Last Updated: 3/5/2019
In this episode, we talk with Michael O’Neil, CEO and Founder of GetWellNetwork, a Precision Engagement™ healthcare company that engages patients & families while empowering clinicians. Michael’s experience in healthcare began as a patient when, at age 28, he defeated cancer. This left him determined to improve how patients and families engage with the care process. Throughout this energetic episode, Michael lays out how GetWellNetwork is changing healthcare, what it means to change how physicians interact with patients, the challenges of international healthcare and much more. We know you will enjoy learning from this leader in patient-centered health IT.
About Michael O’Neil
Following aggressive surgery and chemotherapy treatments for non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma atage 28, founder & CEO of the GetWellNetwork, Michael O’Neil emerged healthy, humbled and inspired.
Following aggressive surgery and chemotherapy treatments for non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at age 28, founder & CEO Michael O’Neil emerged healthy, humbled and inspired. Shelving his hard-earned Georgetown law degree, he set out to tackle an unaddressed problem in healthcare: how to successfully engage patients and families in the care process.
Drawing from his experience, Michael started GetWellNetwork on the premise that a more active and involved patient is a better, healthier patient. Nearly two decades later, his vision for transforming the patient experience has become a core strategy for hospitals around the globe and given millions a voice in their care.
Michael serves on the board of directors for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and The DAISY Foundation, and is an E&Y Entrepreneur of the Year award winner. He holds a bachelor of arts from the University of Notre Dame and a juris doctor and master of business administration from Georgetown University.
GetWellNetwork® is the Precision Engagement™ health care company. Our solutions engage patients and families, empower clinicians and deliver outcomes that matter. From inpatient to outpatient, to physician practices and urgent care clinics, to patients on the go, GetWellNetwork offers the only cross-continuum platform that performs across every care setting.
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Dr. Dave Levin: Welcome to 4 x 4 Health, sponsored by Sansoro Health. Sansoro Health, integration at the speed of innovation. Check them out at www.sansorohealth.com. I’m your host Dr. Dave Levin. Today I am talking with Michael O’Neil, Founder and CEO of the GetWellNetwork, a precision engagement Healthcare Company that focuses on solutions that engage patients and families and empower clinicians. It’s a cross continual approach designed to work in every care setting and produced real results. Michael’s interest in healthcare is based on this experience as a patient. If we refer it from several previous podcast guests this is often the trigger for a career change and an energizing new passion. In Michael’s case, it was a personal encounter at age 28 with Cancer. Michael says he emerged, ‘Healthy, humbled and inspired’. He put aside his law degree and set out to tackle a chronic and critical problem in healthcare. How to successfully engage patients and families in the care process. Nearly two decades later his vision for transforming the patient experience has become a core strategy or many hospitals and has empowered millions of patients. Welcome to 4 x 4 Health, Michael.
Michael O’Neil: Hey, thank you Dave, I appreciate you having me.
Dave: Great! Michael, I’m gonna ask you a series of four questions today and ask you to take about four minutes to answer each one, let’s get started! So, question one, tell us a bit more about yourself and your organization.
