We have a system that doesn’t focus on prevention. Many hospitals and clinics treat people when there is an immediate issue rather than preventing it, prioritizing acute care over preventing health issues, which doesn’t help the individuals being treated.
As a part of my interview series with leaders in healthcare, I had the pleasure to interview Korey Hood.
Dr. Korey Hood is a clinical health psychologist and Professor of Pediatrics and of Psychiatry at Stanford University and has lived with Type 1 since he was a young adult. Dr. Hood and his research team have published more than 100 scientific articles and are active presenters at diabetes, behavioral medicine, and advocacy conferences. The work he does is aimed at helping people with diabetes to experience the best health and quality of life they can. He is the co-founder of DiabetesWise, an initiative from Stanford University School of Medicine and people living with diabetes.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was actually doing research work in diabetes for my Ph. D when I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D). I had all the classic symptoms, including weight loss and being thirsty. But because I wasn’t the typical demographic for T1D, my diagnosis was missed for months. I was tested for everything the doctors could think of until I finally asked if they had tested my blood sugar. And once the results came in, I was immediately sent to the hospital.
I like to say that my diagnosis was confirmation that I should keep working in diabetes research, and my experience with a missed diagnosis and having to navigate the complexities of diabetes treatment certainly influenced my work at DiabetesWise. Prior to my diagnosis, I was very interested in behavioral science. So, this work gives me the opportunity to use my professional training combined with my personal experiences and passions to make a difference.
At DiabetesWise, we’ve created a space for people to understand all their options for diabetes technology in one place. We’ve really created the tool I wish I had had when I was diagnosed.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The most exciting thing we’ve seen with DiabetesWise so far is that we are hearing from people with diabetes saying they really appreciate the website and that it has helped them navigate their condition. They’ve been able to compare different devices without having to go to several different sources for information.
I’ve met a lot of people recently diagnosed with diabetes, and a lot of the times they feel isolated. One of the first things I tell them is everything is going to be OK and there is a community filled with people like you who can relate. That’s why we created the Wisdom section, so these conversations can happen and community can be built.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I was interviewing for my first “real” job after fellowship, I made the mistake of saying that I had seen enough “kids with behavioral disorders” and was okay if I didn’t have many of them in my clinical practice going forward. I said this to an expert clinician in children with behavioral disorders! What I learned from this is to ALWAYS know the room and be aware of the expertise and skills of those involved in any collaboration. And if I don’t know their areas of expertise, ask first!
What do you think makes your company stand out?
We wanted to give people with diabetes more power to learn about the devices available to them in a way that was free and easy to understand. That’s why we created features, such as a device quiz and check-up, to meet people where they’re at and navigate the best way to manage diabetes for them. We just launched the Device Finder, which asks users a series of questions and based on their responses, develops personalized recommendations of what devices are best suited to meet their needs. The idea was to create a unique experience for people who are trying to find the most effective way to handle their diagnosis.
What advice would you give to other healthcare leaders to help their team to thrive?
The best advice I can offer to healthcare leaders is to be present. Right now, especially, it’s important to do just as much work as you expect others to do. In my opinion, it sets a good example and creates a collaborative environment where ideas can grow. At DiabetesWise, we strive to create an inclusive workplace that allows team members to feel like their voices and ideas are being heard.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this study cited by Newsweek, the US healthcare system is ranked as the worst among high income nations. This seems shocking. Can you share with us 3–5 reasons why you think the US is ranked so poorly?
I think the issues we see within our healthcare system are complex. But I can pinpoint three reasons that contribute to our poor rankings, including the fractured nature of the healthcare system, lack of leadership among current decision makers and too much focus on acute care.
When I say fractured, I mean it’s not always clear to someone with health issues who they should see and what care is available. I think a lot of this comes from specialists not communicating with each other, adding a barrier to receiving high quality healthcare. Also, every healthcare plan is different, leading to healthcare disparities, lack of access and difficulty for people to understand care without a lot of guidance.
And when it comes to what kind of medicine or technology is available to patients, such as continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) for diabetes treatment, many of the decisions are made by the payers and the insurance companies. For example, healthcare professionals have to prove to insurance companies why a particular device or medicine is good for the patient. The decision about who should have access to treatments has been taken away from the practitioners who should make those decisions.
Lastly, we have a system that doesn’t focus on prevention. Many hospitals and clinics treat people when there is an immediate issue rather than preventing it, prioritizing acute care over preventing health issues, which doesn’t help the individuals being treated.
You are a “healthcare insider”. If you had the power to make a change, can you share changes that need to be made to improve the overall US healthcare system? Please share a story or example for each.
