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HIStalk Interviews Todd Johnson, CEO, HealthLoop

August 17, 2015 Interviews 1 Comment

Todd Johnson is CEO of HealthLoop of Mountain View, CA.


Tell me about yourself and the company.

I’ve been in healthcare IT for 18 years. I joined HealthLoop about two and a half years ago. HealthLoop is a patient engagement platform designed to guide patients in a really high-touch way through an episode of care.

The company is built on the premise that no news isn’t really good news when it comes to patients who are recuperating, managing a chronic condition, or not scheduled for an office visit soon. What are providers learning as they use technology like HealthLoop’s to keep in touch with those patients between encounters?

There’s an incredible amount of information to be learned from patients. In general, patients are the most underutilized resource in healthcare. A patient is discharged from an emergency room or a hospital or from a physician’s care. We give them instructions and expect that they’ll do really well, but we have no idea.

With today’s patient engagement platforms, you can understand how a patient is progressing the first day, the second day, the third day. You can understand where they’re having challenges or where they’re adhering to the care plan. Care plan adherence is a really interesting opportunity to understand our patients participating in a way that’s going to lend to the best outcomes at the lowest cost.

Does ongoing communication make patients feel empowered or more closely engaged with the provider?

Absolutely. What we’ve seen is that patients genuinely appreciate this level of service.

The healthcare system in general provides a pretty poor product. We’ve optimized around transactions. We’re always solving for throughput and decreased length of stay. The result of that is we’ve been discharging patients and they don’t get a lot of information.

This sense that patients have their doctor with them, monitoring them every day, is incredibly powerful. In fact, we see it every day. The first email I open every morning lists all the positive and negative sentiments we get from patients about this experience. It’s a wonderful thing to see how thrilled patients are with this level of service.

Patients get high-touch, high-feedback engagement, but there’s no overhead for the provider unless they need to take action since it’s an exception-based system, correct?

Exactly. It’s really a win-win. We’re doing a study right now with a large academic medical center in oncology. There’s a lot of noise coming into practices from patients that either don’t understand their instructions or are unsure. If you’re delivering the right information at the right time, indicating what the patient needs to be doing today, you not only drive comprehension through the roof, but the early results — and this will be published hopefully later in the year – are that patients have a 45 percent increase in just understanding their instructions and their care plan. But what’s better is that reduces unnecessary phone calls back into the practice, the questions, “Can I do this, can I do that” sort of thing.

It’s shifting to what we call exception-based medicine. Focus on the patients that need your attention.

Traditionally, we have a schedule with patients. We’re all in love with what’s happening in orthopedics right now based on what CMS has signaled. Traditionally, the patient gets discharged and then you might have a structured follow-up at two weeks or four weeks and then eight weeks. But really, it’s about monitoring the wound and monitoring adverse signs and symptoms.

If patients are doing fine, there’s no need to bring them in if they’re progressing normally and healthy and everything’s well. But if a patient’s got severe calf pain or early signs and symptoms of an infection, you’ll want to get that patient in earlier at Day Seven or Day Eight so you can mitigate the expensive emergency room visit or hospital readmission.

Beyond the desire to do the right thing, what is it that motivates health systems and practices to want to provide that experience where they are keeping in touch with patients in a manner that’s not entirely episodic?

I wish that wanting to do the right thing drove more decisions on P&Ls, but the economics of healthcare is such that you really have to focus on dollars and cents. If you look at the trends in episodic bundling, there is a huge movement that is going to put an increasing pressure on health systems that aren’t carefully monitoring their patients and engaging their patients to provide the best care at the lowest price. Patient engagement is the tool that needs to be used to do that.

We’re learning a tremendous amount of data on patients. What is rising as a crystal clear indicator is that patients who are highly engaged do absolutely have better outcomes at lower costs and they’re thrilled.

Who are your competitors and what are they doing to try to solve the same problem?

I put competition into a couple of categories. The worst is the status quo. “We’ve been doing it this way forever. We don’t need to invest in new capabilities and new technologies.” In medicine, the status quo is tricky. But if you look at the large health system that’s paid $300 million or $500 million for their Epic system, it takes a lot for that CIO to make the decision that it’s now time to bolt onto that and incorporate patient engagement technologies that are then additive and go beyond what you were hoping to get out of a single vendor.

That’s the stiffest competition. But we’re seeing a constellation, all sorts of really clever and seemingly great patient engagement applications out there. There’s not enough of it to feel like a direct threat, but I do think that this is probably going to be the next blockbuster product category for health systems.

