The Digital Health Guy Gets The Expert Opinion:
Oron Afek, Co-Founder and CEO of VIM
If there is one dynamic of health care that is difficult to navigate, much less understand, it is how we engage with consumers at their point of intent.
I’ll give you an analogy. When I visit my daughter in the summer in Boston, my trips are always carefully planned. In late July, the Sox have an extended home series that includes the Yankees. I book my flight, my hotel, purchase my tickets for the game and start lining up friends and workmates to attend the games with me. I can book all this based on trying to save money or by staying close to Fenway Park or in Brookline where my daughter lives. Careful planning and advance purchases help me lower my cost and maximize my value. When in health care do you ever have this opportunity?
When I attended HIMSS (the Health Information and Management Systems Society annual symposium) recently in Las Vegas, I wasn’t feeling well. HIMSS is the mother of all health care shows so I didn’t want to miss the event. I know, I thought, there is a hospital right down the street. I’ll just wander into their emergency room, right? Any business traveler can relate. I am out of network, know very little about my surroundings. Why not just go where you know you will be seen? We have all been there. The issue? I have just wandered into the highest cost venue there is to take care of what they would certainly NOT categorize as an emergency. On top of that, I have impeded their ability to see more patients with more critical needs.
What if my phone had pinged me on my way into the hospital to see if it really was an emergency? What if I could book an appointment with somebody in network that was also close by, and I could do that from my phone? What if booking and paying for that appointment with a higher value, less costly provider was all integrated into my benefits and HSA (Health Savings Account)?
Oron Afek is co-founder and CEO of Vim, a company that partners with medical providers and health systems to provide convenience, cost savings and a better care experience to patients.
A number of other companies are trying to do that, you say? That may be true, but the scope of Oron’s vision is larger and different. He is out to revolutionize some of the most fundamental processes that take place in the delivery of health care, as you will learn in these outtakes from a recent conversation with him.
Kevin Pereau: What led you to start Vim, and what is the philosophy behind it?
Oron Afek: I understand why you ask. My vision for Vim is not to compete with other companies in the health care space, but with companies like the Airbnb’s and Ubers of the world. Or at least, to apply thinking that is like theirs to health care.
Kevin Pereau: How is that thinking different?
Oron Afek: Well, let’s take a quick look at how Google affects consumer behavior. If a consumer is shopping for, say, a new piece of technology like a dashcam or tablet or a Bluetooth speaker and searches for them on Google, he or she usually clicks through on the top search results first and is likely to make a buying choice in that way. That is how the consumer sees the buying process. But behind the scenes, the companies that make those products might see an increase of between 75% and 100% of what they sell.
Why does that happen? It happens because something behavioral is happening in the way people buy things, because of a new way of connecting supply to demand. In a similar way, we are finding ways to make it easy and immediate for top health care providers to connect with consumers.
So we are not marketing or advertising in the traditional sense. We are striving to drive behavioral change.
Kevin Pereau: I’m not sure I understand.
Oron Afek: If you’ve used Uber or Amazon, you know that they are dealing with very high-frequency demand. If you need to get from Point A to Point B, you use Uber and if you want something delivered the next day or even sooner, you use Amazon Prime. People download their apps and open accounts and use them on a daily basis.
The connection between end users and health care providers is fundamentally different. It is not a high-frequency paradigm. There are thousands and thousands of health apps, but they have low usage rates compared to Uber or Amazon. The people who develop health apps think that if they build them people will come, but it doesn’t work that way, even if they use all kinds of incentives.
Health care is generally of a low-frequency nature. You are only going to get sick occasionally, not every day. And when you’re sick, you need help now. The secret sauce, if you will, is that we are finding ways to engage patients at the point of their decision-making.
We are willing to educate people and contact them at the moment when they need to make a decision.
Kevin Pereau: Can you give me an example?
Oron Afek: You have a knee problem, you go to see an orthopedic doctor who orders an MRI for you. So there you are in that physician’s office, and you need to book an MRI. We are building a system which, at the moment that physician prescribes an MRI, sends you a text message that lets you book it immediately, from a top provider, and at an advantageous cost, with your insurance coverage already approved and ready to go. So we save patients thousands of dollars and provide the best value on that MRI.
Kevin Pereau: How are you able to save consumers money in that way?
Oron Afek: You know, it doesn’t really matter if you spend $500 or $5,000 on an MRI, because you are going to have that test performed on exactly the same machine. And guess what? There is no difference in the quality of the MRI. And if you can save $4,000 and you have a deductible, that’s going to represent a savings for you. And if we can partner with care givers and offer savings like that, that is compelling I think.
But I’m not talking only about cost savings, but about changing behavior.
Kevin Pereau: How do you identify the times when patients are making decisions, so you can be there at the right time?
Oron Afek: We call that time the “point of intent.” We have a team that is dedicated to finding the perfect moment where we can serve consumers with the right value proposition, and to communicate then. It’s really about engaging with the right people at the right time and guiding them to the right providers. We are reducing costs without reducing quality at all. We believe in increasing the value of care.
Kevin Pereau: Where did you get the idea of using technology to interact with people at their point of intent?
Oren Afek (laughs): Well, I served in the Israeli Special Forces before I moved to the United States. I was injured and sent to the hospital. I learned that when you are in that position, when you are lying in a bed and you need surgery, you are not the same person you are the rest of the time. You are a different person when you need help, and you make your decisions in a very different way.
Kevin Pereau: What obstacles have you overcome since you started Vim?
Oren Afek: I think it took time to understand where the money is, in the sense of where the value can be found in the world of health care, and what we should do. If you build another urgent care center, maybe yes, that would be needed. But we believe that the greatest value is located in the process of guiding individuals to the right providers, as well as driving providers to do the right things. We think this is a true multibillion-dollar opportunity. Understanding that took time.
Kevin Pereau: Where do you think your company will be in three to five years?
Oren Afek: I think five years from now, we are going to be serving 100 million Americans, and operating in a new kind of place where we can really drive behavioral change on the provider side, and in customers.
Kevin Pereau: What other big trends do you see in health care?
Oren Afek: I know that we often hear that we are seeing a shift to consumerism, but I don’t really see that as the biggest trend. I think the real issue is that we are seeing a shift from volume to value.