I had the pleasure of interviewing Kenneth Colón, the founder and CEO of Izzy Care. He studied Behavioral Neuroscience at the University of Notre Dame, where he launched an award-winning mental health platform for students, inspired by his lived experience with depression and attempted suicide, before leaving in the fall of his senior year to focus on his business ventures full-time. He has several years under his belt as a freelancer, designing and developing healthcare applications for startups and healthcare organizations, and has a strong background in machine learning and artificial intelligence. Now, he is focused on redesigning the patient experience with Izzy Care. Kenneth is 22 years old, originally hailing from Brentwood, New York.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
It’s really an honor to be doing this with you all. I suppose my “backstory” is mostly focused around my experience dealing with mental illness, and how that fueled my passion for innovating in the health space.
Unfortunately, there’s a long history of alcohol abuse, domestic abuse and mental illness in my family. My younger brother attempted suicide while he was still in grade school. He’s been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and still faces significant struggles on a daily basis. But, I’ve also had my own serious struggles — cutting my wrists, writing suicide notes, flirting with and even testing out ideas of how I would end my life, like trying to hang myself or looking to drown myself in the lake at my school.
It all came to a boiling point a few years ago, over a summer vacation during my undergrad. I stockpiled and intentionally overdosed on the Klonopin I had been prescribed, in combination with alcohol and sleep aids to achieve the desired effect of respiratory failure. I don’t know how this happened, but somehow in this drug-induced blackout I managed to text one of my dearest friends what I had done. He contacted my mother, who contacted the police, who were able to locate me and bring me to the hospital. There, I was put in the Intensive Care Unit where I was intubated since my body could no longer breathe on its own. I’ll spare you the rest of the details, but I spent maybe two weeks there in the ICU, before being transferred to the psychiatric unit where I stood for almost a full month.
The administration at this new facility was admittedly quite terrible — I was given anti-psychotic medications without explanation or my own consent, and threatened with being moved to a federal facility if I did not comply. We couldn’t even shower without a worker present. I had never been more eager to get out of a situation. Needless to say, eventually I was released, and I sought out several months of intensive treatment through the partial hospitalization program at Insight Behavioral Health in Chicago, partnered with the Eating Recovery Center.
There, I felt I was finally treated as a real human being. I learned real therapeutic techniques from Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, got on a medication regimen that actually made sense, and for the first time in years, felt genuinely hopeful that I’d be able to overcome my depression. As far as I’m concerned, that program saved my life. And I still keep in touch from some of the friends I made there. Anyway, as the program drew to a close, they helped me arrange proper follow-up care and build a support system so that I could continue on the upward trajectory they helped me achieve. I’m happy to report now that I’m going on two full years of “recovery”, or otherwise successfully managing my depression.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Funniest thing, and truly biggest honor, for me has been being a part of this series with so many leaders in healthcare who are 10, 20, 30+ years my senior. The same goes for other healthcare-related events I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of. It’s really humbling and truly such an honor.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We set out to design the healthcare experience we would want for our families, and make that available to the world.
Izzy Care offers integrated, personalized care, by connecting members to their own dedicated collaborative care teams. In this way, Izzy Care ensures its members are taken care of holistically, incorporating not only their general medical needs, but also their mental and behavioral health, diet and exercise. You cannot separate physical and mental health if you truly want a patient to thrive.
As soon as you sign up with us as a member, we begin matching you to your team, which consists of your own personal family medicine physician, psychotherapist, and nutrition & wellness coach, licensed to practice in your state of residence, and fluent in your preferred language (currently English and Spanish).
The members of your care team are available for unlimited consultations via secure, HIPAA-compliant live video and messaging via our app. You can also chat with Izzy, our AI bot, who assists our clinicians by automating much of their workflow, allowing them to focus on what they do best — providing you with the highest quality care. We are then able to pass the cost savings achieved from implementing this technology straight through to you by offering this service at such a low rate.
Your care team is there to support you for the long term; it’s not one-off or transactional in nature. They get to know you and your personal health goals, and personalize your care to help you meet those goals.
Perhaps even more importantly, you’re not billed for every single interaction you have with your providers, or “fee-for-service”, as its called in the health industry.
Whether it’s messaging your family medicine doctor about a cough or cold, having recurring Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) sessions via live video with your psychotherapist, or chatting with your nutrition & wellness coach to tailor your diet and exercise plan, it’s all unlimited, and all included in our flat membership fee — $99/month for adults (18+), with free consultations for children 12 & under, and $59/month for teens (13–17). We even throw in a free Fitbit device if you sign up with us for the year.
In addition to this core membership service, we give our members the ability to opt-in to our blockchain-based wellness rewards program. In a nutshell, members that opt-in to this program connect their data from the health and fitness apps they already use, in addition to data from any wearable fitness trackers to IoT devices they may be using, in order to track their progress towards their own personal health and wellness goals. Using smart contracts on the Ethereum blockchain, we issue rewards to our members for investing the time and energy into their personal health and wellness to achieving these goals.
These rewards, in the form of the IZZY token, can be put towards the cost of the membership, further reducing the out-of-pocket cost for our members. The IZZY token can also be traded on exchanges for other cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin or Ethereum, or donated to support life-saving initiatives by our non-profit partners. You can think of it as “mining” a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin simply by hitting your daily step count.
Unfortunately, providing high-quality, personalized, integrated care at a low affordable rate isn’t as popular idea among bigger players in the industry as you might expect. In fact, our service seems to elicit some very split reactions.
On one hand, we have meetings where someone will tell us that what we’re working on is the future of healthcare, or that it’s the solution for moving from fee-for-service to truly value-based care. Or, they’re among the dozens of individuals who have told us they needed this service personally for themselves and for their families.