Michael: So, I guess first about myself, like many others as you mentioned, in the industry, healthcare has shaped my life in an incredibly profound way. I was at 28 years old, I was at Georgetown University, in Washington DC, three years into my four four-year JD MBA program, getting long business degree and was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and like many others of us who kind of get welcomed into the Cancer Club quite abruptly, it’s one of those things that freezes you in time forever. When you hear those words and your whole world kind of gets turned upside down. So, I am one of the fortunate ones who had an incredible medical outcome but quite honestly, a nacho incredible experience as a patient and as part of the family and so having gone through a bunch of surgery, a bunch of chemotherapy, we turn into grad school with a bit of a burning fire. One from the baldhead I was sitting in my classrooms with for weight that I lost and really trying to figure out simply how to make it better for the next person up and so that experience around one of the most important points of my life feeling like I was on the outside looking in on my own care was really as kind of a striking moment for me to spend the rest of every time I had and grounds in my limited talent, they got to figure out like, how can we actually begin to change the way patient experience care. So, that’s kind of one event that kind of shaped my life. The other one was seven years into my GetWellNetwork journey. My wife and I had twin baby girls, Ava and Macy and we lost my little Macy to a Diaphragmatic Hernia, 19 days after she was born and it was interesting, it certainly like redefines pain and anguish and at the same time professionally had taught us that every time we think about patient engagement, we better think about patient and family engagement because it’s too often the patients that we are trying to care for and too young or too old or too sick or too medicated or too afraid and so these two kind of life events have really shaped GetWellNetwork in a very profound and simple straightforward way. Everything that we do at the company is trying to figure out how to take a healthcare patient in the very moment of their episode or of their care and really help create better patients in the moment using technology and transformational care management and that’s kind of what it is that we’re all about. So, I’ll just pause there. Those are kind of really two things about myself that have really kind of shaped my work and my life.
Dave: Well Michael, thank you for sharing that. I’m sure that our listeners will be shocked, just shocked to hear that the patient experience is just not all that but you said something in there that I personally think is extremely important which is this notion that it’s about engagement with patients and their loved ones, typically family members and like you, I’m convinced, this is not just a nice to do, this is a must do to be successful and if you step back and think about it, it makes perfect sense and there is literature, medical literature to suggest that the health of the patient affects the health and well-bring of those around them and vice versa and your story about your tragic loss, I think is a perfect example of that.
Michael: Hey, actually you know, even in my, look, whether it was a great medical outcome with my cancer experience or a horrifying medical outcome in the case of Macy. In both those cases, the amount of information oftentimes delivered in pamphlets and [unknown] and all kinds of things that are hard to quite honestly understand and absorbed and then to act on. So, I guess those were some of the things that sound so mundane and they’re repeated so many times over and over again but it’s quite shocking that you still go into a clinic or into a normal hospital or an ED today and you’re actually still experiencing the same thing. So, it begins to sound a bit cliché and so I guess it kind of is a good turn thing. So, then what the heck are we actually doing about it and that’s kind of what we do every day at GetWellNetwork.
Dave: So, again, I just wanna add the emphasis that I think this is both a nice thing to do, satisfaction is important. I think it’s also essential to achieving superior medical outcomes including reducing cost of care. So, I’m right there with you. Take us a little deeper on what you are doing at GetWellNetwork and how you’ve attacked this problem?
Michael: Sure so, at GetWellNetwork, we have over the years, spilled, acquired partnered to kind of put together the most robust patient and family engagement platform really in the world. So, whether you’re pre-registering for your first primary care, clinic visit, you’re actually preparing to see a specialist because here you need to get a new knee. You’re coming into a hospital because of a heart attack or having a baby and you’re back at home trying to care for yourself, well we have built that GetWellNetwork is almost like, I wanna say a digital tabletop. So, take all the complexities of EHRs and RTLS systems and payment systems and revenue cycle systems and if you were to put a incredibly elegant digital table cloth over top of all that complexity, so that the patient and the family could be personalized interactively, engaging, how can we actually find a way to make sure the patient and family feels in control because they are in control to help kind of navigate the most effective journey for them in there care and that’s really what GetWellNetwork does. I will tell you with the providers that we work with. The technologies for us despite the genius of our CTO and that would be from day one, the technology for us is the easy part. This is a change management game that we’re in, right and it’s a change management game with multiple stakeholders. So, we are number one, trying to help patients and families change their behaviors to take more control of their own journey but along the way we have to really kind of help the providers change the way they deliver the care and so we have a very large team of clinicians here at GetWellNetwork led by a phenomenal clinical leader named Dr. Karen Drenkard and so we actually work with physicians and nurses and care management staffs all over he world to help them really think about how to deliver care in a different way by putting patients and families truly in the middle of it.
