Better Food, Better Health
Episode 582

Lauren Driscoll, Founder & CEO at Project Well

Better Food, Better Health

Food is a crucial part of our health. Today’s guest banked on that importance and created a company with a mission to provide personalized food intervention to those who are suffering from chronic disease.

Listen to Lauren Driscoll as she discusses how her company helps provides the needs of the chronically ill population. She also talks about the additional benefits as well as the ultimate result which is driving down health care costs.

This is a very insightful conversation so make sure not to miss it!

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Better Food, Better Health

Episode 582

About Lauren Driscoll

Lauren Driscoll is the founder and CEO of Project Well, which provides personalized food and nutrition solutions to Medicare Advantage (MA) members with nutritionally sensitive chronic diseases and at risk of food insecurity. She is also a senior advisor at Leavitt Partners, advising private-sector health care companies as they navigate the transforming health care marketplace. Previously, Lauren served as executive director of Village Health Works and served as the corporate director of Oxford Health Plans. She also served in the White House during the Clinton Administration on the policy staff for the Task Force on National Health Reform. Lauren earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia and an MPH at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.
(source: https://unitedstatesofcare.org/about-us/laurendriscoll/)

 

Better Food, Better Health with Lauren Driscoll, Founder & CEO at Project Well transcript powered by Sonix—easily convert your audio to text with Sonix.

Better Food, Better Health with Lauren Driscoll, Founder & CEO at Project Well was automatically transcribed by Sonix with the latest audio-to-text algorithms. This transcript may contain errors. Sonix is the best audio automated transcription service in 2020. Our automated transcription algorithms works with many of the popular audio file formats.

Saul Marquez:
Welcome back to the Outcomes Rocket, Saul Marquez here today, I have the privilege of hosting Lauren Driscoll. She’s a Health Care Strategist and entrepreneur and founded Project Well to support health plans, efforts to address critical nonclinical needs of their members, nutritional and social isolation. Lauren is also a senior advisor in the strategy practice of Leavitt Partners, a health intelligence firm founded by former secretary of Human Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt. Prior to Leavitt partners, Lauren served as Corporate Director of Oxford Health Plans Medicare Business. Lauryn’s also a co-chair of the United States of Care Entrepreneurs Council. Lauren is also a board member at Village Health Works, a health care organization that addresses the root causes of illness, poverty and neglect in Burundi Africa. She served as the Acting Executive Director of Village Health Works and is also a member of the University of Virginia College of Arts and Sciences Foundation board. Lauren grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. She received her Bachelor’s in University of Virginia and her Master’s in public health from Columbia University. Today we’re going to be diving into the topic of really health through what you eat and the work that they’re doing at Project Well is fascinating. Food as medicine and Lauren is going to be helping us understand how they’re helping people stay healthy and thrive with what they eat for such a privilege to have you here today.

Lauren Driscoll :
So thank you so much for inviting me to talk with you.

Saul Marquez:
Absolutely. Now, I love the focus of food right. You and I had a chance to connect before the interview. And it’s near and dear to my heart, my family’s heart, what we matter so much. Before we dive into the value prop that you guys have, I love to learn more about what inspires your work in health care.

Lauren Driscoll :
Sure, there are really three things that have really pulled me into health care. I would say first is just my belief that older adults really deserve better. There’s just so much sort of preventable hardship and suffering with respect to health. And I guess I feel like it’s just super unfair that after spending their lives doing the best they can and often nurturing sort of next generations, that we aren’t doing a better job with respect to the chronic disease that so many of our older adults suffer with. So that that’s kind of number one. Number two, I would say, is just the unfortunate inefficiency of our US health care system. Part of me, I almost think I might have been a process engineer or something in another life that drives me crazy to not take the sort of shortest path between two points. And so I look at situations in our US health care today, especially, say, with dual eligibles, the care for those who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid and therefore sort of among the most vulnerable in our country. And yet there’s just there’s so much inefficiency with these two payment streams and the two sets of rules really creating just perverse incentives that end up causing these folks to sort of ping pong around our system and. Drive exorbitant costs and not even particularly good health outcomes. So I would say it’s inefficiencies like that, that you really draw me into health care. And then the final one as you introduce, which is just I am such a believer in food as medicine. I think it’s very simple. You know, good food leads to good health. And so as simple as that sounds and sort of even elegant, it’s clear that there’s just a sort of glaring missed opportunity in our country to really leverage the power of food. So it’s really a combination of these these three things that inspired me to start a project.

