It Takes a Village Interview: Darrik Erikstrup
By Kevin Pereau
BUILDING ACCEPTANCE FOR THE IDEA THAT FOOD IS MEDICINE
Darrik Erikstrup is Lead Product Manager – Supplemental & Ancillary Benefits Owner at Bright Health. Bright Healthcare is easily one of the more innovative new plan providers, dedicated to offering customers a variety of healthcare coverage plans that are robust and reasonably priced.
You could argue that much of what we do in healthcare, especially from the health plan perspective, is on a conveyer belt. There is a lot of repeatable processing that just comes with the territory. We frequently cheer on the innovators because without them, health plans would largely be about processing claims.
It is when you stray outside of those core competencies that you realize a different perspective is needed for creating anything new and exciting. Sailors would say, this is when you need a seasoned skipper at the helm to navigate the nuances and complexities of the looming potential storm. Where consumerism and the regulatory process collide, you need the right blend of forward thinking and the ability to execute in the here and now. To excel and deliver real measurable value, you need to know how to pivot and learn from your mistakes.
Bright is not afraid of taking innovative steps to improve the health of consumers and their families too.
For example, Darrik is a big believer that food and nutrition can be a major factor in a wide variety of care-related issues. When people arrive home from the hospital, for example, the kind of food they eat plays a major role in how they recover and subsequently maintain their health. Food is, in fact, a form of medicine.
Plus, Darrik believes in assuring that a patient’s entire family have access to good nutritional choices. “When someone comes home from the hospital and can’t shop for healthy foods for the family,” he says, “they can end up going to fast food stores and bringing home foods that are unhealthy, but pre-prepared and convenient to serve.”
That’s another way of saying that nutrition can play a holistic role in improving health and quality of life for a large part of the population.
You have got to admire the fact that Bright HealthCare is trying to get ahead of health-related issues and proactively taking steps to make things better by focusing on nutrition, in a larger way.
“I think from a healthcare perspective, what we are doing is not new,” Darrik says. “But what is new is the receptiveness of our audience.
“Healthy food has always been available, but how do we get folks to get excited about nutrition, about eating healthily? How do we encourage people to better understand that what they eat will have a major impact on their overall well-being?
“A lot of issues of acceptance have to do with where we are as a country and even globally, about how we’re thinking about food. Suddenly, food and diet are getting a lot of attention. You frequently see celebrities that are endorsing some type of raw food diet or the paleo diet, or some type of supplement that they think is changing their life.
“So, nutrition, in a way, is getting attention in the communities that folks are in and that’s creating greater reception to the idea of food as medicine. People are discovering that eating right can often lead to feeling better. You’re hearing a lot of stories about people with diabetes who are reporting that a healthier diet replaced the need for gastric bypass surgery and their need for costly ongoing meds. Social media and streaming platforms are helping Food as Medicine get the credibility that it deserves. We seem to have developed appetite, if you will, for information in this area.”
How is Food as Medicine Evolving?
Bright HealthCare has already been offering home-delivered meals to customers. But company leadership is recognizing that delivering meals isn’t only about assuring that customers can keep eating to avoid hunger. Nutrition, in fact, is a vital part of recovery and maintaining good health.
“We’ve traditionally had a post-discharge home delivered meals solution,” Darrik says, “which is fantastic and has supported members at their most vulnerable time; when they’re being discharged from the hospital and ensuring that they have nutritious meals to support recovery. Now, we are striving to expand the program by improving engagement and education. We believe our efforts will help take the awareness that food is medicine to the next level.”
The Pandemic’s Effect on Meal and Food Delivery
During the pandemic, we have seen the meal delivery market just explode. With consumers hesitant to be in contact with other people, it only made sense.
Yet Darrik points out that the safety inherent in food and meal delivery became even more important, during the pandemic, to people with health issues that place them in high-risk categories. Suddenly, having meals delivered safely home was more important than the simple convenience of fast food.
“Supporting high-risk individuals in their own homes with healthy food is a great way to exemplify being there for our members,” Darrik explains. “Being able to do it while helping them minimize the risks of being out in the public is also a huge positive.
“Think about somebody who’s diabetic, low income, who is getting toward the end of the month and running out of food stamps or some other type of supplemental program that’s providing them access to healthy foods. Or maybe they are running low on funds and only have access to unhealthy fast foods. Having a supplement from your insurance company allows you to stay on track. That goes above and beyond and demonstrates the value that we see in maintaining a healthy diet and healthy lifestyle.”
How Will Programs Like These Succeed?
“I think that success comes down to understanding who your members are and tailoring a program based on those needs.” Darrik says. “I think any time you can give members options they can relate to, you’re setting up your opportunity for success.
“Look at the general Medicare population. What is their need for meal supplements? How does that differ from the needs of someone in that population who is type 2 diabetic or in a pre-diabetic stage? Because all of those require a different level of care and different nutrition and exercise plans. That is where we need to be strategic in how we are approaching food as medicine with members.”
What is the best way to start delivering this extra level of care?
“I think that success depends on how you launch the program. What type of information are you trying to gain access to on the front end? Are you asking probing questions? Are you asking the right questions that are going to allow members to be successful?
“If you’re telling somebody who primarily eats meat that they need to switch to a vegetarian diet, you’re likely not going to see success. So, how do you set up that individual for reducing red meat intake and increasing leafy greens? You’ve got to approach it in a way that is going to be attractive to them.
“And I think the same is true if you are trying to help somebody manage their diabetes if they love to eat pop tarts and donuts for breakfast, lunch and dinner, then you can’t just say, `From now on, it’s salads with kale and carrots and that’s it.’ You have to offer choices that appeal while educating on cause and effect with food choices.
It is helping people develop a long term strategy for success so they can see that the relationship they have with food can profoundly affect their overall health. And that goes back to understanding your members and helping them discover options to be successful.”
Darrik is motivated by helping people be healthier. For him, this is the holy grail. You can’t boldly proclaim your meal program is a success simply because people are ordering the meals—outcomes matter. Everyone benefits from thinking like this. It is when you look at this through the prism of connected health that you see the full potential of Food AS Medicine (FAM). Imagine schools applying FAM concepts to their cafeteria menu and vending machine offerings, curriculum reinforcing the importance of nutrition as a fundamental pillar of good health and social services sending home needy latch-key kids home with nutritious meals. If good nutrition becomes the new normal, we are on our way to making a difference already.
Follow Darrik Erikstrup on LinkedIn.
You can read the full interview with Darrik in Kevin’s book, It Takes a Village – Click here to get it on Amazon.