Dave: I’m starting to think I’m gonna have to add a bell to the 4 x 4 Health Podcast because almost every guest at some point says, some variation of the IT was the easy part. It’s the change management, the people in the process, that’s really hard. So, a lot of residence with what we’ve heard before. I think you may have started to answer the second question. What’s the most important or interesting thing that you’re working on right now?
Michael: Yeah, so I’ve got…, forgive me if I have three things but I’ll be efficient with our time. So, the first thing is, the most interesting thing, so, we are in the midst of building the greatest patient engagement company in the world and you opened up with a comment about humility and we have a lot of that here because every day we’re trying to figure out how to do our work better, but we are bold in that stance. We are building the greatest patient engagement company on the planet and it is the most interesting thing I’m actually working on. We happen to work with leading providers across the US and now across the world, in Middle East, in Ireland, we’re about to get work up in Canada and so we’re working with them to both help set strategy for how to engage patient and families more effectively in their care and then implement across their entire ecosystem, these solutions, you really make healthcare easier, more understandable and dare I say more delightful for kind of patients and families. Now, the cool thing about this is, I happen to be blessed. I work with the most talented, committed teammates in folks here get one word that could ever imagine being around. That’s the first thing, the second kind of piece of this is, we happen to also be blessed to work with the most engaged, demanding but the most engaged client partners that we could ever find and third, we happen to spend our time working with the most grateful patients and families. We, one of the biggest charges here as we see there every day. We are now touching over ten million patients and families a year and so every day we are seeing reems of comments about folks being empowered in their care and that overall is most important thing I’m actually working on. Now, there are two other things happening that make that possible that are of course very important in our society. One of them is this, what we are finding in our work is that in order to do this work sustainably and scalably, you really gotta think about bringing three independent technology segments together and do this work well. So, on one end, you actually have the traditional Health IT, right. So, your folks who have been around forever, your EHR companies, your CT scanning companies, your billing companies, you have to really make sure that when you come to do this work, you can’t disparage these folks because things aren’t going well. This is as very complex technology world and so we spend a third block of our time in making sure we’re actually writing the hooks that we’re understanding these systems and really kind of getting into the guts of Healthcare IT is a one important component. The second place we actually spend time is really around digital health. So, like what is the coolest, hottest user design, consumer facing tools that we either can build, that we can acquire, that we can partner with and so we spend our second bucket of time in that second sandwiches really slick consumer health. How do people currently interact with technology and make sure we are doing the greatest, most delightful work to engage consumers in their care and the third kind of segment of this thing is your large consumer tech companies, your Amazons, your Apples, your Googles, your folks who every three to five years, all suddenly say, hey, we are coming into healthcare to fix all this but frankly they don’t the experience on those first two things, right and so, in our world, the second thing I’m working on that’s so interesting is, how does GetWellNetwork become uniquely positioned to being the bridge technology company and the brave change management company to really bring those three segments together to really impact patient to family care at scale and sustainably. That’s kind of the second thing I should work on, it’s really, really cool and the third thing is very tactically is, playing out in a couple of projects that are interesting, that really are taking a radically different approach to delivery care. So, we are involved in the project with UPMC, in Pittsburgh, just bought a, acquired a hospital in Ireland, Southern Ireland, Waterford and they have partnered with us on a concept called Get Well Anywhere. We’re just gonna sound off the wall here in the US but before they even have an EHR system, they are putting in GetWellNetwork because what they actually wanna do is they want the patient’s family experience to literally shape the entire way that care is both delivered and received at the Whitfield Clinic. So, to answer your question and probably a too long-winded way from a macro standpoint, we are building the best patient engaging company on Earth. One level down, we are trying to actually be the company that can bridge together these three independent technology segments that we believe are critical to coming together, to really have the impact we actually want to have and then third, we are so excited to kind of find a couple of partners that are really allowing us to turn the traditional model on it’s head to really think differently and bigger about how the patient’s family’s food is really shaped delivery of care and then really kind of go and research the outcome that we do from it. That’s kind of how I would think about that question.