Saul Marquez:
Well, good for you. And, you know, you captured some heavy stuff there, Lauren. Older adults deserve better and we’re inefficient. And food can be medicine. And it is. So let’s dive into this. What exactly is Project Well, and how are you guys adding value to the health care ecosystem?

Lauren Driscoll :
Sure. So our mission sort of to start out by explaining Project Well, I’ll tell you our mission, it’s really just to improve the lives of those who are suffering with with chronic disease, often food insecurity and loneliness, and to bend the health care cost curve as we do it. So our solution is centered on food and we look at food not only as medicine, but also as an anchor for socialization and education, at the end of the day, we know people come together around food. And so we are a young company, so we are really starting with home delivered meals and meal kits for those who really have sort of the most nutritionally sensitive chronic disease. So think diabetes and heart disease. And we’re starting there both because these are the people that have the greatest level of need we can help the most, but also because our proof of concept pilots will really drive results their most quickly.

Saul Marquez:
Well, this focus on meals, you know, the the the chronically ill are suffering. And as you mentioned earlier, they they’re taking up a large part of the health care bill. And that’s just the reality of it. Finding novel ways to address their needs is is critical. And now more than ever, especially around I mean, I hate to say it, but covid-19 Right., we’re dealing with it. The reality is they need help more than ever, too. So, you know, getting them the right food at the right time, all of these things matter. And let’s face it, the price of food compared to medications, it’s you can’t even compare. So talk to us about what makes you guys different and better than what’s available today.

Lauren Driscoll :
Well, so I have to start out by saying there’s just so much good work that’s being done out there, whether it’s food banks or medically tailored meal companies. But it’s just still really early days in the let’s call it a food as medicine field. And so it’s early days in terms of literature that is published showing that food interventions actually do make a difference. I would say that what we are doing is following in the footsteps of a lot of the great work that’s been done by the medically tailored male companies and food banks and food bank programs. But we’re doing it in a slightly different way. So we have created a tech enabled platform with an application whose name is Betty? She’s Betty. Think of Betty as a concierge and and then a matching algorithm that really gives us the ability to hyper personalize, to give people food that will really work for them and that they will enjoy. So we’re factoring in not only clinical needs, but also preferences and circumstances. So to give an example, say someone has just been diagnosed with congestive heart failure and they’ve been told that, you know, they should be at a predominantly plant based diet, but they hate eggplant and they love Italian food and, you know, they love to cook. We would make a point of sending that person’s food that is both healthful for them, but also addresses some of those preferences and also, you know, in other cases, circumstances like lack of functional status and dexterity to be able to prepare a meal so therefore send a prepared meal.

Lauren Driscoll :
So it’s really just a a different approach to the great work that’s been done out there already in the food as medicine space.

Saul Marquez:
Not that’s there’s just some good distinctions, Lauren. And factoring in those those preferences, the circumstances along with the clinical need, it’s like it’s like you turn on Netflix, right. And you get exactly what you want to watch. And it’s fits what you’ve been. There’s like a percentage fit and everything Right.. I mean, it’s just like such a nice thing, except you guys are doing this with food that meets clinical needs.

Lauren Driscoll :
Right. Right, exactly. Yeah. And then you’ve got the added benefit here of being able to improve health outcomes. So it goes beyond the satisfaction. So enjoyment is definitely a key, important factor of diet. We know that enjoyment is a key motivator to eating well, but here we have the added benefit of going beyond enjoyment and actually improving health outcomes and even driving down medical costs. So great, great analogy. And I would just add add some even additional benefits.

Saul Marquez:
Yeah. You know, the enjoyment piece is key. I did two different diets, I don’t know programs. And one of them was like just plant based, not really enjoyable. I was so glad to be done with it. I was doing it just to to to to lose some weight Right. I had gained. I tend to gain weight over the holidays and.

Lauren Driscoll :
We all do.

Saul Marquez:
I know, right. It’s terrible, but I always find myself doing something new and and then this time around I did a program through actually a guest on the podcast and I enjoyed the meals and I’m still doing it. Even though I’m done with the program, I’m still eating the meals and I’m enjoying them. So this has been a big deal or.

Lauren Driscoll :
Yeah, yeah. And just also feeling the viscerally recognizing that you feel better. We have found that people end up really having lasting dietary behavior change. They end up choosing better food over the long run.

