The Digital Health Guy – It Takes a Village Interview: Torben Nielsen, CEO, ZoomCare
Meet Torben Nielsen, Chief Executive Officer, ZoomCare
Torben Nielsen is a true visionary in the world of distributed healthcare. He is the CEO of ZoomCare, one of the most innovative and exciting new companies that there is. It has expanded steadily since it opened its first walk-in clinic in Tigard, Oregon, in 2006. There are now more than 60 clinics in Oregon and Washington, with plans to add more and expand into neighboring states. And over the years, ZoomCare has added a unique and user-friendly telehealth platform to its neighborhood clinics. ZoomCare has quickly become part of the local community.
“Our clinics are what make us unique in the world of healthcare,” says Torben, who joined ZoomCare in 2019. And he is right, because ZoomCare’s blend of telehealth and physical clinics is powerful.
ZoomCare offers instant telehealth services on phones, computers, and tablets. And instant means instant, because members can have telehealth consultations with ZoomCare physicians in a matter of seconds. And if a member needs to see a physician face-to-face in a clinic, that happens not only same day if needed, but usually as soon as the member can get to a ZoomCare clinic. That helps explain why ZoomCare was voted “Best Primary Doctor” in Willamette Week’s 2017 readers’ poll.
Bringing the 21st Century to Consumers of Healthcare Services
“As you can tell from my accent,” Torben tells us, “I wasn’t born and raised in the U.S. I’m a good Danish-speaking boy and I’m going to date myself by saying that I came to the U.S. years ago as an exchange student. I fell in love with a girl from California and the rest of it is history. Now my wife and I have three girls.
“I have a favorite saying about healthcare. . .
I work in healthcare during the day and then I go home to the 21st century.
“Let’s think about that. The fact is, healthcare for the most part has been stuck back in the 20th century. But in our homes and many other aspects of our lives, we are well into the 21st century. And our patients or consumers have been yearning for, and asking us for, much more of the kind of 21st-century experience they have when they are using Amazon.com, eBay, Yelp or any one of many 21st-century offerings.”
Torben explains that although healthcare consumers want to have access to information, they also want to enjoy an experience that’s real. That can be achieved, he believes, when companies use technology in the right way.
“These days,” Torben says, “who goes on the web using a computer? We now do it by using our phones. And that is where ZoomCare is now. It’s a 15-year-old company, but it was built from the ground up with technology in mind. And I think that is what is setting us up for a really strong connection to our consumers.”
Torben and his team at ZoomCare have created an archetype who represents the company’s patient. Torben and his team call her Sarah. In meetings, the ZoomCare team members talk about her, have meetings about her, and feel that they know her. Sarah personifies the customer that ZoomCare Is serving.
And Sarah has become so real that everyone on Torben’s team really “knows” her. Sarah is a busy mom. She has kids. She has a household where she is the “CEO of healthcare,” the person in charge. But Sarah, as envisioned by Torben and his team, is also a working professional.
And how does Sarah want her healthcare?
- She wants it where she wants it, when she wants it.
- She wants it to be delivered by a professional.
- She wants to know what the price point
“That’s similar to what consumers want when dealing with companies in any other modern industry,” Torben tells us.
And that’s what ZoomCare is striving to deliver – an experience that allows a consumer like Sarah to get her healthcare taken care of, where she wants it, when she wants it. And in a very seamless manner.
And the interesting thing is that Sarah can’t anticipate when she’s going to want or need healthcare or rush it, because she has children. And when one of them needs care, she needs it right then.
Torben explains, “That’s the difference between healthcare and, say, travel. I mean, if I am booking travel, I can start looking at my options 30 days in advance. I can shop to get the best price. I’ve got time to research it. But if my child’s sick, I wasn’t planning for that to happen. And boom, it does, and then my needs are immediate. Sure, some of our in-clinic appointments are scheduled ahead of time. But 85% of the in-clinic appointments we schedule take place within four hours. That’s what Sarah needs, and we orient our company around that.”
Torben Reflects on Sarah’s Neighborhood
“Our system is built around your neighborhood, “Torben tells us. “We now have 60 clinics in neighborhoods in Portland and Seattle, and in between. And we have a physical footprint in small little neighborhood clinics.
“And do you know what? Many consumers are discovering that they can have their kids taken care of at home, via telehealth. We’ve seen tremendous growth, a tremendous uptick. It’s not asynchronous where you log in and leave a message that says, `Hey, my kid’ has a rash. Can somebody get back to me, maybe tomorrow?’
“No, in maybe 10 or 15 seconds you can see someone on chat, who can look at your kid’s rash. You get access to a provider right away. And we have found that in certain cases, it is better to embed a photo so a provider can look at it, enlarge it if need be. That works better than a video.
“It’s like a suitcase. We provide primary care. We provide urgent care. And we provide specialty care.
“We develop most of our software ourselves. We have a really sophisticated development team, and we are investing heavily in it so we can create a seamless experience, one that’s connected, from virtual to the clinics to our EMR to the personal timeline or personal health record that sits in an app.