Dave: Michael, that’s fantastic. We may have to have you come back to go just deeper on some of these topics but let me quickly post two questions in response. So, the first is, as you’ve mentioned you’re a global company, you’re working in International Markets and you gave us but I think it’s a really interesting example of that. I’ve had a little bit of experience internationally, spend some time working with Cleveland Clinic in Abu Dhabi and mostly what I learned there was, I have no idea how healthcare works in other parts of the world. So, I’m just curious, just quickly can you share a couple of gold buckets of things that you’ve discovered along the way in this international journeys?
Michael: Yeah, I mean, for sure. In fact, I’m on a plane on Sunday night, heading over to Dubai. We have partners now in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and have a deployment in Abu Dhabi as well and one in Dubai and so, yeah, we’ve learned a couple of really important things. The first and again, it’s so cliché but healthcare is local to your point, right and so I think about ten years ago when US companies were initially seeing new buildings being built and oil money flying around like, there was a sizzle to saying, oh well, it’ll be great, we’ll just double the price of our software, sell it into these new markets who are gonna follow the US model. In the reality but it is, it worked in a short term. So, a lot of these international markets spent a lot of money deploying US healthcare IT for their new buildings and new hospitals and new clinics can have you. However as all of us know who have been in healthcare for this long, once that stuff gets deployed, the real question is like is this really going to have the impact that the brochure actually says and what we have found is this notion of just sending a sales force over there to be at some confidence in selling. You actually can have some sales success but you have success sustainably in these new markets, you have got to get local. It is local with partners, to is putting kind of boots on the ground and it is really in some ways like anything else like, falling in love with both the culture, the clients and the impact that you claim you wanna have, you have to go live it, you know, and so we spend a lot of time in our local market getting to know people, observing things and really sticking by our partners, you know, kind of through thick and thin. So, it’s been like an unbelievable experience of making sure when you get into something, you cannot do it superficially. Healthcare does not work as you know when it’s superficial and so, that’d be the biggest kind of lesson that we’ve learned. It has been a remarkable, remarkable ride.
Dave: Well, it’s so true and you know, you add the technical issues, the cultural issues, the geopolitical issues, everything else. It’s both fascinating, complicated. I remember sitting in a meeting in Abu Dhabi and the conversation was around, well, there are not street signs and there’s no ambulance service. So, how do you do things like, deliver emergency transport?
Michael: Oh, yeah.
Dave: So, it’s just fascinating. Like I said, what I learned was, I have not idea how these things work and what’s going on in these other parts of the world…
Michael: I’m sorry, the last thing I want to say is you know, we did find the commonality though is hey, people are people and we tend to not think about our health frequently enough until we really need it and then to scramble, right and so it doesn’t matter if you happen to be a Saudi Arabian Banker or you’re a Taxi Driver in Abu Dhabi or you’re a Teacher in the US, that’s how we typically as consumers tend to behave about our health and so that behavior has placed a great burden on providers, I had to set an infrastructure and systems to make sure that all of a sudden when you need me, kind of actually deliver this care effectively and so those commonalities for us have also been striking and so it’s not as if the thing that you’ve learned somewhere don’t apply but you really need to kind of get on the ground understanding the depth, you know, and so those are the kind of thing that’s been really remarkable, life experience as well as the work experience.
Dave: Well, I think that’s really well said. I want to respond to one other thing you said earlier which was about other entrance into healthcare and Healthcare IT and you know, the way I’ve thought about this and talked about it is, healthcare is a lot harder than it looks from the outside and my own view is I welcome these new entrants. We definitely need to be shaken up, we need new ideas but I also love the way you’ve talked about humility here. My own experience is the problems in healthcare are not due to people being bad, stupid or lazy. They’re real forces at work and some of the problems are really, really tough. My listeners are probably getting tired of me saying this but I think the answer is going to be mash-up and of old and new. Some wisdom from the past as well as some challenging of conventional wisdom. I think I heard that in your comments as well.