Saul Marquez:
That’s so cool. That’s so cool. And that lasting effect is is key and especially if you’re feeling better. Such a great thing. Give me an example, Lauren. I’d love to hear something that you’ve heard or seen of outcomes, improvement or even better ways of doing business.

Lauren Driscoll :
So we’ve been piloting with a health system in New York City targeting their congestive heart failure patients. And it’s really been exciting to see the results. We’ve seen significant results with respect to both physical and mental health outcomes. And then we’ve also seen patients have reported this lasting change that we were talking about, that their ongoing food choices have become more healthful. So we believe it’s our ability to really personalize the food solutions that we’re sending to people that’s just driving really better compliance and therefore better outcomes which will lead to medical savings. And honestly, a number of the comments that we get are just super endearing and encouraging things like I never knew I here I’ve been I’m 70 years old and I never knew that I loved cauliflower. Now I want to eat cauliflower all the time. I never knew vegetables could taste so good. Or, you know, I used to think that chicken and rice was sort of the only yummy dish I could make. And now I have so many other things that I’ve enjoyed eating. So it’s been really encouraging the the early results.

Saul Marquez:
That’s awesome. That’s so great having those extra options. Right. add the key here. You get stuck in in your recipes and what you tend to eat. And just having those extra options opens up a world of what you can eat. And if it’s directly tied to to your health, then that’s huge.

Saul Marquez:
And then there’s that added benefit, which is so key to the business model that it’s also driving medical savings or reducing readmissions. So there really is a return on investment for our clients for four health plans and health systems. And there is the emerging literature that shows that your home delivered medically tailored meals actually do drive significant medical savings that represent a return on investment for health plans.And at risk health care providers, it’s sort of a I think of it is sort of a virtuous circle. That, you know, the business model and the actual health care is all sort of self-perpetuating and taking us in the right direction.

Saul Marquez:
Agreed. And so how is this prescribed? Is this something that the payer or the employer owns as part of the care plan? And tell me a little bit more about the the dollars.

Lauren Driscoll :
Yeah, sure. So basically, we have learned through through this through emerging literature that it’s the more targeted this intervention. And the more tailored the intervention, the really the better. So we will work with our customers to target a particular population. So potentially, you know, people who have diabetes and are food insecure and then we will reach out to those individuals and have a highly customized range of food solutions for those individuals. And the our client actually pays us on behalf of those members or patients. They pay us to select and deliver, match the the best food solution. And it’s really the medical savings and the enhanced member and patient engagement that really makes it worth their while.

Saul Marquez:
Sure, sure. It makes a lot of sense. It makes a lot of sense. I mean, if you’re not doing that, know, the alternative is you’ll be paying for a heart procedure or an E.R. visit. So do the math.

Lauren Driscoll :
Absolutely.

Saul Marquez:
Yeah.

Lauren Driscoll :
Yeah. And as I said, it’s early days, but the research is is emerging that you really can drive down so you can drive down hospitalizations and total cost of care.

Saul Marquez:
Well, I’m glad and, you know, it seems like it takes putting food in the context of things that we’re so used to prescribing, quote unquote, and within the within the confines of what we’re used to billing for and associating it with those things for it to actually catch on totally. And I’m glad that you guys are doing this. I mean, ultimately, we got to speak the language of health care if we’re going to have solutions like food as medicine have success. So. So tell me a little bit more about maybe a setback that you guys have experienced and a key learning that’s come out of it.

Lauren Driscoll :
Sure. Well, you know, truthfully and sort of knock on wood Project Well has not really had setbacks yet. We’ve really been it’s early days. We are just over a year old and we really have been the sort of lean, mean but empathic machine. And we’ve just been accumulating some great advisers and team members and had lots of incoming interest and are just continuing to build. So I’m happy to say no real setback there. But I did want to take the opportunity just to talk on a more personal note. Yeah, I so I decided after having been the lead on the Medicare business that Oxford Health plans, I decided that I really wanted to be at home with my with my kids. And I ended up spending about a decade at home really taking care of my kids and just being sort of working in the home. And I don’t regret it for a minute because there are many reasons on a personal level why it was a clear Right. choice. But I have to say it was a bit of a setback in terms of re-entering the workforce now a decade ago. But, you know, I guess what I really learned from that is that life really has chapters and entrepreneurship does not have to be an early chapter.

