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Welcome to the Outcomes Rocket podcast where we inspire collaborative thinking, improved outcomes, and business success with today’s most successful and inspiring healthcare leaders and influencers. And now your host, Saul Marquez.
Saul Marquez: Welcome back to the podcast. Saul Marquez here and today I have the pleasure of welcoming Tom Wicka. He’s the CEO and Co-founder of Novu Health. Tom helped develop the platform as a way to personalize the healthcare system and as an advocate for better health and consumer engagement through the industry. A noted speaker an expert in Member Loyalty. Tom brings crucial insights to the nation’s most innovative healthcare payers and providers to deliver quality outcomes that benefit both individuals and the care system alike. Prior to Novu Health Tom was Chief Marketing Officer at IWCO Direct, a national leader in print direct marketing is his focus on uncovering large groups and his passion for helping healthcare in a broad perspective really gives Tom an edge in the way that he approaches things there. So I’m excited to dive into the focus of Novu, some of Tom’s thoughts today and really a privilege to have you on. Tom welcome.
Tom Wicka: Thanks for asking me to join you Saul. And thanks for the introduction. I think you covered it nicely.
Saul Marquez: Lovely thank you. Thank you so much for that. So Tom what is it that got you into the healthcare sector?
Tom Wicka: We as I said you mentioned my previous business experience and was in direct marketing and loyalty and in that space in that business we had really perfected how to engage and get people to raise their hand and say yes to whatever we were you know for our clients bringing in front of them and then that you know as a response if you will but then the idea of loyalty consumer you know consumer spaces the consumer spaces share of wallet and getting a repeat customer and building a loyalty relationship which was really great. Loved it had a good business very proud of what we accomplished. But you know Saul we are selling a lot of credit cards and filling airplane seats and maybe optimizing some hotels’ goals. And so although we were effective and productive and felt good about what we were doing, the idea of bringing that concept of getting people more engaged getting people to raise their hand and and be loyal quote unquote to something in healthcare seemed like an attractive idea. As we left that business and wanted to try to apply our learnings to a new category in that category being healthcare where frankly it’s just more rewarding and more exciting and instead of selling a plane seat at either you know REV rate potentially we’re going to help somebody manage their condition or improve health outcomes. And just again not to to be too pollyannaish but that sort of felt like a really good repurpose of the skills and the business methodologies we created in our previous business.
Saul Marquez: Love that Tom yeah and you know I think one of the key things that we’re seeing in the space is the introduction of leaders like yourself that have come from outside of healthcare to improve processes or the way that we look at things. I mean from automotive, executives, being brought into supply chain to the things that you’re up to. Tom I think it’s a really great thing. It provides fresh air to what we’re doing in healthcare and so from your perspective Tom, what’s a hot topic that needs to be on every medical leaders agenda today and how are you and your company approaching it?
Tom Wicka: It certainly is you know self-serving to our business model but this concept of you know customer or consumer centricity. But thinking about your the patient or the member and the payer side patient and the provider side or patient the medical side of procedures is that that person as a consumer. And here she is outcome is going to be directly either directly related to how well you engage them pass the medical tearly the medical piece of it and bringing that I think is bringing that type of view or approach towards any prospect part of the spectrum in healthcare Saul seems to be kind of what we call the business imperative and those that will do it are going to win financially and be able to demonstrate higher you know medical outcomes more improved medical outcomes and the ones that won’t will struggle and fall behind. You know wewe are category that you said the open really focused on the payer space and what we’re seeing is the payers that are being proactive being aggressive in this consumer centricity which is easy to save and hard to do and healthcare are the ones that are already seeing results both financial results to their organizations but also improved medical outcomes and health outcomes for their members. So to me that’s kind of foundational and fundamental as we’ve seen here kind of a business imperative doesn’t of course wouldn’t surprise you that that’s what our business is really focused on and helping organizations execute is that customer centricity or customer engagement approach. To me it’s foundational and it’s a matter of winning or losing over the next decade regardless of your place on the consumer healthcare spectrum.
Saul Marquez: Good stuff here Tom, and so you know as a as I think about what you guys do I love if we could zoom in a little bit let’s get a little granular. Can you share with the listeners an example of how you and your organization have created results for your customers by doing things differently?
