Health Evolution | September 9, 2020
When Jeff Bennett was diagnosed with cardiovascular disease at age 35, he was running marathons in 3:05 and his cholesterol was under control.
However, a family history of cardiovascular disease drove Bennett to rethink how he managed his own health and ultimately inspired his goal of helping 300 million Americans stay out of the hospital by managing chronic conditions or proactively identifying them before they become problematic.
Health Evolution spoke with Bennett about that inspiration, what CEOs should understand about how Higi’s Smart Health Stations extend care into the community and what’s coming in the near future.
Health Evolution: What is the inspiration driving Higi?
Bennett: The passion aspect for me comes from family history. My father had his first heart attack when I was 11 years old and then 9 days later, my uncle died from a massive heart attack of his own. That was 1982. In the following years, my dad had 4 open heart surgeries, 12 angioplasties, and angiograms more times than I can got my teeth cleaned. He lived to 72, taught as a professor and impacted a number of lives. If you think about how personalized medicine could have helped my dad, we need to move to a world where we can identify health issues sooner to drive better management of health care. Personally, I want to avoid going to the hospital — and if we can do that for 300 million Americans, that’s my goal.
And so the Higi origin story began when I was running an investment firm and we invested in Merge Healthcare. We learned that the most valuable data when you are sick is medical imaging and pathology, so all that should be digitized for more scaled access from the people who can use it to improve your health. Those data points are the truth that can be used to improve care management and enable new innovations for managing care. The other source of inspiration was to help people avoid getting sick — so Higi was built to meet consumers where they are, including at retail pharmacies and grocery stores, to gather vitals, family history, prescription data, to better help people avoid the progression of chronic conditions.
Health Evolution: From the perspective of a payer or provider CEO, what should they understand about how the technology works?
Bennett: A consumer goes to a Higi station and gets screened for risk type 2 diabetes, heart attack and stroke risk. We are identifying key risk factors, such as obesity and hypertension paired with family history as a self-service assessment. From that data, consumers can receive recommendations on how to better manage their health. They can also opt-in for payer or provider partners, like Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, to receive their data and allow Rush to engage them either digitally or in-person. This helps identify people who might be progressing with chronic conditions. If that person is already a patient, we can put their data into an existing medical record or health profile. It’s also a way to extend access to the community, for people that are not patients and get them into appropriate care, to engage people who are healthy, and to engage patients in between visits. We can collect that data at the station and we support home devices for remote patient monitoring, integrate with Withings at-home scales, for example, to build a bridge to the home.
Jeff Bennett, Higi
Health Evolution: How many people are currently using Higi stations? You mentioned Rush in Chicago, so what other geographical regions are the stations available?
Bennett: They’re in 10,000 locations across the U.S. We are approaching 400 million biometric tests being conducted. But it’s not a siloed health care system, it collects data that can be integrated into Epic, Cerner and other EHRs as well as CRM and care management platforms.
Health Evolution: What should existing and prospective clients expect in the next 18 months? The next 2-3 years?
Bennett: The next 18 months, we will be building out ways to identify people with risk factors and providing the ability to drive continuous engagement via check-ins. Omnichannel. Home, at a Higi station, in the community, to touch members on a weekly, daily, monthly basis depending on what is required. The next step is really enabling that continuous longitudinal tracking of risk factors for chronic conditions. Over the next two to three years, we will be launching a next-generation station that will add additional signals, and more deeply integrating a mobile experience for the consumer, to augment what are currently doing so the experience goes beyond blood pressure and pulse. We’ll be adding more diagnostics to in-person visits that can be handles by a tech or pharmacist.
Health Evolution: What are you are working to create by adding those features?
Bennett: We’re not trying to disrupt the patient-doctor relationship, but we are trying to disrupt the need to go to a doctor for diagnostics. It’s a lot more effective for me as a patient to share my data, rather than having an in-person visit. Physicians could order lab and then schedule a telehealth conversation with a cardiologist for that patient, which is all about the data. Looking at the data, the cardiologist can assess what’s working and what’s not, discuss ways to remove stress if need be. That’s just one example. Today, we’re missing the most important data to be able to conduct those visits virtually. That’s the future of health care, where the data is accessible and we decide whether the consult needs to be in-person or digital or, the best option, there’s no need for an appointment because everything looks fine.
Health Evolution: Which accomplishments are you as a CEO and founder most proud of?
Bennett: There are the big numbers. We built up the largest connected health network in the country with over 10,000 touch points and more than a third of a billion assessments. But the best accomplishment is when stories get personal. On Mother’s Day, we got a note that said “Because of you, I am a mother.” This woman had gone to a station, and it was determined that she was having preeclampsia. Because of that, she went to a doctor who got the baby out and both were fine. It’s important to explain that we don’t diagnose, but it shows we’re helping on the edge cases. Other people have said “My mom died of a stroke and I’m using Higi to manage my health on a regular basis.” Bringing health care to people and addressing the access problem in the country, the biggest accomplishment is dealing with health inequities. Rush put Higi in homeless shelter wherein 9% of the people had hypertensive crisis. Within 6 months, it moved down to 1 percent so we moved it from 4x the national average to half the national average. The reason was not just the technology, it’s blending trust, health care and technology to scale a solution to address health disparities. That is what we are hoping to replicate across the country.
Health Evolution: What advice would you give to other CEOs and founders?
Bennett: Two pieces. One is passion. If you don’t have passion for what you’re doing, it’s simply not going to work. Make sure you have a team with passion and purpose. It’s just too difficult otherwise. The second is the product and business model: Get hyper-focused on where your product meets needs. It’s great having that concept and vision but you have to get down to the business model and whether it solves the problem in a way that’s scalable. Nothing is as easy as it looks or sounds, so just get ready.