 p.m.. You know, so, so sad that guidance is really that that ongoing value prop apart from connectivity to to the clinicians.

Saul Marquez:
Love it. And oftentimes patients have many medications. I mean, Right. haven’t. 13 different medication that they take in one day, how they interact with each other when you take them during your routine. I can imagine as a as a pretty powerful, powerful resource. And you mentioned that right? So the economic buyer isn’t necessarily the user buyer in health care. And so you guys are working with with the sponsors of health care, working with the end user. How would you say what you what the platform provides has has made outcomes better or even maybe touch on how it’s made business better for for your your direct customers cash or access. Yes.

Varun Goyal:
I mean, pretty similar to other digital health offerings. You know, ah ah. Of course, you know, value prop is to prevent readmissions. You know, even if you can decrease length of stay and enable that faster discharge, given that now there is monitoring and self care capabilities built in. You know, as part of the value problem, apart from patient satisfaction. But, of course, as you know, everyone’s moving towards value based care, bundled payments. That really is the is the higher value crop. I would argue. And then, of course, now, right from the business perspective, the the reimbursements for remote care delivery, telehealth, you know, have been made easier. So so that adds to the business value as well. So so that’s where the business aspect comes in. You know, in terms of outcomes, it’s you know, our focus really has been on that patient engagement where you’ve been able to show, you know, actis patients, you know, and then retention has been for X of kind of some of the published benchmarks of other patient engagement type apps, because patients see us as as a tool boxes of resources at the end of the day. And everyone, as you mentioned, is really after the higher engaged patients, the higher an almond. And so that’s where we we add value.

Saul Marquez:
What do you think is the main reason for that?

Varun Goyal:
Yeah, I think it’s a combination of factors. I mean, I think it’s, you know, our approach to be the extension of the clinician. Right. So you got a trusted person recommending or prescribing the app and having that connection with the patient. And then it’s it’s the toolboxes of guided resources, you know, and the comprehensive nature of the product where, you know, let’s say pof a substance use disorder Patient reports having a high level of anxiety today. You know, the app is able to suggest try this two minute meditation and see if it helps. And if it doesn’t, then, you know, let’s connect you to somebody as an example. So it’s really that that value, right away, apart from what we discussed from a medication perspective and then the holistic and comprehensive nature where, you know, this is not specific to one disease. It’s for comorbidity management. And it’s also to to have the lifestyle pieces in there. So. So whether that’s education on healthy eating or having educational articles and videos are motivational readings in there, all of that can can be within, you know, the app and on the patient’s fingertips, you know. And last but not least now with substance use disorder or, you know, we’ve made the Alcoholics Anonymous and a lot of those other meetings available within the patient’s own community and their neighborhood. So. So all of that together has has really made an impact.

Saul Marquez:
That’s that’s that’s good stuff. As you guys have built out the business and started working with more and more customers, what would you say is one of the biggest setbacks you’ve experienced then? What was the key learning that came from that?

Varun Goyal:
Yeah, that’s a good one. So I would say that actually the main setback came recently, you know, as we all hit the Covid crisis where where we had some good momentum going. You know, we’ve over the last two, two and a half years or so, you know, built a platform, iterated on it. Did the betas and the pilots. And so we started noticing that conversations with health system started getting pushing out a little, pushed out a little bit, given the Covid crisis and everyone just getting into survival mode. Right.

Varun Goyal:
So so that, of course, was was a setback. But then we saw that our existing users, the utilization really spiked. And so, for example, working in substitutes disorder, you know, we saw that patients were really maximizing all the capabilities available within the within the product. And as you know, and that really inspired and motivated us because, you know, we thought, here’s someone who is being forced to stay at home. And we all know isolation is a killer when it comes to addiction recovery. And but they want to get better despite the constraints. And and so we we double down on helping addiction clinics deliver care virtually.

Varun Goyal:
And the other learning that came out of this was, you know, we’ve kind of toyed with the idea of being a telehealth player. And but now that it’s so much more crucial that, you know, people are people have this clinic will get great resource in their home environment to help them itself care, but also be connected to their clinicians where, you know, they can track symptoms and direct them to care. We realize, well, we do all that. And so, you know, we’re we’re now positioning ourselves as kind of a mainstream telehealth player as well, given that e-visits, virtual check-ins and the remote chronic condition monitoring needs. So those have been some of the learnings coming from going through this experience.

Saul Marquez:
Well, you got to you got to feel great about, Varun. Just, you know, the Covid pandemic has been challenging for all of us. And, you know, I mean, I find myself at home, right. thinking just like you, you have the same thing every day. I was talking to somebody this morning. I have to check the calendar. And actually know the day that it is. Yes. It’s like, what days is it? Is it Friday or is it Wednesday? Oh, no, it’s Tuesday, right? And when you have a substance abuse issue, I can imagine, like, it’s probably really challenging you. Like, you know, like you probably want to go to that substance more.

Varun Goyal:
Exactly.