Tom Wicka: Yeah. No it’s great put a little contextual because the idea of consumer engagement is like I said are consumer centricity is certainly easier to say but it’s hard to understand. Well as you said Saul help me help our listeners zero my listeners apply that. And so let me give you some examples. You know we are trying to find that what we call the highest value behaviors and activities that individuals should be doing on an annual basis to maintain their health or manage their conditions. And so if you think about a diabetic, that diabetic the one that manages their A1C and adheres to their medication protocol and generally follows the protocol of trying to manage a condition which is ubiquitously in our society can have a pretty good outcome. It certainly can live a regular life and not particularly interrupted with health episodes and that person you know is can be managed from an economic standpoint a financial standpoint with much greater success if you take another individual other individual but the same condition and we call noncompliance Saul or somebody that’s not following the protocol or following what they’re supposed to do and I don’t just mean you know geez cut back on the salt. I mean the big what we call the high value activities which is she or he taking the medication is she or he managing their A1C’s. Are they practicing in the care management program that’s extended to them by the medical society and that person that isn’t is not only has a much much poorer quality of life interrupted with potential hospital stays and real struggles around their daily health condition just giving out and about but that part is disappointing and challenging. But the economic cost to manage that person can be 10x of the one that’s compliant in the diabetic. So at Novu we are looking at the populations any populations and try to and working to identify the non-compliant, the non participating, the not engaged and going to them with very very personalized engagement strategies to get them to essentially become compliant and taking the most critical steps not eat a banana and walk around the block necessarily but to follow their medication protocol to show up for their care management appointments to report on their A1 C and measured on a regular basis to so they can get back into our more managed lifestyle. Using that example souls just want to say what we’re trying to do. Now the healthcare as a whole the society you write your physician the payers are all trying to get that individual to do that. We just come in with an ability to execute personalization and engagement strategies from outside healthcare right. Thinking about data in different ways thinking about rewards and incentives thinking about voice of what voice I should use what channel I should use what frequency should I use. And in that case we’re seeing significant improvement or participation in the noncompliant population we target to become compliant. And that’s the diabetic example. But you know you could take any condition and another kind of uses of the healthcare system and that’s how we apply what our solutions and our ah ah approach from a business standpoint to improve quality of life. But clearly we’re selling our products to payers and are interested in an economic return.
Saul Marquez: For sure.
Tom Wicka: Is that a is that helpful?
Saul Marquez: That’s clear Tom. No I definitely appreciate that and listeners that you think about all of the complexity that we’re face in healthcare right. You’ve got a system that deals with pain. You’ve got the provider giving the care, you’ve got transportation. There’s so many moving parts with the payers really working to try their best to improve the health care of their members. Companies like like toms are really important. You know you’re not an expert if you’re a pair listen to this you’re not an expert in marketing you’re not an expert in reaching out to people through the different channels. But Tom is and the beauty of leaning on somebody like Tom and his company to do that is that you get the benefit of experience. You get the benefit of being able to know how to leverage these technologies. And so Tom you know the transition from outside of healthcare to healthcare is tough. Can you share with us an example of maybe a setback you had what you learned from it as a result?