Michael: Hey listen, hey man, I think that’s the, hey look, if we try to embody a cultural philosophy around being humbly bold and I think this is the balance that needs to happen and it sounds like pie in the sky and very you know, esoteric but the reality is when you bring humility into the healthcare, I don’t care if you’re the biggest, baddest technology company on the planet, you have to bring humility into healthcare what that will do is make sure you’re a listener, you come and not too much of a talker and that you really do respect and understand and learn about the complexities and make sure you seek help. You know, to figure out like, why does the EHR cost that much, why do things take nine months implement, we can implement them in another industry in two months but however you better bring a boldness because we all know we want the change. So, just like you just said, we are rooting on when these big companies, when these start-ups come in, we’re like, hey listen, if you’re into making care better for patients and families, leveraging technology, we’re like, hey, bring in all man like, we want them all you know, in the party. We just wanna make sure that all of us come into this with both the humility both humility side to us and a bold side to us because I couldn’t agree with you more. In order to really transform it, it’s not all sudden a consumer tech company claiming they wanna be in healthcare, it’s not gonna transform healthcare. Come on, it is the combination of new fresh ideas, really thoughtful people, incredible respect on both sides, both for the new and the old and finding whatever you’re gonna do to bridge them and that’s the unique place that we think at GetWellNetwork when it comes to patient engagement technology. We actually think that we sit in that unique place to straddle all three of them. You know, what’s really exciting for us.
Dave: Yeah, I think that’s really interesting and like I said, at some point we may have to have you come back and go much deeper on that. If you’ve just joined us, you’re listening to 4 x 4 Health and we’re talking with Michael O’Neil, Founder and CEO of GetWellNetwork. Michael for question three, I always remind my guests that this show is PG-13, so keep it family friendly but tell us what’s your favorite pet peeve or rant these days?
Michael: My favorite rant in our world is when I hear the following refrain. The patient don’t want to be educated when they are sick and I almost have to scream out in my meetings, ‘Yes they do’. Whenever we think about this work that we do and I get comments you know, or rants about my patients don’t wanna learn about their meds. I said, look at the end of the day let me tell you something, the notion of he whole human existence moving towards empowerment, consumerism, being informed, being active, this is a tidal way. So, our jobs as healthcare professionals is to facilitate consumers of health becoming more active stewards in their care and of course, if they are not feeling good in a given moment, we have to be adept enough and skilled enough which is where change management comes in. How do we time things, how do we approach this subject, when do we educate people, how do we inform them, how many times should we prompt them and remind them? These are all the thoughtful things that we gotta figure out but that is my favorite rant though when I hear it, I have this, probably this bipolar cross between getting very, very hot you know, and angry, at the same time having a big smile on my face like, wow this is fantastic. This is exactly the kind of thinking that we’re gonna help disrupt and the result is going to be healthier, happier, more informed, more activated consumers of health and that’s what gives us our fire every single day here when we go to work.
Dave: Well, this is bad because that you got me fired up. So, let me pile on here a little bit. So, a couple of things, first of all, I react whenever anybody says a statement that begins with, patients bla, bla, bla! Because in effect it’s treating all patients as if they’re the same and we know that’s not true. So, patients come in all varieties just like all human beings do and we need to be mindful of that and we need to account for that. The second thing is, I believe and believe most of my career, we in healthcare, those of us who provide healthcare consistently underestimate patients and their abilities, their interests, their ability process information etc. and I think it does us and them a disservice. I get one of my biggest laughs when I get in conversations with clinicians or IT people about patients contributing information to their health record and almost immediately, they go to, oh, but it might be wrong and I just laugh because like, look, we are professionals and we put wrong information in there all day long. So, this is not a problem here, this is a notation. The last thing and it’s been sort of a theme that you’ve been alluding to through this conversation but I wanna call it out directly, I was trained to assume when I was practicing family medicine that patients hear about half of what is said during the office encounter and remember less, and that if you’re delivering bad news, they don’t hear anything after the bad news, that’s just human nature, that’s all of us and what I find fascinating about your work is it seems to acknowledge that and so these questions about what do we deliver, when do we deliver, which media do we use, how frequently, I think these are all in a way designed to address this core human problem. How do we effectively communicate with reach other? So, bravo for your rant and as you can see, you got me spun up a little bit here too.
