Executive Conversations: Expanding Access to Digital Therapeutics with Omada Health
Bill Dougherty and Lucia Savage, Chief Information Security Officer and Chief Privacy and Regulatory Officer of Omada Health, join Lita Sands, Head of Global Life Sciences Solutions at Amazon Web Services (AWS) to discuss how digital health has changed in recent years and where it is headed in the future. Omada Health, a San Francisco-based startup, is a virtual care provider offering mobile preventative care and treatment solutions for diabetes, hypertension, musculoskeletal disease, behavioral health, and more.
This Executive Conversation is one in a series of discussions held with thought leaders in life sciences and genomics, where we seek to learn more about the impact of technological innovation and cloud computing on their industries.
Lita Sands: The impact of COVID-19 on life sciences was profound. What changes have you observed in the virtual health space?
Lucia Savage: COVID-19 propelled medicine into the digital realm faster than it would have otherwise gotten there, and there’s no going back. It’s a game-changer for people to be able to connect with healthcare providers, access and visualize their own health data, and receive therapeutic input all in one convenient place at any time—apps and digital tools are always on-demand in their hand, in their pocket, in their purse, in their stroller, in their home, wherever they need them. The health care is coming to a person instead of the person coming to the health care.
Bill Dougherty: The pandemic revealed that people like digital medicine—they don’t want to go into a doctor’s office if they don’t have to. In many cases, virtual care is faster and more convenient, and you don’t have to worry about catching a disease from somebody else in the waiting room. On top of that, there is increasing recognition that comprehensive preventative programs can offer significant benefits to both patients and their employers. COVID-19 has a higher co-morbidity to chronic conditions like Type 2 diabetes, so programs like Omada’s offer a meaningful way to reduce health risks.
Lita Sands: We’re living in an era where organizations with a smaller corporate footprint can make an outsized impact within their industries. What key factors play today’s health and life science startups’ ability to more easily disrupt the market?
Lucia Savage: The key differentiator for having an outsized impact is the ability to remove the undifferentiated heavy lifting and focus on what makes us unique. The ability to build on AWS rather than investing all of our capital and resources in starting from the ground up drastically reduced our barriers to entering the market. Accomplishing the same things on-premises would require us to waste too much capital on hardware, infrastructure, resiliency, security, and operations—capital that can be better applied to the product itself. Without cloud computing, we couldn’t be competitive or innovative in this marketplace, which would prevent us from bringing our potentially life-saving treatments to hundreds of thousands of patients.
But more than that was being able to leverage additional expertise in our industry. In an industry as regulated as ours, there’s no room for error when it comes to industry compliance and safeguarding data. Having AWS as a cloud provider allowed us to get off the ground and make an impact more quickly because AWS has already set itself up to act in healthcare and life sciences environments. We don’t have to explain industry regulations or compliances—they provided a deep understanding of how to innovate in our tightly regulated industry.
I’d also note that a cloud strategy lets startups fail faster as we develop more products, which ultimately makes success more likely across the board. If every innovation requires building new infrastructure that needs to be repurposed if the product fails, failure is very expensive and time-consuming. When we can simply discontinue a failed program and almost immediately instantiate something new in the cloud for the next project, the cost for failure is de minimis.
Bill Dougherty: Cloud computing has been a key factor that enabled growth. With cloud-based digital platforms, individual providers don’t have to be in physical proximity to the people they serve, which gives healthcare startups the ability to scale and have a much larger, outsized impact. For example, there are 80–100 million people in the United States alone who are at risk for Type 2 diabetes, but only so many behavioral counselors are available to meet in person at convenient times. Furthermore, as many as 40% of pre-diabetic people do not live within 50 miles of an in-person clinic. These are scalability problems that technology can solve. Startups can now meet people where they live, where they are, and engage with them at the moment in time that will be the most impactful rather than the time that fits neatly into a provider’s calendar. Furthermore, we have tools like machine learning algorithms that can constantly search for patterns and prompt providers to make every interaction as effective as possible. In combination, these advantages let us deliver demonstrably better outcomes with a solution that is far more scalable than non-digital alternatives.
Lita Sands: Reflecting on your success as a company, what factors have helped the healthcare industry make the shift to a more digital-forward strategy?
Lucia Savage: Education and trust are the foundation of our healthcare industry. Cloud-native companies like us have needed to do extra work to establish that the technology is not only effective but also safe and secure and adherent to clinical best practices. We’re fully operating as a healthcare company, even though there is no building where anyone comes for an appointment. Because the modality of care—virtual—is new, virtual providers need to go the extra mile to demonstrate that they keep people’s health information private and secure. Focusing on consumer privacy is crucial because it gives everyone confidence in the security of their data—how it’s being collected, stored, and used. It is too easy for a consumer to confuse what a virtual provider does with the activities of less reputable companies.