Tom Wicka: Yeah I think that’s it. Appreciate that question because it was we would say boy if we knew our difficult Saul it was going to be we might have not have started the business but it centered on us going a little not a little bit of a day in life is not so bad. But I think the coming from outside we had these known practices these ethos around what people engage around and what they’ll respond to. As I said to take a different airline, to stay at a certain hotel, to rent a certain car, to get a certain credit card. And we thought well that those will be easily transferred into healthcare. I think the set back there or the challenge was early on. We literally thought if we just build it they will come. And what we didn’t appreciate is the abrasion that the consumer who is over at you know shopping at Amazon and flying on Delta and stand down at the Intercontinental Hotel is your member and your patient. But when they engage or when they approach their healthcare provider their payer just the system as a whole the level of trust and the level of yes it’s a level of distrust and confidence that what I’m being asked to do is really in my best interest was something that we didn’t appreciate. As I said we just kind of we will build it and they will come and some people came but not the most important people these noncompliant, these hardest to reach and that’s getting a little naive that well if you create something value and it makes sense and it’s the right packaging and people will just find their way to your doorstep. And so after the first two years of having mild success we had to really pivot or shift into a much more proactive or outreach approach to consumer engagement. Loyalty you know direct marketing where we really had to take the fight to the individual and really address frequency and approach more so to get the results that we expected coming into the space. So now the first two years were filled with a lot of good success a lot of good work and the assumptions still stood. But our approach and what we had to overcome from a distrust and a little bit I know what’s better than you know what’s better for me was that was really a challenge and you know that was it two years two and half years of going sideways on our business model until we made the shift to what I was calling non compliant focused on non compliant and focusing on these high value behaviors. Absolutely what’s the most important things I need Saul to do. And that’s really drive all our energy into that. And when we did that we saw a significant increase in our client revenue. And frankly the success of our product and platform that was really as you said you set me up there was really because we didn’t appreciate the difference between the consumer practices that we had honed and perfected outside healthcare and just merely tried to port over to healthcare as you know this. If Apple and Samsung and all these companies have said we’ll get out of the way we’ll come in there and figure out healthcare and then they turn around and reverse jet out of the market space and go back to their consumer space and I understand that. But you have to really be able to understand and get into the weeds and embrace the complexity people that have multiple conditions that don’t respond, that don’t trust you. How do I overcome that. That’s a tough sport. And so if I’m answering your question both ends of it I think that was a learning that we had to make and frankly took us two plus years to even take a material step forward in our business model. And we did and we’ve we’re here we’re a testament to making that shift.
Saul Marquez: That’s wonderful Tom. Thanks for that response for sure you know and and kudos to you and your team for the tenacity to hang with it figure it out and and now you’ve got a model that’s working and it’s improving outcomes, it’s improving business results for your customers and that’s why we’re in the game that’s why we do what we do. What about the other side of the coin Tom. You know you told us about a setback. Tell us about one of your proudest leadership experiences in healthcare to date?
Tom Wicka: Again I get sounds a little mom and apple pie. But when we know because Saul we are essentially the membrane or the layer between the consumer and the payer in this case you know we get the real stories and the real impact of how our programs are affected. And again I know it sounds a little bit cute but when we get direct feedback through our phone channels, through our digital channels about hey you’ve got my attention. I took action because you were persistent and I caught early breast cancer. My wife is managing her diabetes to new levels. I am feeling of ability to be out in a society where I felt shut in. Again I didn’t open up much but we deal with a lot of seniors and a lot of the working poor is it tends to be our focus within payers and so I guess when we hear stories like that that frankly is the most motivating for me when we founded the business and I think for our employee base you know it’s easy to get caught up in the revenue model and how much are we optimizing the response rate and what should the reward be 10 dollars or 15 dollars. But when you get an opportunity to hear one of those stories like you changed my life which we get kind of weekly here that’s pretty profound. And I think honestly that’s what we’re most proud of or I’m most proud of again a chance to do that in a previous life. As I said we were quite successful selling credit cards and following plane seats but it doesn’t quite come with the same satisfaction as helping someone pivot from an unhealthy to a healthy state.
Saul Marquez: That’s awesome. Yeah. You know it’s it’s a beautiful thing and going back to that persistence and the right channels. You know if you guys are not persistent enough, if you’re not using the right channels you’re missing the boat and you’re affecting outcomes and so this is a really great Tom. Congrats on getting those stories definitely motivating, they would motivate me. And so keep up the awesome work there. What would you say an exciting project or focus that you guys are working on today is?
Tom Wicka: Inside our organization we just finished our 2000 actually this morning of this recording we finished and approved our 2019 roadmap so I would say inside of that process we are bringing machine learning to our models that I think is going to be again another kind of step forward. Again you see you know this that everyone wants talk about machine learning and A.I. and it again it’s really easy to say and it’s hard to do. But I would say what I’m seeing more really concretely and what we’re really excited about inside our platform is those machine learning capabilities that will automatically improve our models. It will take you know Saul from one journey, one level of content with response and no response to a different channel to try and a different communication etc. and run those models on an ongoing basis and improve them in real time and so we should have the success that we’re having now which is multiple times an increase in response rates over what our clients can do should then multiply again. And I think in healthcare you hear a lot about A.I. and you’ll hear a lot about machine learning but I think as you said a couple times earlier it’s the application of those learnings into real action with engaging a consumer a member a patient. It’s not good enough to have a data insight or a capability but if it can’t execute a more improved outcome it’s actually kind of quite sad. So I’d say that’s what we’re most excited about is the step up in our platforms capabilities and even driving higher engagement rates and utilization rates as we call them.
