…Remove state licensures as a requirement for doctors. State licensure adds little value to practitioners, takes unnecessarily long and today’s practices need to be able to virtually have consults with patients across state lines.
As a part of my interview series with leaders in healthcare, I had the pleasure to interview Ranga Jayawardena, Co-Founder & COO of Beam Health.
Ranga is the growth engine of Beam, helping the company become one of the fastest-advancing telehealth platforms in the country. Prior to Beam, Ranga built a foundation of expertise across several business areas. With his former lives as an award winning National Sales Trainer at Bristol Myers Squibb, an Enterprise Procurement Officer for healthcare data and an Ultra-High Net Worth Private Banker at J.P. Morgan, Ranga brings cross-category experience and the spirit of a hustler to Beam.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Prior to founding Beam, I spent five years at Bristol-Myers Squibb working across several functions, including sales, business analytics and procurement. This was an insightful period in my career and gave me a line of sight on the myriad challenges patients face in our Healthcare System. I learned that more than half of patients across many specialty conditions, including oncology, cardiology, rheumatoid arthritis, etc. go undertreated every year in America. In fact about 7 million Americans either forgo treatment or miss medical appointments due to something often overlooked: the amount of time is takes to travel to a doctor’s office. I also learned that patients with serious diseases often stop taking medication that could be keeping them alive for reasons as simple as the amount of time it takes to show up for a monthly prescription refill appointment. It is apparent that patients are undertreated, under diagnosed and even ignored due to issues that technology and business model innovations can solve. I looked at telemedicine as low-hanging fruit; it’s an innovation that does not require new technology, and yet makes problems in healthcare access and patient treatment solvable.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
We launched a commercial offering in the fall of 2019 and were seeing steady growth month-over-month, and then Covid-19 happened. All of a sudden we saw 500% growth in usage on our platform in just less than 6 weeks at a time when we were a two-person company. It was sort of a bizarre time where businesses were shutting down, the economy was getting hit quite hard and yet here we were in our tiny office facing scalability issues because our demand had grown so quickly. We also realize that so many doctors’ offices were really hurting because their businesses relied on in-person appointments. So many private practices had severe cash-flow issues following Covid-19, and many of them had to shut down. They just did not have the tools and technology needed to deal with a problem like a global pandemic. So we took it upon ourselves to do everything that we could to serve the medical community. That’s why we got into this business in the first place. So we actually did something that’s fairly ill-advised and we offered a 90-day free trial of Beam during the initial months of the outbreak. We took on that level of risk because we knew Beam could help doctors continue to serve their patient communities during a time when they needed it most.
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?
Early on, we had a bug during a product demo with an investor. This wasn’t just any investor, but someone I have immense admiration for and someone who I was convinced could help our business grow. It was one of those moments that could have gone either way and thankfully the investor was able to look past it and ended up backing Beam. It taught me and my co-founder that sometimes regardless of preparation, you have to think on your feet and talk your way out of a tight spot!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
While other telemedicine software companies focus the bulk of their efforts on acquiring large healthcare clients such as hospitals, Health Systems, and IDNs, Beam has chosen to focus on a very specific market segment that is largely untapped and mostly ignored: small to mid-sized private practices. These doctors are very different from hospitalists. They are not salaried, they know their patients personally and they’re driven by delivering excellent care and customer service to the patient communities that they serve. Our product is acutely focused on helping them solve their core business issues, innovating their business model and helping them grow their businesses online and through telemedicine.
Our team is also quite unique. My co-founder and our CEO, Sas Ponnapalli, is the only second-time founder in the telehealth space. Telemedicine is not just a fad for him; it’s an obsession. When he was in college, his senior year project as a software engineer was a telemedicine mobile app. It failed to get funded! Undeterred, he went on to become the founding CTO of Plushcare, a vertically integrated telemedicine clinic that recently closed their series B. He left Plushcare with the aim of bringing telemedicine to brick-and-mortar clinics rather than just doctors that he could hire. I compliment Sas’s Silicon Valley background with my corporate experience at Bristol-Myers Squibb and J.P. Morgan Private Bank, and our VP of Customer Success, Drew Jayakody, has managed practices within the Mount Sinai health system. While we’re a tech company, we understand the pain points of healthcare providers, and empathize with the struggles they face in a rapidly changing healthcare landscape. We also have some cool features for doctors looking to scale & grow their practices, including a custom landing page and a free listing on our patient-facing marketplace (launching 2021).
