In April of 2018, Comcast and Independence Blue Cross announced plans to develop a nebulous consumer-focused healthcare platform that would use technology to engage patients in the midst of their care journey.
The effort, now an independent joint venture known as Quil Health, might have seen like an unlikely pairing at the time. But according to newly appointed CEO Carina Edwards, the two Philadelphia-based companies had much to gain from uniting their healthcare and telecommunications expertise, both in terms of internal cost savings and a broader commercial opportunity.
“Comcast is Independence Blue Cross’ largest self-insured employer. So, 250,000 lives that they manage for their own benefits run through Independence,” Edwards said this week during a fireside chat at BIO 2019. “And when they thought about tackling these problems they said, well wait a second, why don’t we do a venture fund? … We have technologists, we have people, why don’t we actually just create a joint venture and build a solution as a platform?”
While details on what form that solution would take were initially in short supply, the roughly 80-person company is now revealing itself as a hybrid smartphone/television resource for patients preparing for or recovering from episodic care.
“When you actually are in the doctor’s office and you find out you actually have to go get surgery, panic strikes and you’re not comprehending what’s being told to you in that 15-minute visit. And then you get a care coordinator that rings you up, they give you that packet that’s been photocopied 14 times … and then they [say] ‘go home,’ and then you get in the car and be like, 'oh wait, I didn’t ask these questions,'” Edwards said.
“Now imagine the same experience, and instead when you meet with the care coordinator they say ‘Don’t worry, we’re going to follow you every step of the way. Download this app. Oh, you don’t know your Apple ID or password, we can help you with that, we’ll get it loaded for you.’ This will be your turn-by-turn direction, this will help you answer that question, what’s next, and if we don’t have the answer, we’ll get you to the right person who does.”
Through the app, Edwards said that the company will be able to answer and number of common patient questions, either through informational content or image uploading features that, for instance, will allow patients to gauge whether or not a wound requires immediate care. It’s a familiar pitch in many respects, but Edwards believes that Quil’s take has a couple of key advantage — first and foremost, its extension to the patient’s home television.
“Where I think we’re also uniquely differentiated is that same information can be presented on the television. So today — you don’t have to be a Comcast subscriber, but if you are — you can say Quil Health on your voice remote, which is a great thing and seniors can do that,” she said. “Now when you go home, your family and loved ones go ‘what do you mean you’re having surgery? What’s this all about? What did the doctor say?’ Well here, let’s go into the family room, let’s watch this on TV, I have a carousel of videos that will explain this to you in three or four minutes. I think we’re just trying to meet people where they are, and extend the value of what is commonly known best practice and nudge them and get that to them at the right behavior points.”
Along with activation through the remote, patients can sync content that they want to view on the television through the smartphone app after verifying their identify by entering a pin, Edwards explained. And to further ensure that patients feel comfortable with the information being displayed on screen, the company has adopted many of the parental control practices that are already well established for normal television.
“You don’t want to be able to click on the TV and all of a sudden you’re seeing mom’s medical records. Not a good experience. So the way that we’re handling that is in the app, typical to a Netflix or any other app that works the same, you can actually tag content, and the content that you want to show can be paired with your playlist on the TV,” she said. “So, whatever you want to show your family, whoever you want to collaborate with [can easily see it]. And when you stop, it blurs. … You have technology that they built in for other things like when young kids in the house watching Game of Thrones. You don’t want kids walking in on the bloody scenes, and so you can blur the TV on pause, and those are some of the things we’re doing to make sure that the viewership is the right audience.”
The platform is, at its core, very much a standard content management system that is designed to be easily implemented and adjusted across organizations, she said. Providers, payers and clinical trial organizers alike will be able to brand the experience with their logos, enact a straightforward or decision logic-based flow of content for each patient, and design whatever custom content they please. On this last point, Edwards highlighted her staff’s ties to NBCUniversal, an old hand when it comes to engaging consumers through television-based entertainment.
“Engagement is in our DNA,” she said. “And it’s not that the data [for patients] is not out there. It’s that it’s not presented in a way that’s compelling for anyone to want to watch.”
As of now, that team is focusing on providing content for musculoskeletal conditions, which Edwards noted is the third greatest healthcare expense for Comcast, has many of the most evidence-based rehabilitation procedures and complements the platform’s strengths with TV-based workouts. But the company is certainly interested in building content teams that can target other areas, she said, and will do so with the full support of its powerful patrons.
“With this shift to value-based payments, this shift to consumerism, it takes big funding, it takes a lot of time, and it also takes a different perspective. [Quil Health is] uniquely positioned in all of that,” Edwards said. “To be able to tackle patients and caregivers, to empower people that may not be able to help themselves but have an ecosystem of surrounding care connected to them — it’s really exciting to me. In the startup world, the typical Series A is 2 million bucks, go see what you can do, then here’s 7 million bucks, go see what you can do. Here, you have two very large corporations investing a lot into this over a promised time period. We’re here to go big or go home."