Saul Marquez: I think it’s awesome Tom and that is exciting. You know the nice thing about you know what you guys do is that you’re in the engagement business, the application of things like machine learning it do provide a great opportunity. The bar’s high to make it happen but also the regulations are not as complicated. So as far as you know being in a project that could that could be optimized and quickly implemented it’s there. So that’s super exciting. We’ve got to be thinking about this listeners are going to be thinking about what can we do to get better. And I love this approach by Tom and his team taking you know marketing campaigns and using them to help your members be healthier. If you’re an employer and you’ve got yourself insured, what are you doing to help your your employees? How do you doing to help them stay healthier? If you think you have a strategy down path, I would encourage that you take a look at what Tom and his team are doing because there’s no guesswork. You know these guys are turnkey Tom this part of the podcast we’re getting close to the end here. I’ve got five lightning round questions for you followed by a book that you recommend to the listeners. You ready?
Tom Wicka: I’m ready. I’m nervous but I’m ready.
Saul Marquez: I love it. What’s the best way to improve health outcomes?
Tom Wicka: Test and learn.
Saul Marquez: What’s the biggest mistake or pitfalls to avoid?
Tom Wicka: Accepting your current solutions status.
Saul Marquez: How do you stay relevant despite constant change?
Tom Wicka: Up to my previous question I think never. I mean it’s really it’s really hard on a company it’s hard and individual is never good enough. What we’ve just accomplished is not acceptable next year.
Saul Marquez: I love that. What’s one area of focus that drives everything in your organization?
Tom Wicka: This may surprise people employee satisfaction.
Saul Marquez: Love it. And…
Tom Wicka: To me that is a measurement, sorry. To me that’s a measurement of the work that we’re going to do that will show up in our customers solutions and ultimately in our economic results.
Saul Marquez: It’s powerful. And what would you say your number one success habit is?
Tom Wicka: Asking three times about a fact or result that it was told to me.
Saul Marquez: Love that you don’t want to assume right.
Tom Wicka: Right. No.
Saul Marquez: What book would you recommend the listeners Tom?
Tom Wicka: You know we as a company we finished this year book club across the leadership team and it’s popular in the business world right now called Radical Candor by Kim Scott and we got a lot of value out of it as a management team and a leadership team but also just individually. It helps me think about what I can do at 51 to be more effective. Knowing that you know I’m failing every day and I can be better but that book particularly was helpful for communications in the workplace.
Saul Marquez: Love that Tom, Radical Candor folks. Put that on your reading list or pick it up now. By the way all the things that we chat about today are available, a full transcript as well as an outline with links to all of the resources discussed. Tom’s company and all the all the things that we talked about just go to outcomesrocket.health and in the search bar type in Novu health you’re going to find all that there. Tom this has been fun. I love if you could just share a closing thought and then the best place for the listeners to get in touch.
Tom Wicka: I think I well please you can reach us at novu.com in the contact section and be able to reach our organization or I’m certainly happy to hear from many of your listeners at firstname.lastname@example.org. And as this closing thought I think it’s I appreciate the opportunity to tell you about what we’re doing in here. And you know although we’re I gave some examples and some areas that we’re focused on I think this concept of consumer engagement is a big concept. And but you’d need to apply it in real use cases. You can’t just say we tried it and didn’t work. You have to kind of test and learn. You’ve got to rinse and repeat. And I would think any part of their medical device or pay or provider space has an opportunity to improve their engagement strategy. We’d be happy to help them with that but certainly we don’t have all the answers other people or even internal organizations can have success. And I would just encourage the listeners to keep pressing on that gas.
Saul Marquez: Outstanding. Tom you’ve definitely provided some insights here that are valuable listeners take time up on that indicate an invitation to learn more. And Tom again just want to say thank you for carving out some time for us.
Tom Wicka: All right thanks Saul have a good day.
Thanks for listening to the Outcomes Rocket podcast. Be sure to visit us on the web at www.outcomesrocket.com for the show notes, resources, inspiration, and so much more.
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