What advice would you give to other healthcare leaders to help their team to thrive?
Be relentless, despite the challenges you face. Healthcare is a very difficult industry to innovate within. Healthcare’s complex regulatory framework and frayed payer infrastructure will make impacting the space quite difficult. That being said, these same issues have made healthcare an industry ripe for change, and one that sorely needs leadership. Keep moving forward!
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?
- Cost of care — According to deb.org, 60% of all bankruptcies are related to medical/hospital/surgery expenses. Patients can pay upwards of 100,000+ for common medical procedures
- We have a Byzantine payer framework, where insurance companies can sometimes deplete value in the Healthcare System. This has lead to confusion about who actually pays for services and what those services cost.
- Some of this is just due to the particularities of this country. The United States is a very large nation with a very diverse set of regions. For example metropolitan areas are so different than rural areas in their healthcare needs and gaps.
You are a “healthcare insider”. If you had the power to make a change, can you share 5 changes that need to be made to improve the overall US healthcare system? Please share a story or example for each.
- Make every healthcare system that houses patient data require opening their api to any other technology company (given the consent by the doctor). This will allow for a system where patients can access and manage any vendor that has access to their PHI.
- Restructured compensation plan for doctors/providers with strong incentives for successful patient outcomes
- Remove state licensures as a requirement for doctors. State licensure adds little value to practitioners, takes unnecessarily long and today’s practices need to be able to virtually have consults with patients across state lines.
- Use AI & machine learning over clinical data to identify predictive patterns in order to limit spreading of contagious diseases –
- Telemedicine reimbursement for all specialties, with parity.
Ok, its 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?
Well, Covid-19 has helped accelerate some solutions to these issues. For example telemedicine reimbursement in America has improved drastically in the last 6 months. I also think it’s going to take Innovative startups that are hyper focused on solving these particular problems, in concert with new regulations, to move the needle.
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?
It’s critical that mental health issues are given the appropriate attention, from payers, providers, employers and patients. Physicians do not always discuss the impact of stress on other health conditions. Even when they do, it’s very difficult to convince a patient to go see a behavioral health specialist. This is an area where I think telemedicine can help immensely. Patients who are too embarrassed to go see a mental health specialist can be encouraged to do so via telemedicine, which would allow them to receive treatment from the privacy of their own home on, their own time without. A significant portion of our customer base (36%) at Beam is comprised of Behavioral Health Specialists, including psychiatrist, psychologist, Addiction Services, counseling, social work, etc. So I think we’re well on our way to helping improve the status quo.
How would you define an “excellent healthcare provider”?
An excellent healthcare provider is one that is obsessed with improving patient outcomes by offering patients a superior experience. During a pandemic, that means offering remote care options to prevent the spread of disease.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Pema Chodron — ‘Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.’
Startups face a lot of potential pitfalls. Founders often experience immense doubt about their businesses, but I think the repeated exposure to those challenges ultimately can help someone adopt the mindset required to have a successful startup.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We’re putting together the building blocks to launch the first marketplace in Virtual care. This would essentially evolve a platform where patients can search for doctors across any specialty, see a listing of all the telemedicine enabled clinics that are available to them, and then connect with those Healthcare Providers virtually. Today patients are aware of less than a tenth of 1% of the telemedicine options that are available to them. More often than not they only use telemedicine in emergent care to be connected with a random urgent care doctor at a company like teladoc or amwell. Our vision is to create the first telemedicine Network that would give patients discoverability and choice in virtual care. Ultimately pairing patients with the right clinics in the right specialties as quickly as possible will lead to better health outcomes for patients.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better healthcare leader? Can you explain why you like them?
One resource that has been incredibly helpful to us is the Techstars program. Beam Health is part of the 2020 the Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator, powered by Techstars that is currently underway. Through this program we’ve been able to meet a ton of mentors, investors, Techstars alumni, and folks that have been working incredibly hard for years to solve critical problems in healthcare. These people have not only helped us with our core metrics but they’ve also been incredibly inspirational!
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. 🙂
I would bring affordable care to all regardless of employment status. Currently, distribution in healthcare is owned by insurance companies and directed by employers. Patients are often limited by their health plan, and providers are often limited by their ability to contract with payer networks. Ultimately we could one day create a beam Prime Membership that could supplement health plans and allow patients to affordably connect with providers across all specialties in geographies.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!