Meet Abner Mason, Founder and CEO, ConsejoSano
You remember Abner Mason from my book The Digital Health Revolution. He has additional insights about using telehealth and other tools to make excellent healthcare available to the underserved people in our country. Consejo Sano remains nothing short of inspiring.
Abner Mason is the Founder and CEO of ConsejoSano (https://consejosanous.com/), the only patient engagement and care navigation solution designed to help clients activate their multicultural patient and member populations to better engage with the healthcare system. ConsejoSano’s clients are typically health plans and provider groups serving Medicaid and Medicare Advantage members and patient populations.
ConsejoSano utilizes multilingual, multi-channel engagement (two-way SMS, voice, etc.) along with culturally relevant messaging to increase engagement. ConsejoSano helps clients lower costs and improve health outcomes related to care for multicultural populations that face cultural, language, and social challenges in accessing care. Through healthcare navigators that provide in-language support, ConsejoSano builds trust with at-risk patients and steers them to more effective self-care and utilization of their healthcare benefits.
Abner Mason is also Founder and Co-Chair for Healthtech 4 Medicaid (HT4M.org), a non-profit organization for CEOs building innovative solutions for the Medicaid market. Abner previously served as Founder and CEO of the Workplace Wellness Council of Mexico. With 152 current clients including 40 multi-nationals, the Mexico Council is now the leading workplace wellness company in Mexico. From 2002 – 2009, Abner served as Founder and Executive Director of AIDS Responsibility Project, where he created the first business councils on HIV/AIDS in Mexico and Jamaica. Abner was also appointed by President George W. Bush to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. He served as Chairman of the International Committee from 2002 – 2005. Abner also served as Chief Policy Advisor, Chief Secretary, and Undersecretary of Transportation and Construction for Massachusetts Governors Paul Cellucci and Jane Swift from 1997 – 2002. Abner has dedicated his life and work to making superior healthcare available to everyone.
Abner Talks about ConsejoSano
“Our name means `healthy advice’ in Spanish. We are a patient engagement and patient navigation company with a social mission. We believe that everybody deserves high-quality healthcare, regardless of what they look like, where they come from or frankly, what their income is.
“I became founder and CEO because I saw a problem that we have with our health system in the U.S. And that problem was getting worse, not better. And the problem is that our country has changed over the last four to five decades and become dramatically more multicultural. But our healthcare system hasn’t kept up with that demographic change, and that demographic change is pretty extraordinary.
“For example, California is today a majority-minority state. So is Texas. The whole country will become majority-minority, according to the last census. We’ll hit that in 2050. I think you’ll see that that date where the whole country becomes majority minority brought forward certainly to 2050.”
Abner believes we are on a path as a nation. There is no changing it. But we do have a choice. Our healthcare system was designed to serve primarily English speakers and primarily people who could pay for care.
Our established system works quite well if you are a traditional English speaker and you’re in a higher income. But our country has changed and because our healthcare system hasn’t kept up, we have a mismatch between the healthcare system and the people it is supposed to serve. And ConsejoSano is determined to fix that. We shouldn’t just stand by and watch it and see this problem getting worse and worse. We need to take action to address it.
And that’s what ConsejoSano is doing. Abner and his organization are trying to use technology and data to help its plan partners or clients, bridge that gap.
On the Big Picture
“You’ve got healthcare,” Abner tells me. “You got healthcare stakeholders like health systems and health plans who are good people. They want to serve all of their members. They just don’t know how. And their members have become so diverse in terms of being multicultural, meaning coming from different cultures and speaking different languages and having a totally different understanding of healthcare and how they engage with healthcare. Health plans and other healthcare stakeholders are struggling to figure out how to engage with those multicultural members.
“Then on top of that layer, we have also found out in the last decade in particular, that the factors that drive healthcare are not all determined in the clinician’s office. In fact, just the opposite, much of what drives and determines a person’s healthcare are the factors that that person experiences outside of the clinical setting.
“We call these the social determinants of health. But we have a better understanding now that there are many other factors – nonclinical factors – that need to be taken into account. And our healthcare system, the way it was set up, is not well equipped to serve multicultural people, it’s not well equipped to address social determinants of health.”
Abner’s assessment is correct. If you step back and look at it, we have some real challenges with our healthcare system. It needs to change, and the status quo is not sufficient. And what he calls “little bitty steps” aren’t enough. We need to think boldly about how we make our healthcare system work for the country that we’ve become and how we can address the problems that the people of the country have actually have.
This mission is incredibly ambitious. But let’s view it through the lens of what has happened during the time of Covid-19.
The Impact of the Pandemic
“Due to the pandemic,” Abner says, “ConsejoSano was able to generate 50,000 telehealth visits, in a matter of only three months. We found that interestingly, doctors prefer video visits because they can use them to get a lot of information about patients’ health concerns and issues. But we also learned that patients today prefer a call.
“The pandemic forced the stakeholders to tear down their walls and silos and to actually think about what was good for the patient, which is good, and to pay align the payment with what was right for the patient. The situation changed quickly. Many providers didn’t discriminate between telehealth and telemedicine, they simply needed to deliver care.
“That’s a very important thing that we need to have going forward, in terms of policy. I believe that we should treat patients more like consumers and let them have a voice in how they communicate. If they prefer a call, we ought to let them have a call. And we ought not discriminate in terms of reimbursement. The system is going to try to shift people over to where providers get paid more.”