Saul Marquez:
I love it. I love it. Well, and with that, you know, you’re you I’m sure you got all sorts of insights and caring for your family and also having the the insider mindset and kind of approach to health care. I mean, there’s something to that Right. you took a break from it all and came back with a different angle.

Lauren Driscoll :
Totally, totally. And food as medicine did play a role during that period. So you’re right. You do get you do bring perspective from every chapter of it.

Saul Marquez:
That’s a great way to look at it. You know, every chapter and you’re listening to this right now and you’re thinking what chapter my in. And and if you take some time to reflect on that and you’re ready to turn the page and maybe start a new one, then that’s fine. But if you’re in the middle of a good one or you’re enjoying where you’re at, that’s good, too. There’s time here. And, you know, health care doesn’t move super fast, although these last few months we’re going to see some advances. But, you know, Lauren brings up a good point, these chapters in life. And so as you as you think about sort of the last 10 years and the now the new chapter that you’re on with Project, well, what would you say you’re most excited about?

Lauren Driscoll :
Well, certainly I think there seems to be sort of an awakening with respect to the importance of upstream factors and the social determinants of health. And there seems to be a particular recognition that food is so incredibly important. You know, you say people at large starting to really appreciate and demand healthy food. It’s almost like there’s sort of an expanding, almost popular consciousness around the importance of food. You know, even prior to this COVID-19 crisis, there’s just greater recognition. And certainly the COVID-19 crisis has kind of turned up the volume because we’re seeing people with heart disease and diabetes who suffer with obesity as being even more vulnerable than than others. But it’s good to see that the recognition is is really increasing and it’s not only sort of on a grassroots level and in the medical community, but even if there’s a bipartisan food as medicine working group now and on a state level, there’s been some amazing work underway. Massachusetts and North Carolina have made great strides with respect to food, medicine and just addressing other. Social factors that are so critical to people’s well-being and their health. So lots of great work. And then I love the work that United States of Care, which was founded by Andy Slavitt and Natalie Davis. And they’re really taking some of these best practices that are coming out of certain states and sharing them with other states. So it’s it’s just heartening to see the sort of the groundswell of recognition and focus on these social factors. And in particular food.

Saul Marquez:
It is exciting. And I think it’s going to make a big difference. So as we wind down our chat today, Lauren, I’m curious what you would recommend as far as reading material for for all of us.

Saul Marquez:
Yeah. So my favorite book ever is a book that was written by Wallace Stegner, and the title is Angle of Repose, and it’s actually takes place at the time of Manifest Destiny. And it’s the story of an individual woman who sort of makes her way across the country. So it’s a story of journey and progress and growth and learning, not tied to health care. But, you know, just a beautiful story and journey.

Saul Marquez:
Well, you know, what I found sounds fascinating. And we are going through this journey with progress and growth and learning. So there might be something there for us in health care as well. Thank you for that recommendation. Of course, you know, I love literature, like you learn a lot from it and even history Right. and I feel like there’s that that human fabric that you could pull and gain from and apply really to anything, including health care. And I’m sure there’s some nuggets in there around humanity and maybe resilience that I’m sure could help us. Absolutely. So, Lauren, this has been a ton of fun, folks. Just as a reminder, you can go to learn more on Project Wally’s website as well. Betty Dotcom. That’s well, Betty Dotcom or just go to Outcomes Rocket that health and in the search bar type and project. Well, and you’ll see today’s all you’ll you’ll be able to see the show notes with the full transcript and also hear the podcast from there or your favorite podcast application and yes, of make sure you check out my conversation here with Lauren Driscol. Lauren, before we conclude. I’d love if you could just leave us with the closing thought and then the best place for the listeners could continue the conversation with you, sir.

Lauren Driscoll :
Well, thanks again so much for the conversation. I think it just has to be do not underestimate the power of food.Eat more fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, see seeds and nuts, less sugar, less meat, less processed food. And it will serve you well. And please do feel free to continue the conversation. You can reach me, Lauren. Well, Betty Dotcom,

Saul Marquez:
Outstanding. Lauren, thanks again for sharing your message. And we definitely look forward to hearing more about how you guys are progressing with Project Well. Appreciate your time.

Lauren Driscoll :
Thank you.

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Things You’ll Learn

  • Older adults deserve better.
  • Life has chapters and entrepreneurship does not have to be an early chapter.
  • Food is incredibly important, not just because the body needs it, but also as medicine.

 

Reference
https://www.wellbetty.com/