Does the provider need to log on to your system to see those patient messages or is it integrated with EHRs?

For the Epic platform, we’ve got seamless integration. On the patient side, the notification to check in today is delivered through MyChart and the patient can complete that there. O the professional side, if a patient escalates with a DVT risk or an infection risk, that that further escalates within the Epic inbasket and then the entire HealthLoop experience is both documented and accessible through Epic. We’ve been very deliberate about integration with that particular system.

Then of course HealthLoop also operates on a standalone mode. We’ve got 40 or 50 independent practices that are using that in a standalone way seamlessly. We’ve taken a Silicon Valley approach that you can get up and running literally in days. We had a health system go live with a program in seven days from contract signature. It doesn’t need to take forever to get this stuff up and running.

How does the Silicon Valley atmosphere impact the way that HealthLoop does business?

One of the most special things about Silicon Valley is the design thinking. The designers here think about, how do you make technology habit-forming and invaluable to individuals? It’s something that is blatantly missing from so much of the health IT out there.

I was at a board meeting with a bunch of clinical chiefs from all these different departments at this large health system. For 20 minutes, they sat around looking at the screen trying to figure out how to visualize their EMR in a widescreen format and how they should move things around, which is just remarkable to me.

Silicon Valley is focused on, how do you make technology delightfully simple to implement? Up and running, no manual, and fast so you can see value quickly. You actually feel the value.

A couple of things that we’ve done in HealthLoop have demonstrated that once you get this in physicians’ hands, they’re really, truly delighted by it. They’re learning more about their patients than they’ve ever known. They feel good because they’re getting constant reinforcement, validation from their patients that this is the right thing. I don’t think that many physicians or other healthcare providers really feel good about the technology they’re using in a day-to-day basis.

Will consumer expectations push large vendors to think like Silicon Valley?

Folks in general want to tap into what’s happening here in Silicon Valley and understand what’s going on. But increasingly as health systems mature in their implementations of their electronic medical records, they understand what they need to do to add on to it and to be additive. With the large EMR providers, we’re seeing some signaling on this. I’m not sure how committed they truly are. But singly to open up their platforms and allow for innovation to occur, which would I think further concrete their long-term position on the market if they can be open to that type of innovation.

Have you measured the outcomes health systems saw after implementing HealthLoop?

We have. We’ve seen a tremendous drop in readmissions for total joint replacements, a 33.7 percent drop, which is material. On the patient satisfaction side, we’ve seen a 9.6 percent improvement in HCAHPS. HCAHPS is a complete survey with a whole bunch of assessments.One is how thrilled is the patient with their doctor, and a 19-point improvement there.

One of the surprising things or perhaps biases that people have when they first get introduced to HealthLoop is this misperception that older patients won’t use technology. We’ve found that to be just the opposite. The 60- to 70-year-olds are most likely to be 100 percent engaged. Even 63 percent of 81 and older activate their accounts and routinely engage. Patients want this, patients are ready for this, and when they engage, good things happen.

Technology usage is often stratified by income, educational level, and geography so that a company’s great ideas don’t reach the most expensive patients. Have you determined whether that target audience is easy to reach?

We’re seeing that activation and engagement rates hold with chronic disease patients, but not for long periods of time. We’re focused on acute episodic flare-ups where we can have an impact in providing a great degree of education during those flare-ups.

Across socioeconomic barriers, we haven’t seen an impact. What does change is modality. You might be using a mobile phone as opposed to a traditional desktop computer. Consistently we see young men are the worst engagers. The 18- to 25-year-old males are the ones least likely to be 100 percentage engaged in HealthLoop. They’re the invincibles.

Funding comes with an expectation for growth. How will you scale the business up?

The good news is that the payers and principally Medicare are creating all the right incentives for accelerated growth. For instance, with the comprehensive care for joint replacement payment program put forth by Medicare last month, not only is it the incentive to do better than your peers and continue to improve outcomes and decrease costs, but bonuses for collecting patient-reported outcomes, which is almost a side effect of using HealthLoop. We capture all those structured PROs as well. I think we’re going to see rapid growth that follows payment programs that incentivize that. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. We’ve got a lot of good work in front of us.

Do you have any final thoughts?

It’s just an incredibly exciting time. Patient engagement is absolutely going to transform healthcare in a really great way for the ultimate consumer of healthcare, for patients. It’s fun to see that come to life every day. We enjoy our job and we enjoy working with our customers. It’s fun.

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