To make lasting changes to the healthcare system, we need to address challenges on multiple fronts. However, a good starting point is addressing access and cost.
There are 235–300 physicians for every 100,000 urban dwellers, while remote areas can have as few as 55 physicians per 100,000 residents, making it difficult for people, particularly those with chronic conditions, to have access to the care they deserve. With the advancements of telemedicine, we can close this gap and provide virtual care that allows people with chronic conditions like diabetes to have access to specialists or to update their equipment and medications without an additional in-person appointment.
The second thing would be to reduce costs. It’s expensive for people to access different services that are necessary for them to be healthy and happy. For example, mental health and regular check-ups. I personally use several different devices to manage my diabetes, which I know can add up quickly. One way to fix this could be by bundling services. On our site, we provide people with diabetes information about what their insurance will cover so they can have useful conversations with their healthcare providers.
Ok, it’s very nice to suggest changes, but what concrete steps would have to be done to actually manifest these changes? What can a) individuals, b) corporations, c) communities and d) leaders do to help?
We all have a role to play in improving our healthcare system. At the individual level, we can all be better advocates for our own healthcare. It’s a lesson I learned with my own diagnosis, and it’s one of the reasons we created DiabetesWise. We want to give individuals with diabetes access to tools so they can advocate for themselves, and our straightforward guides on CGM help people navigate the devices, insurance and how to ask their provider about a prescription. It’s absolutely crucial that individuals feel empowered in their healthcare decision making. But the onus shouldn’t be on individuals to fix everything as we need to be thinking about system-wide changes.
From a community standpoint, schools, neighborhoods and online communities are an important part of providing support for people with diabetes or other health issues. One study from the Medical University of South Carolina found those who had a lot of social support experienced better clinical outcomes, mental health and a longer life- span. So, we know that this is important for people to have and pre-pandemic, working with someone face to face was easier to do.
Of course, we understand some people who are diagnosed with diabetes will absolutely need the support of their immediate family and community to help them manage their condition. But they may also turn to an online community to find people who know what they are going through. The online community can be a great resource and we knew that was important. That’s why we wanted our website to be a place for collaboration and discussion about what it’s like to live with diabetes.
I believe corporations can make it easier for people to access their services and know who to contact. Even with all my knowledge of diabetes technology, I found it difficult to get the devices that I needed for myself. Many people give up at the beginning, because a lot of research has to be done and it can be exhausting. Our goal was to put as much information we could into one place. In my eyes, corporations are responsible to listen to the patient voice and create tools that help them receive the best care possible.
I’m interested in the interplay between the general healthcare system and the mental health system. Right now, we have two parallel tracks, mental/behavioral health and general health. What are your thoughts about this status quo? What would you suggest to improve this?
There are a few different avenues that could work. One would be having these two tracks somewhat separate with greater access to mental healthcare. However, that means that general healthcare has to prioritize the need for mental healthcare, and a lot of times mental health clinics are understaffed and underrepresented.
A better system is to put the two tracks together in a bundled and collaborative package where patients routinely see a medical professional and a mental health professional who then work together to make decisions that will benefit the patient.
How would you define an “excellent healthcare provider”?
An excellent healthcare provider is a good listener who understands the patient as a person versus a medical condition. Of course, it’s important that they are smart and experts in their field however, a great provider partners with their patient to determine the best way to treat their illnesses.
One key thing for me as someone with diabetes is its important providers ask permission when they make recommendations and make sure the patient agrees with them, so they find a route that works for the individual together.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I tend to not be someone who operates with quotes in mind. Instead, I tend to operate on principles of being present when interacting with others, working collaboratively, listening first, and attempting to put “team” goals ahead of individual goals. One quote I do really like that does motivate me from time to time is by Joan Baez (yes, my father was a hippie) “Action is the antidote to despair.”
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Right now, we are receiving some great data from 500 people with diabetes that shows how they gathered information and how it impacted their device use. We are constantly thinking of new ways that people can experience devices through focus groups and surveys so we can continue to help make their decisions easier. Our goal is to learn how we can impact access to diabetes technology and make DiabetesWise tool as effective as possible.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better healthcare leader? Can you explain why you like them?
I tend to dive into music more than books or podcasts. When I do read, it is often articles in the New Yorker and other outlets that focus on current events while bringing in historical or philosophical perspectives. I try to read from the lens of helping others at the same time we build a highly functional team to address problems and improve outcomes for people.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If I could inspire a movement. it would be one where people have true ownership of their health. They are empowered with access to their medical history, information about their condition and the autonomy to make the best decisions for their lives in collaboration with their healthcare providers.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!