Saul Marquez:
And to see the activity spike, you’re like, wow, people are using our stuff. And this is cool. Exactly. It’s it’s been fulfilling and so interesting that you’re you’re thinking about this telehealth play. I think it’s probably a really wise move and an opportunity to help even even more people on that front. What makes you most excited today?

Varun Goyal:
You know, from an industry perspective, it’s it’s what you mentioned earlier on in the conversation where we’re hot and heavy about telehealth now. And the crisis has really accelerated the adoption of telehealth and digital health in general. So while I don’t like the reason why this got triggered, but, you know, it’s it’s brought telehealth and additional help to the front and center and reimbursement has aligned.

Varun Goyal:
Which is huge because it’s aiding adoption. So so I’m really excited about that, along with even some of the HIPAA, you know, kind of relaxation of some of those, you know, regulatory needs which which are enabling clinicians to utilize even mainstream tools like face time for for virtual care. So I think. So that’s exciting from an industry perspective. And I think for us at you, you know, it’s exciting. Like I said, kind of having proven out. You know, one disease state with substance use disorder. You know, we’re starting to get some encouragement and signs of our platform story resonating with the market where, you know, we were one of the winners of kidney X kind of showing that we can help patients and struggling with kidney disease. We had some really good collaboration with with matter and the Roche diabetes care team. So so at the end of the day, yes. You know, being excited about having an impact on on patients and clinicians in these trying times.

Saul Marquez:
Congratulations. Yes. Say, that’s like some great traction that you and your team are having. And I’m excited to see where you guys go. With all of this home time in our hands say reading is is at the core of what I’m doing, and I’m sure a lot of the listeners are to. What what’s on your reading list? What what book or books would you recommend, Varun?

Varun Goyal:
Oh, that’s always a tough one. I think so, given through, kind of going through this crisis. I think, personally speaking, you know, I’ve been reflecting back Yuval Harari work with Sapien’s and some others, you know, even recent articles kind of kind of thinking through where, you know, humanity and society is going to go. Are we going to come together and really use our compassion as a race andas a people to get through this? Or let let us divide us more. So I think, you know, anything, but Yuval Harari really, you know, is always top of mind for me.

Varun Goyal:
And then, you know, just having been working in addiction, I’ve really learned a lot reading Dreamland, which is about the opioid crisis and how it started and and what it’s done. So I would say those two books would be kind of top of mind and I’d recommend.

Saul Marquez:
Love it. Great recommendations, actually. Funny, I am rereading sapiens right now. And just interesting that you mentioned his article. So he’s been writing some stuff recently.

Varun Goyal:
Yeah, it’s. Yeah. Forget where it was published. But but yet I can send you a link to it. It was. It was really good read, just like everything else from him.

Saul Marquez:
Yeah. I know. And he’s such a thoughtful writer and. And very just insightful in what he writes. Folks, if you haven’t read Sapiens a great read and Varun, I’d love those links. first of all, so I can read him. And secondly, further for the listeners to also dive into what he’s thinking during these times. This has been great, Varun, the value you guys are offering here and the medication adherence and substance abuse field. This is fascinating and just, you know, from a telehealth perspective. Also, you know, a great contribution. I’d love just to hear your closing thoughts and then where the listeners could get in touch with you and your team to continue the conversation.

Varun Goyal:
So, you know, just went on a positive note. Just like other crises, the Coalwood crisis also will pass and no doubt will come out as winners. But I also want to throw caution to the wind here and, you know, just make people aware that the opioid crisis still exists as well. And, you know, as as our advisor, Prof. Sumedha Gupta, says, let’s not lose sight of the epidemic for the pandemic. So substation’s disorder patients need help. You know, as do their caregivers. And, you know, we just are apprehensive that the opioid crisis is going to come back with a vengeance. Given that the substance use disorder patients are having to stay at home and be isolated. But to that end, we want to do our part to do what we can to help. And we’re making our platform available, free of charge to providers on the front lines, trying to deliver care virtually. So our patient at our clinician portal would love to talk to your listeners. So. And and get them going. So. So it can help them. And, you know, the best way to reach me is my email, which is Viji at Illuminate Dog Health. Of course, our Web site is Illuminate Dog Health. And we’re also on social media,

Saul Marquez:
Outstanding maroon. And folks, Varun is offering this free. And so it’s like a outstanding opportunity. If you feel like it is, just do it, you know, because the reality is, if you don’t, the likelihood is that you’ll pass up on this very intriguing opportunity and just forget about it. So if you feel like it’s good, act now, run for it. It’s, you know, Varun team are offering it for free.

Saul Marquez:
So, such a such a privilege, Varun, to learn about what you guys are doing in both medication adherence and also substance abuse recovery. Keep up the outstanding work and definitely we’ll be rooting for you here at the Outcomes Rocket. Appreciate you sharing your insights today.

Varun Goyal:
Absolutely, Saul! Thanks for having us. This was this is great.

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In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • Personalizing medication organization
  • Medication safety
  • Leveraging technology to optimize patient engagement
  • Substance abuse management through the Illuminate Health platform

Website: https://illuminate.health/