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When Wellframe’s founders started the enterprise in 2011, the primary motivation was not to be a business. Instead, they began with a mission to enable customers to deliver high-touch care outside clinical settings and at scale to support people in critical times in their lives with a human connection.

Jacob Sattelmair, co-founder, President and CEO of Wellframe, explained that the founders ultimately realized that becoming a for-profit company would accelerate that work and embarked on that path. And today the company is positioned to achieve that for millions of people in the future.

Health Evolution interviewed Sattelmair about Wellframe’s origin story, what CEOs should understand about the technology, initiatives the company is working on for the next three to five years, and more.

What is the inspiration fueling Wellframe’s co-founders?
When we founded Wellframe, there were four of us coming from different backgrounds: an epidemiologist, a primary care physician, a computer scientist and a data scientist. What brought us together was the recognition that people get good care in front of a doctor, but the vast majority of their life is what happens in between visits. As a health care system, we’ve struggled to figure out how to provide high-touch care and effective guidance in those in-between times and do so in a manner that is scalable across the system. Historically, the things that worked involved a lot of friction and cost. We wanted to help payers leverage technology, including mobile devices and machine learning, to provide support and care to people where and when they need it, outside the four walls of a doctor’s office or hospital. Wellframe brought together a diverse team, coming from different backgrounds to apply our collective skills and experience to have a daily impact on people with one or multiple chronic conditions, who often struggle to get the care they need.

We’ve seen during 2020 the impact that COVID-19 has had on people with chronic conditions. Has the pandemic changed your strategy?
When we started thinking about chronic disease use cases — and that is the defining challenge of our health care system in the 21st century — they are very different from episodic care. They’re driving the vast majority of cost, and that really hasn’t changed in the pandemic. With COVID, we have been helping customers support members who are at the highest risk of complications, severity and death from COVID. In 2020, we’ve been working with people that have motivation, more than ever, to invest in using digital to help those folks know what to do when they can’t go to their provider as often and to help them follow best practices for prevention. In a way, the COVID pandemic serves as a forcing function for using technology to manage chronic conditions.

As you primarily work with health plans, what are some of the unique challenges those organizations are currently facing?
COVID has posed challenges to everybody and every stakeholder. Health plans had to adapt very quickly to enable all their employees to work from home, then to change plan parameters to make it free to get tested for COVID, and to make it easier to access telemedicine solutions. These shifts encourage people to get care and reduce the financial barriers to seeking care relative to COVID. From a financial perspective, in the short term, COVID meant people were consuming fewer discretionary services. For plans, their losses were reduced and their profit margins increased, but longer-term, the pandemic has introduced a lot of uncertainty. Will there be a demand to catch up with care that has not been provided? How can plans take actions today to future-proof their organizations?