During Jeff Arnold’s successful career in healthcare, one great thing has consistently led to another. In his early 20s, he built the largest heart monitoring company in the country, and discovered that technology alone won’t improve patient outcomes—rather you must establish trust with the patient. It was a light bulb moment that led to the founding of WebMD and eventually Sharecare, which Jeff founded with Dr. Oz in 2010, and now boasts 2,700 employees. PM360 talked to Jeff about how his vision—to put all your health in one place—took shape, and how it will change the face of healthcare as we know it.
PM360: Tell us about your vision to make Sharecare the one and only app to meet consumer health information needs.
Jeff Arnold: Bottom line, managing your health should be as easy as managing your money. You don’t have 12 financial services apps on your smartphone—you probably have one. The same principle should apply to health.
I’m bullish on the idea that the smartphone stands to be the greatest healing device we’ve ever seen. Why? It’s packed with rich data doorways—accelerometer, GPS, your social graph, calendar, inbox, pictures, music, and connected apps. The smartphone gives us the operating platform, for the first time in scale, to bring all the parts of your life—everything impacting your health—together.
But building an underlying health platform to crunch that data to your—the user’s—benefit is a challenge, especially with all of the fragmentation in our industry. Rather than building it all from scratch to achieve our vision, we have made 11 strategic acquisitions—companies like RealAge, QualityHealth, and Healthways, and spent a half billion dollars putting these pieces together to build a vibrant, cohesive platform. But our measure of success comes down to you using the platform every day. That’s a high bar that we’ve set for ourselves.
What have you learned about that bar?
To get people to interact every day, you have to bring in other elements that are more personal—like their relationships. One of the companies we acquired built an algorithm powered by AI that measures your stress by analyzing the fractal patterns in your voice during phone calls. So, every time I hang up, I get a report on my stress level during the call with that person, and the next time I call her, I get a notification reminding me of how I was perceived during our last conversation. That kind of intervention helps me become more mindful about my interactions with family and co-workers—especially on a call—and inherently lowers my stress, improves my overall outlook and, over time, my health.
We also have to make it easy for people to use the platform—and we believe that means gathering your health data in a frictionless way, requiring minimal effort outside of your daily routine. So through the smartphone, we can measure stress through your phone calls; track your steps with the accelerometer; and measure your sleep using built-in sensors that look for light and sound at night. Then we run AI against that data daily, and deliver you insights, goals, and interventions. Over time, you start to feel like this platform knows you better than you know yourself.
But another area where we believe technology can greatly impact healthcare lies in its ability to evoke empathy.
Unpack your philosophy on empathy a bit more—in particular, how Sharecare’s technology fosters empathy to improve health outcomes.
If you can help someone foster empathy, it can change their motivation, how they feel about themselves, and their connection to, and interaction with, the platform. One of the ways we’re doing that is by using VR to build the Google Maps of the human body—to give you an up close and personal look at every organ, disease, and therapy. But it’s about much more than patient education—you put VR goggles on and feel like you’re inside the body. You can better understand the procedure your spouse is about to undergo, and even walk in the shoes of the newly diagnosed. We call them “patient journeys.”
Can you expand on that?
I love technology—and VR is an area I’ve watched for a while. We are experimenting a lot with 360° video and augmented, mixed, and virtual reality. Imagine a 360° video of a guy walking down a street while on the phone with his mom. Suddenly, he starts to experience a health episode, like an asthma attack. The way it’s shot and edited, you start to feel immersed in his attack as it unfolds. Then, using our VR platform, your view shifts to inside the person’s body where you can see what’s happening with their lungs—and Dr. Oz is superimposed next to the alveoli explaining their physiological function. This kind of application is much more than just a great patient education tool. You start to get a sense of what it’s like to be that person in that moment. That’s why we refer to VR as the ultimate empathy machine.
In closing, Jeff, what gets you out of bed in the morning?
Rapid innovation. I started WebMD 18 years ago, and I believe we will witness more health innovation in the next 18 months than we saw in the previous 18 years. An example of that: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Hawaii (HMSA) just bought the Sharecare platform for all residents of Hawaii—not just their members. They’re giving incentives to doctors to join the platform. They’re bringing it to all employers. So, Hawaii will have all doctors, all people, all employers, all on one health platform. That’s our entire vision brought to life. Many people have told me they think this all sounds like a 2020 vision. But for Sharecare, it’s a 2017 reality.