“And we have our own pharmacy. We can prescribe medicines and have them delivered to your home. Soon, we will be able to do that same day. And it’s all connected and tied into the app. We will know when you need a refill. We know how you’re doing on the meds. And it’s a seamless, connected system.
“We have found that developing technology in-house is the way to go. It’s how we best provide a seamless and up-to-date experience.
“There is a heavy software component to what we do. We’re developing technologies to differentiate our provider capabilities, as opposed to wanting to be a tech firm that sells or licenses its technologies to other companies.”
The Growth of Telemedicine During the Pandemic
“We’re seeing tremendous traction on telehealth as an industry, which is really great.
For a little history, long before the pandemic we launched phone care. It took off right away. And then we launched video, and the same thing happened. And now we’re doing telehealth and over the past four months, we have done 40,000 telehealth visits, which is incredible for us as a regional player.
“And telehealth is continuing to change. Currently, 34% of our telehealth visits actually come from outside the areas where we have clinics, which is phenomenal. All of a sudden, we are seeing new people pop up in our telehealth channels. And they love it. Telehealth is beginning to feel more like a workflow automation tool and not necessarily a `pick up your phone and call somebody’ kind.
“If I can elaborate on that, we think of it as an integral part of that seamless consumer experience. We know that about 20% of care actually cannot be provided in a telehealth solution. You may need imaging at some point, or you may need labs. Or you may need to have a doctor actually look at you. That can’t be done in telehealth. We think that part of our advantage is that we can take what’s happening in a telehealth setting and we can schedule a same-day appointment for you at a neighborhood clinic.
“The clinic could be right across the street from where you’re having your telehealth chat, and you just walk in. And it’s a seamless, integrated experience. And then, for our archetype Sarah, the data and the records for that visit are all going to be sitting on her personal health record as part of the app.
“Sarah doesn’t even need to think about her password, because these days, our users are using face ID technology. Easy, immediate access is built into the whole process. Boise, Denver, and Boulder will be three new markets for us. The Denver, Colorado market is similar to what our Seattle markets are. And we felt that that would be a good expansion.”
Building Relationships with Consumers
“We have 100% app adoption, which is incredible, Torben explains, “That means that all of our members utilize our app on their phones, or they log in on the Web. That means we have a relationship with them.
“Even when we have people walking into our clinics off the street, we try to build relationships with them. If they don’t have our app or they haven’t set up a profile yet, we help them do that if they want to. They will get set up in the system, so they have an account and a profile. And that allows us to have communication with them and to build a relationship over time.
“We can remind them of medication refills, for instance. We can remind them that they haven’t had their annual physical or that it is time for a flu shot. And we’re starting to look at more sophisticated data analysis to identify care that should be delivered. We are moving into that space, and we think that there will be big benefits. I think being able to move quickly to accurately analyze information is probably right at the top of the list of priorities, right? We’ll get that built, based on AI and machine learning. It just feels like further automation of healthcare.”
Toward Contextual Healthcare
“If you have somebody on video on their phone, you can ask them, `What does your fridge look like right now . . . .can you show me?’
“You can ask people to show you the food they have in their fridges or show you the medicines they’re taking. And that provides context for the overall care that we couldn’t do when people walk into the clinic. And that allows us to provide better care.”
Attacking Care Discrepancies
“I think absolutely there’s an opportunity for us in some of the neighborhoods and populations that have been overlooked. And we’ve talked a lot about that, especially with regard to Black Lives Matter.
“We are focusing on health disparities now. Are there communities where we should be a much more active player? Yes, we want ZoomCare to be a driving neighborhood advocate, taking action into how to best manage health disparities in that particular neighborhood. Telehealth, coupled with clinics, could let us do that. And what do we need to do to really go after that, to serve those communities? That is a question we are thinking about every day.”
About Torben Nielsen
Torben Nielsen is CEO of ZoomCare (https://www.zoomcare.com/), a rapidly growing innovator in on-demand retail and virtual healthcare in six major markets (Seattle, Portland, Eugene, Boise, Boulder, Denver). With 60+ neighborhood clinics and a comprehensive telehealth offering (chat, phone, video), ZoomCare provides same-day primary care, urgent care, specialty care and emergency care to over 300,000 patients a year.
Torben has 20+ years of broad business experience, ranging from nimble start-ups to household brand names such as LEGO, XEROX, and BlueCross BlueShield. His leadership landed ZoomCare® among the top ten most admired healthcare companies in Oregon and SW Washington in 2020, and he was recognized by the Portland Business Journal and its readership as one of ten “Executive of the Year” honorees in 2021. He is a co-founder of HealthSparq—the second-fastest-growing digital health company in the U.S. in 2016—and has shepherded innovative, digital healthcare solutions over the past fifteen years.
Before entering healthcare, Torben managed marketing, online, retail, and product teams at technology and consumer companies. His work and leadership have been recognized in case studies performed by leading research institutions, including Forrester Research, PwC, and the Advisory Board. Torben has an MBA from Oregon State University and graduated from the Aarhus School of Business in Denmark with an MA in English.