The Digital Health Guy – It Takes a Village Interview: Megan Zweig of Rock Health

Megan Zweig - Rock Health

Cultivating Innovation in Healthcare

Megan Zweig is Chief Operating Officer of Rock Health, an early-stage digital health venture fund and advisory services firm with headquarters in San Francisco. Rock Health states that it is the first venture fund dedicated to digital health. Its large and growing portfolio includes some of the most innovative healthcare companies in segments that include dental benefits management, telehealth, HIPAA compliance, pediatric care management, predictive analytics, and prescription and pharmaceuticals management.

“I think one of the ways in which Rock Health has evolved is thinking about the value proposition that we bring to the Ecosystem,” says Megan. “When we were founded, the intention was to equip tech entrepreneurs to create great products in the highly complex, regulated space of healthcare. That value proposition has evolved because we recognized that there can be a huge gap between the startup healthcare innovators and their buyers or the doctors on the enterprise side of the market. And so instead of exclusively focusing on  Rock Health providing the capital to support those entrepreneurs, we decided that it was important to build the second arm of our business, our advisory services, by offering research, support, insights, and consulting support to healthcare enterprises that are thinking about their digital transformation. Our goal is to leverage the tools and solutions that our portfolio companies have developed and help get them to market where we believe they can make a real difference.

“At Rock Health, we really think about ourselves as overcoming the friction that can exist between startups and enterprise. And we support both sides, whether through our fund on the startup side or through our advisory services where we partner with enterprise healthcare.”

Anyone who has dared wade into healthcare can tell you about friction. Healthcare remains one of the most complex industries in the world and frequently, even the best ideas atrophy for lack of traction. That is where Rock Health comes in.

Rock Health’s Levels of Involvement

As a venture fund, Rock Health works with pharma companies, health systems, health plans. But Megan stresses that the underlying philosophy is what she calls “A holistic approach to caring for patients.” This is incredibly important because wherever you are in healthcare’s value chain, getting patients to a better outcome is the holy grail.

“We believe that physical and mental health and wellbeing are all intertwined, even though in the past they have been siloed,” Megan explains, “I think we’re seeing more digital companies recognize that if they are trying to encourage behavior change and healthier habits, they also have to address some of the mental issues that might be getting in the way of forming healthy habits.” In essence, you can’t expect technology alone to fix things, you need to develop solutions that encourage better and more educated participation.

That makes sense – but it represents a way of thinking that many companies in healthcare have been slow to adopt. It seems so obvious! In the past, a lot of companies believed that if they can get patients to organize their pill boxes, they would, of course, take their medications. We now know they don’t. And the reason why could be that those patients don’t do that are becoming increasingly clear. Many are depressed, maybe even denying that they are dealing with a condition that they have to take control of, or that family or other issues take a higher priority than dealing with their own health problems does right now. Some are overwhelmed with feelings of hopelessness. Sure, we all want to eat better but healthy foods typically cost us more. How can you argue with a $5.00 happy meal that leaves you feeling full but absolutely puts you on an obesity track?

Since traditional approaches have not been working,  Rock Health is encouraging companies to expand the scope of how they are thinking about and  interacting with customers. One approach that Megan cites is saying to consumers, “We’re going to give you a chunk of money that you’ll start out with. But if you don’t follow through on your medication regimen, we’re going to take some of that money away each time you don’t fulfill your goal.”

That’s actually highly motivating to people. And we are finding  that this sort of motivation works, even with  populations that are difficult to engage. In essence, Rock Health is probing more into the psychology of what makes people tick. They are drilling down to the root causes of what drives poor health and what can we do about it. Why do we keep making bad decisions?

Another point of resistance that is not unique to the customers who are served by the companies Rock Health has helped is the fact that most people are comfortable sharing data with their physician, but not yet comfortable sharing with their health plan. That  graph steadily declines, when people are asked to share their health data with the government, with tech companies and with other stakeholders in healthcare.  Curiously, that resistance has grown even more acute during the Covid-19 pandemic, even though you might reasonably have come to expect that the opposite would have happened.

On Accessing  the Digital “Front Door”

The concept of the Digital Front Door has become a popular talking point in the age of Covid-19. In brief, it is a term that refers to the point of entry where healthcare consumers first begin to digitally engage with those who can help them understand and manage their health-related conditions.

“The way that we at Rock Health think about the digital front door is relatively simple,” Megan explains. “It’s the point at which you decide that something’s up with your health, and you want to use technology to access some sort of care or treatment for that particular issue.

“The steps people take at that point are different. Maybe I’m just talking to my partner about what’s up with my health. And then maybe we decide to Google it just to see what do these symptoms mean? And then maybe we kind of understand where this condition or problem might be going, and we want to talk to a provider, or schedule an appointment to talk to an expert. We also have to figure out whom we want to see and where we want to go, is it covered by my health plan and are they  in my network? How close are they to where I live? Have I been to them before? Do they look friendly based on their Yelp reviews?” Most people expect to be able to access all this from their smart phone. Who would have ever thought only a few short years ago that your healthcare provider would be concerned about their Yelp scores? Consumerizing our healthcare experience means being able to shop for what we need, seeing how others rate that service and then scheduling and paying for all this while integrated onto easy-to-navigate screens. Add to this the convergence of data from our favorite devices and compelling timely content and you have the recipe for better managing entire populations of health. One such population is people with diabetes. This should not be a life defining or restricting condition. I make no secret that I wrote my last book because of a heartbreaking encounter I had with some former school mates who simply had no idea that reversing their type 2 diabetes and thus eliminating their need for expensive medicine was now possible. So, who can help you do that right now?”

About Megan Zweig

Megan Zweig is Chief Operating Officer of Rock Health, an early-stage digital health venture fund and advisory services firm with headquarters in San Francisco. Rock Health states that it is the first venture fund dedicated to digital health. Its large and growing portfolio includes some of the most innovative healthcare companies in segments that include dental benefits management, telehealth, HIPAA compliance, pediatric care management, predictive analytics, and prescription and pharmaceuticals management.

As Chief Operating Officer, Megan leads the Enterprise Membership, research, and operations teams at Rock Health. Through thought partnership, the power of community, and market-leading research, her teams support enterprise clients advancing their digital health strategies via the startup innovation ecosystem. Prior to joining Rock Health, Megan worked at The Advisory Board Company, where she led the Physician Executive Council, a best practice research membership supporting Chief Medical Officers at over 1,300 hospitals and health systems nationwide. Megan received an MBA from Berkeley Haas, where she graduated valedictorian of her executive MBA class in January 2020. Megan graduated cum laude from Duke University, earning a B.A. in Public Policy Studies with a focus on health policy. Follow Megan on Linkedin.

You can read Megan’s full interview in The Digital Health Guy’s next book, It Takes a Village coming soon!