We’re still in a world where so many people in the health care system don’t even understand how cloud computing works or how it enables us to do things we couldn’t accomplish otherwise. We need experts and vendors who can bridge that knowledge gap by explaining behind-the-scenes details—the bits and bytes and wires—and also the big picture of how that infrastructure works at scale to deliver care.
Although it takes time for the healthcare industry to change, we have seen increased adoption and understanding of the cloud and believe this is going to be the standard operating procedure in the next five years. It’s exciting to be at a company that is leveraging the flexibility and agility of cloud-based software to deliver care.
Lita Sands: How are you seeing new technologies combine with human intuition to improve the virtual care experience for patients?
Lucia Savage: Computers are really good at sorting complicated data extremely quickly. But figuring out what to do with the output information is a challenging question that often requires human judgment. Once a computer identifies a pattern in genomic data or health information, the next step is determining whether a potential action based on that pattern will be harmful or helpful. That human touch remains essential.
Bill Dougherty: Technology is an enabler, not a replacement. Machine learning elements of virtual care platforms are constantly evolving and improving to make better recommendations based on the patterns the machine learns. However, the machine is not good at delivering care. An algorithm can categorize the people in our program in any number of ways, but at the end of the day, we have over 550,000 individuals with unique experiences, motivations, setbacks, and responses to health care approaches. The care we provide needs to be unique to the person, and that can only be provided by a human.
People can tell when they’re interacting with a robot instead of another human. So we use the machine learning aspect as a tool to guide coaches who bring years of experience and develop relationships and trust with program participants. That way, they can provide advice or interventions in the ways that will be most meaningful. Our software and digital tools make our health care professionals smarter and better-informed during interactions with members of our programs, but the compassion and empathy that real people bring to the table are what differentiates Omada from other programs. In addition to better measurable clinical outcomes, we’re also seeing better patient satisfaction scores. Patients are more engaged and happier with their care.
Lita Sands: Where do you see the future of virtual-first healthcare moving, and for Omada Health as a company?
Bill Dougherty: Leading digital health care providers are taking advantage of technologies like continuous glucose monitors that were barely on the drawing board 10 years ago. We’re also taking advantage of people’s evolving interactions with their smartphones to bring human-to-human care through our tools in our program. We’re going deeper into people’s lives to address prevalent and comorbid conditions and enable more holistic well-being. We’re also focusing on developing programs that let us develop longitudinal relationships with people that go beyond a specific window of time in which they might have a specific disease. There are vast populations in this country that need care like ours that don’t yet have access to it, and their lives will be demonstrably better when they get access to it.
Lucia Savage: What we’re doing is taking standard medical protocols and bringing them to you on your smartphone. Our country has the chance to do something different—to teach the whole population better eating habits, better exercise habits, portion control, mindfulness, all the things that we teach our members so that they can manage stress and lead healthy lives that work well for them. We’re excited to bring this life-changing intensive behavioral counseling to far more people in the coming years.
To learn more about how AWS is helping Healthcare and Life Science organizations, visit: https://aws.amazon.com/health/
Lucia Savage, Chief Privacy & Regulatory Officer, Omada Health
Lucia has over two decades of experience in healthcare across the private, non-profit, and governmental sectors. As Omada’s Chief Privacy & Regulatory Officer, she leads the organization’s regulatory strategy and seamless integration of operations into clinical processes. A graduate of New York University’s School of Law, Lucia is an experienced C-suite executive and board member. She advises CEOs, Cabinet Secretaries, and elected officials on the optimization of digital healthcare in the 21st Century. Prior to joining Omada, she served as Chief Privacy Officer at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC). There, she advised the National Coordinator for Health IT and other federal partners about how to ensure privacy and security of health information. Lucia also previously served as the Senior Associate General Counsel at United Healthcare, working with large data transactions related to health information exchanges, healthcare transparency projects, academic research, and other data-driven healthcare innovation projects.
Her storied career and tireless efforts to empower people in search of better healthcare outcomes was recognized by SC Magazine, which named her “one of the largest patient privacy and digital health advocates” in the nation.
William (Bill) Dougherty, Chief Information Security Officer, Omada Health
William has over 20 years of experience protecting and overseeing information security, information technology (IT) operations, and managed services for a host of technology companies. A self-proclaimed “tech geek,” he helped lead Omada through its hyper-growth phase by shaping all aspects of internal IT, end-user support, vendor management, operational security and compliance. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration and management from Pepperdine University, and a Master of Science degree in IT security from Capella University. In 2020, William was named a Pepperdine University Outstanding Alumni in Healthcare Honoree. Before coming to Omada, William was RagingWire Data Center’s Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, and StubHub’s Director of Site Operations.
In 2017, William led efforts to make Omada the first digital therapeutics company to achieve both a HITRUST and SOC 2 certification for their services. With healthcare being one of the most breached industries, William takes great pride in helping prevent security lapses from creating a barrier to people receiving the best care possible. His IT and security contributions to Omada’s operations are an integral part of the company’s ability to live up to its mission and values. William is also an avid nature photographer who captures the essence of Napa Valley’s landmarks and landscapes.