For my series on strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jillian Cohen. Jillian is the CEO & Co-founder of Virtual Health Partners, Inc. In May 2015, Jillian launched VHP with the goal of creating an ecosphere of wellness support available anywhere and anytime. With over 15 years of experience in the medical industry, Jillian was responsible for the multi-million-dollar growth of three start-up companies, with a strong focus in the non-invasive weight loss space.
Virtual Health Partners (VHP) recently launched a new technology platform specifically for patients with cancer. Can you tell us about this program?
In collaboration with one of our partners, Virtual Health Partners (VHP) launched the first of its kind, live, virtual support program that delivers 24/7 nutrition and lifestyle support to patients with cancer. Available on the web or through a mobile app, this program provides patients with direct access to nutrition specialists through live 1-on-1 appointments and private messaging at their convenience. Through the oncology platform powered by VHP, patients can also join virtual support groups and access a curated collection of recipes and meal plans, and educational classes personalized for their specific symptoms, needs, and preferences.
What inspired you to create the program?
VHP initially launched in 2015 as a virtual tool to support the aftercare of patients who underwent weight loss procedures. We partnered with the bariatric and gastroenterology departments of various hospitals to offer our services, and we quickly caught the attention of other departments. We had orthopedic, cardiology, and oncology providers coming to us and saying, “Can we use this app for our patients?” Since then, we have expanded into eight different verticals, adapting our virtual health and wellness platform to serve the needs of multiple populations.
Can you describe how the program is making a significant impact on the lives of patients with cancer?
A cancer diagnosis comes with hundreds of questions. What is my prognosis? What are my treatment options? What side effects will treatment have? Cancer is complicated, and while we can’t answer every question a patient may have, our goal is to at least simplify one piece of the journey. Ultimately, our hope is that through access to live, virtual nutrition and lifestyle support, patients with cancer can improve their quality of life, their likelihood of successful treatment, and reduce unnecessary hospitalizations. Based on multiple clinical studies, malnutrition and nutritional issues effect close to 60% of all patients being treated for cancer. In addition, research shows that addressing nutritional needs early-on leads to greater treatment success rates and outcomes.
Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted by this cause?
Unfortunately, in today’s age, everyone knows someone who has been affected by cancer. Watching someone you love go through chemotherapy or radiation can make you feel powerless. It’s hard to know what to say or do to be helpful, and what I find so great about this new program is that it gives loved ones a concrete way to help. You can open the app, filter by symptom, find a recipe, cook a meal, and know that you are making a difference.
Can you tell us more about the nutritional challenges that oncology patients experience?
On average, 39% of cancer patients experience malnutrition and 84% have weight loss during treatment. For patients with cancer, malnutrition can lead to decreased response to treatment, increased treatment-related toxicity, prolonged hospitalization, impaired quality of life, and overall worse prognosis.
Have any studies been conducted about the benefits of nutrition intervention and how it may improve outcomes?
Studies have shown that tailored nutrition intervention can make a difference over the course of treatment by reducing therapy side effects, decreasing the number of unplanned hospitalizations, and improving treatment completion rates. We know that nutrition can sometimes be an afterthought and not all cancer patients have access to nutrition therapy. With VHP’s oncology platform, we are helping close that gap and give patients access to the care they need.
What are three things the community/society can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
When people think about diets or nutrition, inevitably they think weight loss. We want to teach people that eating well is about so much more than that — it’s about your health. Everyone eats, and what we put into our bodies has a major impact on how we feel and how our bodies function. We want to encourage society to think about nutrition as medicine — as a way to prevent or improve chronic conditions. There are three steps that everyone can take to start to harness the power of good nutrition.
Take inventory of your eating habits.
Keep a diary of everything you eat for at least 3 days to help you understand your current habits. You can do this on paper or with the help of an app, like those that VHP offers.
Find your “why”.
Think of food as fuel, and determine what to eat to help fuel your goals. If you are undergoing cancer treatment and your goal is to build muscle, maybe you increase protein. If you sit at a desk all day and your goal is to increase energy, maybe you decrease sugar intake. Thinking about your unique reason for change will help motivate you to be successful. Consulting with a dietitian can also help you identify what changes will be most impactful in helping you reach your goals.
Make small changes and stay consistent.
Start small, and only change one thing at a time, but commit to that change, and stick with it. Setting a series of discrete, achievable short term goals is the best way to set yourself up for the lasting change that can help you reach your long term goals.
What is your end goal of this program?
Our ultimate goal is to make nutrition intervention more easily accessible to all patients with cancer, improving their quality of life and treatment success.