The World Turned “Upside Down”
“The pandemic turned our world upside down,” Abner says. “Overall, it’s been a terrible tragedy. About six hundred thousand Americans are dead. Americans have reported nearly 33 million infections. If you look around the world, the numbers are just horrifying. And that doesn’t account for people who are infected but got well. An undetermined number of those people will suffer in the future, because as we’re finding out now, some people have residual impacts from the virus.
“Our economy was turned upside down. Education has been fundamentally changed. There is no question it has overall been a nightmare that we have all been living through. But I think there have been some silver linings, because for so many years, healthcare in America has been ossified. It is hard to change healthcare. Even when technology comes along, our healthcare system is resistant to using those changes. One of the silver linings of the Covid crisis in healthcare is that the whole system had to be open to disruption in a way that it hadn’t been before. There was no choice. I am talking specifically here about telehealth. We’ve struggled in this country mightily to get that technology broadly used. It’s better. It’s cheaper. It’s easier for the patients. It helps close gaps in care. Often, in terms of disparities in rural versus urban regions.
“There are a lot of enormous benefits to telehealth. But we couldn’t get all of the stakeholders aligned before the pandemic because people had their own interests and protected their turf and their incomes. There are many fiefdoms in healthcare. And the pandemic forced everyone to kind of say, ‘OK, at least for now, we’ve got to act like healthcare is more important as opposed to protecting our interests and our fiefdoms.’
“But people didn’t stop being human beings because the pandemic started. They had all the health issues they had always had. They still needed healthcare.
“Let’s incentivize the entire system. Let’s treat patients like consumers, let them pick the way they want to communicate and then don’t have a differential payment scheme. One of the more subtle benefits was that it included lower-income people. We proved without a doubt that they will use these new technologies if given the chance.”
Using Technology to Build Trust
Abner points out that trust is the force that makes most everything else work in the world of healthcare. He believes that the most critical question about technology is, how do you use it to build trust with patients and end users?
“Only when you have built trust can you expect that that patient will listen to you and take action based on what you’ve said to them,” he says. “So, figure out a way to communicate that builds that trust so that you can then have a real open and honest conversation. The results of that conversation is that patient taking an action and participating in their recovery in and informed way.
“That’s what we’re doing at ConsejoSano. We spend all of our time trying to do this. And we’re trying to do it with some of the hardest-to-reach patients or membership plan member populations because they are multicultural, they’re low income, they have very high levels of distrust or lack of trust. We have found that as we have looked at all the different ways to try to engage that that patient, is that the most effective is to try to build a relationship based on what we call culture. Specifically, that patient’s culture. We collect a lot of data, public and private data as well as claims data.
“We add to that deep understanding of how different communities in our country engage healthcare. What are the social determinants in their life that either make it easier or harder for them to get healthcare? What are their fears? What is in the back of their heads when they hear the word `Doctor’? If you use real world healthcare data and then detail what that allows us to do for a given population that we want to engage, that is how we build what we call a cultural cohort.
“That explains why we have built a technology platform that allows us to micro-segment the larger population into much smaller groups, based on culture. We then design our engagement strategy, including content based on that cultural cohort. We are not treating everybody the same.
“Then there is the question of translation. Sometimes a company where people speak English just translate their messaging into 13 different languages and send it out. That approach does not work. But that is what healthcare in America today does. That kind of language-based translation only tells people that they aren’t important. Often times, we don’t even get the grammar and diction right so we lose credibility coming right out of the gates.
“We don’t have to treat people that way anymore. What it says is that who you are as a patient doesn’t really matter, because I’m sending you the same message as I’m sending someone whose life experience is completely different. The only thing I’ve done is translate it, usually not well. The most important things that make them who they are aren’t important. You should not be surprised if they say, ‘I’m not too interested in talking to you because you have told me who I am doesn’t matter.’
Ever wonder how to keep people engaged? If healthcare still has an Achilles Heel, this is it. GoMo Health is poised to become the next most important company you have never heard of.
About Abner Mason
Abner Mason is the Founder and CEO of ConsejoSano, the only patient engagement and care navigation solution designed to help clients activate their multicultural patient and member populations to better engage with the healthcare system. ConsejoSano’s clients are typically health plans and provider groups serving Medicaid and Medicare Advantage members and patient populations.
Before creating ConsejoSano, Abner was Founder and CEO for the Workplace Wellness Council of Mexico, now the leading corporate wellness company in Mexico. From 2003-2008, he was founder and Executive Director of AIDS Responsibility Project, driving the creation of CONAES and JaBCHA, the first business councils on HIV/AIDS in Mexico and Jamaica. Abner previously served as Chairman of the International Committee and member of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA), appointed by President Bush in 2002. He spent ten years in the Massachusetts State government, including roles as Chief Policy Advisor to Massachusetts Governors Paul Cellucci and Jane Swift, Governor Cellucci’s Undersecretary of Transportation, and Deputy General Manager of the Massachusetts Transit Authority. Before joining state government, Abner worked as an Associate Consultant for Bain & Company. In 2018, he founded Health Tech 4 Medicaid (HT4M), a non-profit coalition of health-tech leaders collaborating to create technology for Medicaid programs. Additionally, he is a founding council member of U.S. of Care, a nonprofit centered on improving healthcare access developed by former Medicare/Medicaid administrator Andy Slavitt. Abner is a graduate of Harvard.
Follow Abner on Twitter: @abnermason
You can read the full interview with Abner, in Kevin’s book, It Takes a Village – Click here to get it on Amazon.