But on the other hand, you have industry vets who are totally opposed to the idea. Recently, we had a meeting with a prominent healthcare exec, and they asked us, “Why would you do that? Why not increase the membership price and go after higher-end markets?”. In another meeting, an insurance executive questioned the market for our solution saying “this’ll only work in those liberal blue states,” and that caring for the sick and elderly “costs more than its worth” for a company like ours.
I could be mistaken, but isn’t everyone, on both sides of the aisle, in favor of higher quality care at a lower cost — especially when it involves no government spending? Personally, I believe access to quality care is a basic human right, which cannot and should not be denied to any person regardless of their race, ethnicity, age, gender, sex, sexuality, or economic status.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Our primary focus now is on the direct-to-consumer Izzy Care membership. We recently announced our movement from private beta into the launch of our public waitlist for new patients at HLTH: The Future of Healthcare conference in Las Vegas.
We’re really focused on scaling the membership — we anticipate hitting 10,000 membership signups in the coming months. There are millions here in the U.S. alone that go without access to proper care, and personally I hope to reach all of them. But this first 10,000 is how we start.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
1 — Ensure your employees, and their families, are supported holistically, with access to food, healthcare, education, housing, and social connectivity.
2 — Give your employees a voice. Hear their concerns, their ideas, their motivations, and make decisions with their best interests at heart, not just your own or that of the firm.
3 — Give your employees the freedom to innovate, to experiment, to fail, to learn
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
Easy — my mom. She came to the U.S. at a very young age from El Salvador (located along the western coast of Central America, for those unfamiliar) at a time when guerilla warfare and gang violence were plaguing the country. She put herself through school, earning a nursing degree from a reputable private university, and has lead a successful career at the intersection of business and medicine ever since. She’s the epitome of the American dream. We may have our disagreements — she still thinks I’m crazy for having dropped out of school — but I wouldn’t be half the man I am today without her supporting me all along.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
For me, everything I do has to have some sort of social component to it. With Izzy Care, its built right into our DNA in democratizing access to high quality care.
We’ve also reserved 20% of our total token supply for a program we call Izzy Cares. In this program, we subsidize Izzy Care membership for individuals and families with low annual income, who traditionally have struggled to get access to high quality treatment. This grants these individuals and families the same access to unlimited, integrated GP/urgent care, mental/behavioral health, nutrition and wellness coaching via telemedicine. It’s our hope that this will enable people to thrive who may have otherwise never had the chance.
Lastly, we’re continuing to partner with non-profit initiatives doing truly live changing work, like Project HEAL — a non-profit which funds intensive eating disorder treatment for those who would otherwise likely have died at the hands of these terrible disorders. We make ongoing donations to these non-profit partners from the 10% of our token supply reserved for our team, company, and advisors, and give our members the option to donate the tokens they earn through our wellness rewards program to support these initiatives as well.
Can you share the top five ways that technology is changing the experience of going to the doctor. (Please share a story or example for each.)
· With telemedicine, we’re now able to connect patients and doctors from opposite ends of the state, the country, even the world. In our case at Izzy Care, this enables our patients to be seen right from the comfort of their own home, and our clinicians don’t need to be on call to travel to the clinic in the middle of the night.
b. chatbots & virtual assistants
· Chatbots and virtual assistants are able to automate much of a physician’s workflow, helping to reduce physician burnout. Additionally, they are able to reach out to patients for follow up and remote patient monitoring, ensuring a better continuum of care. For example, Izzy, our AI bot, helps our clinicians by automating patient follow-ups and assessments like a PHQ-9 for assessing depression.
c. wearables and mobile medical devices
· Everyone knows health happens outside of the clinic. Data from wearable trackers, health and fitness smartphone applications, and at-home medical devices give care teams insight into patient progress between visits to the clinic. For us at Izzy Care, we utilize this data to reward our patients for following through with their care and investing their time and energy into achieving their personal health and wellness goals.
d. blockchain, medical records, and monetizing data
· Barriers to accessing your medical records are beginning to come down. Patients are taking back control over the data that is rightfully their own. We will be able to choose what is done with this data, and who has access to it. We can even monetize our own data, allowing us to benefit financially from the power that our personal health data holds. This ties in nicely to the piece before about wearables and medical devices. Starting with this data, we enable our patients to essentially “monetize” their own wellness. But this is really just the beginning. Soon, we will enable patients to further monetize all of their health and wellness data, should they choose, by giving them a platform to grant medical researchers access to their data in exchange for financial compensation in a way that preserves their anonymity and privacy.
e. advanced machine learning, e.g. deep neural networks
· We have all this data from sessions, from chatbots, from apps, from our health records…now what can we do with it? That’s where advanced machine learning techniques like deep neural networks come into play. We can train these algorithms on data sets so that they learn, on their own, how to identify the signs and symptoms leading to the development of a certain disease or ailment. This doesn’t apply to us just yet, but as we grow our patient population, we will give patients the option to share their data (from their medical records and chat conversations) with us in a secure, anonymized fashion in order to fuel insights at the population health level, which we can use to improve their experience with our service, and hopefully, increase their individual positive outcomes.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
Perhaps not exactly a “Life Lesson Quote”, but one of my favorite quotes nevertheless from one of my favorite authors, Edgar Allen Poe: “I have great faith in fools; self-confidence my friends call it.”
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂
In entertainment, definitely Logic — his music, even from his very first mixtape, has always been such an inspiration and motivation for me. Honestly, I don’t know if I’d be around had I not had Under Pressure to listen to in some of my darkest moments. He’s certainly one of my biggest role models.
Originally published at medium.com