Michael: No but hey, I think we said it’s funny when we’ve acquired a company called Health Loop in the Fall and they are based out at Silicon Valley. So, they clearly have the digital health been to that kind of three segments I was talking about earlier and really the reason that we actually acquired this to add to our platform, what’s the combination of as always a cultural fit around that kind of past use described was so apparent in their team and in their client and secondly, what you just said about what happened with patients is so true and so this company’s exclusive focus and skill, it’s called health that they’re gonna keep patient in the loop if you will and so to that exact point when we are in the moment, it too often is too difficult to grasp all of the complexity of what we need to understand in order to be a great patient moving forward and so this company has shown an incredible capacity to at scale and through a breadth of patient populations and target populations and conditions as well as the depth in how to get patients to enroll in their engagement and then how to literally keep them in the loop under care throughout everything from a surgery to an ED visit to a primary care visit and then back home again and so this notion of how do you create a platform where you have continual engagement that people want to engage in is a really important point because you won’t always be in the right frame of mind to absorb the really important information that goes on, take care yourself. So, it’s a really important piece of the work that we are trying to do better every single day.
Dave: I think that’s terrific. So, let’s take this home now and I’d like to finish up by having you offer us your most sage advice.
Michael: So, I have two things that just come to mind on this. One of them is something that we opened up with even before we started recording and that is this notion of time. If I’ve learned one thing through my personal experience in healthcare and then my work at GetWellNetwork is that our time is most precious and because of that there are two things that folks or books have taught me that had been incredibly helpful. The first one is, go big and don’t waste a single damn second and that’s not just a swing hard and beat loud. Sometimes walking quietly but carrying a big stick is a lot more effective than the other way around but going bigger than how we are thinking about if we are going to spend our time doing this and I have so much respect for the doctors, for the nurses, for the administrators that we work with, they work in an industry where it forces them to push a very heavy rock up a really steep hill with like wind blowing in their face, right and so I have so much admiration for how big they’ve gone to spend their lives trying to deliver care and so I guess the first thing I would say is, time is most precious, we don’t waste it any of it here and we go big. What can we do that will have a profound and sustainable impact on the quality experience of care to millions of people because if not, it’s wasting time and it leads to the second thing which is, I just read this book over the holidays and kind of formed my 2019 resolution according to it and the books called it essentialism and it’s a concept simple. How do we actually do less things better, what are the two or three things that we are committed to in our lives for persons efficiently that we actually wanna have impact on and then as we look at the pie chart of activities we’re involved in, which ones are contributing or not contributing to the accomplishment of those choosing most important things and one or not you have to have a strength to actually say no and to carve them out of your pie chart and so these are the two things for me, the precious of time and this notion of doing less things better that had been the most important pieces of ice that I have gotten and thus I simply don’t take credit and I’m actually would pass them along and try to live by them.
Dave: Both of those resonate deeply with me personally. My dad used to say, remember Dave, this is not a dress rehearsal and the other is this idea of sort of narrowing and focusing and one of the big personal insights for me that frankly I got through executive coaching was focus on the things you’re good at, you know, get help for the things you’re not. Staff to your weak side if you have that option but focus on what you’re good at and then as you said, focus on what’s important as well. Michael, this has been really terrific and I wanna thank you. I’m talking with Michael O’Neil, Founder and CEO of GetWellNetwork. Michael thanks again for joining us today.
Michael: Hey Dave, thank you, I admire so much. You like work and I really appreciate that what you do to help us move the industry forward. So, thank you so much for having me.
Dave: You’ve been listening to 4 x 4 Health, sponsored by Sansoro Health. Sansoro Health, integration at the speed of innovation. Check the out at www.sansorohealth.com. I hope you’ll join us next time for another 4 x 4 discussion with healthcare innovators. Until then, I’m your host Dr. Dave Levin, thanks for listening.