Welkin Health gets $2M for disease management coaching tools, Humana pilot

By Jonah Comstock
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welkin-iphoneWelkin Health, a San Francisco-based population health management company that provides a combination of mobile, web, and telephone-based coaching programs, has raised $2 million in seed funding and announced its first major pilot, which is with Humana's Innovation Group. Investors in the seed round include Rock Health, Asset Management Ventures, Great Oaks VC, iSeed VC, a direct investment from iKang Healthcare Group, and Mayo Clinic. iKang is the largest preventative healthcare group in mainland China.

Welkin Health works with provider and payor customers to configure their programs to help support any functionality they're lacking in terms of population health management and disease management coaching -- at the moment, specifically for diabetes. The program has evolved somewhat since Welkin joined Rock Health's portfolio.

"We initially had built a smartphone app that connected patients with a diabetes educator," Welkin Health co-founder and CEO Chase Hensel told MobiHealthNews. "The goal there was to get people to take photos of the front of their glucometers and also meals that they were eating. And then those photos showed up on a web dashboard that we had built. That dashboard organized the diabetes educator’s workflow and did things like reminded them to reach back out to these patients. ... We ended up building a similar type of mechanism using the same web dashboard but also for telephonic coaching and SMS coaching, and ended up making that really configurable. The last thing that ended up happening, was we started doing pretty deep integrations into actual systems so they could keep track of all this data in one place and we weren’t creating just another silo for health data."

Welkin will provide tools for Humana's Innovation Group, which is running a population health management program for members who are in their 70s and have diabetes. Although their first pilot is with a payer, Hensel says Welkin is definitely a provider-focused company, and Humana is operating more like a provider in this case.

“Providing diabetes education and support for senior citizens is challenging to do in a convenient and accessible way,” Sarah Ahmad, Vice President, Consumer Health Solutions at Humana, said in a statement. “Humana is testing a new telephonic diabetes program in San Antonio and New Orleans that relies on the Welkin Coaching platform. The goal of this collaboration is to give patients access to personalized diabetes support to meet them where they are in their health journey.”

Although the Humana pilot mostly sees coaches communicating with patients via phone calls and SMS, Welkin also has an app that it can use with other customers. As the company wrote in a recent blog post, the app allows coaches and patients to communicate fluidly throughout the patient's day.

“It’s better to have frequent collaboration versus one, hour-long assessment every three months,” Penny Mach, a Certified Diabetes Educator told Welkin Health for the blog. “The app allows for little bits of coaching more frequently.”

Hensel says population health management is one of those fields where a lot of people have started to look at it as an important way to manage healthcare costs, but there are some blindspots in implementing it effectively.

"In terms of population health as a whole, typically we find folks that are very good at risk stratification," he said. "[They can] identify the people who are most at risk. The typical solution is to throw case managers at the problem, but there are very few tools that are actually trying to directly tackle the case manager workflow so that kind of population health strategy can really be effective. We’ve honed in on a very specific aspects of population health and that’s where we see ourselves creating value. There are not too many people like us."

Using the seed funding, Welkin hopes to expand beyond diabetes to adopt their platform for COPD, hypertension, and congestive heart failure.