The Art of Healthcare Innovation with Udemy Founder and Carbon Health CEO, Eren Bali: “We need to make insurance contract pricing completely transparent”

I would make insurance contract pricing completely transparent so that you can deterministically tell how much each service will cost for each individual with each provider. So with your insurance, you should be able to easily tell how much an ECG would cost out of pocket with the particular provider. Asa part of my interview […]

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I would make insurance contract pricing completely transparent so that you can deterministically tell how much each service will cost for each individual with each provider. So with your insurance, you should be able to easily tell how much an ECG would cost out of pocket with the particular provider.

Asa part of my interview series with leaders in healthcare, I had the pleasure to interview Eren, the Founder & CEO of Carbon Healthand Chairman & Founder of Udemy, the largest marketplace for online courses with more than 40 thousand instructors and 10 million students worldwide. Named in the San Francisco Business Times 40 Under 40, Forbes 30 Under 30 and Business Insider’s Top 100 Innovators, Eren brings his entrepreneurial drive and ambition to Carbon to reimagine healthcare and build the world’s largest hospital. In his prior life, Eren graduated from METU (Turkey) with a degree in Computer Science and Mathematics, winning several awards in mathematics, physics, computer science and chess including the International Mathematical Olympiads.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Eren! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Afew years ago, my mother received a rare diagnosis. As my family began to search for a cure, we found a medical system that was disjointed, with medical records that were dispersed or inaccessible, and breakdowns in cooperation between facilities. Essentially, we saw a system that was centered around doctors and hospitals, instead of the patients. We carried piles of paperwork from one doctor to another, and through our perseverance, were eventually able to find the right care for my mother. However, by the time we were done, I was determined to build a new health platform from scratch that would make life easier for other people.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I’ve been amazed at how many of our business partnerships have started with someone unknowingly becoming a patient in one of our clinics and being genuinely impressed by their experience. Some of the most pivotal developments in the company were initiated by a simple clinic visit. We have even hired multiple executives this way.

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 we first started Carbon Health, we were working on a different idea that was much more simple and software-based. The complexity of what we’re doing today was once an internal joke about what we should have been doing. We kept half joking about it for a while and while everyone was on Christmas break, I made detailed sketches about how our current model would look if someone else were to do it, and we finally decided to go for it.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Our biggest differentiator is that we have full control of care delivery and technology at the same time, which allows us to make the experience of patients and physicians better every day in a way that wasn’t possible before. For example, we always assumed the patient experience, which we measure with Net Promoter Score, would correlate with wait times. But the data told us that the correlation was mostly with the time people wait in the exam room not knowing when the clinicians would arrive. We quickly designed and launched a tablet-based app which shows how many patients in each room have been waiting as well as all the pending procedures. Seeing this information visually represented made it a lot easier for our staff to intervene as needed in a timely manner, effectively removing these pain points.

What advice would you give to other healthcare leaders to help their team to thrive?

I believe that the secret to building a great service is to put yourself in a unique position of insight and to not be afraid of getting your hands dirty. Too many health-tech entrepreneurs try to avoid the more important problems in healthcare and opt into low-value services that are less complex.

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?

The U.S. healthcare system is way too complicated, especially with respect to the payer side. This puts a massive operational overhead in the system, which in turn causes overall costs to increase constantly. Because of these high costs, it’s hard to make essential healthcare services accessible to everyone like other developed countries. Additionally, the lack of accessibility in low acuity care causes people to eventually hit the healthcare system with much more complicated needs.

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.

  • I would make insurance contract pricing completely transparent so that you can deterministically tell how much each service will cost for each individual with each provider. So with your insurance, you should be able to easily tell how much an ECG would cost out of pocket with the particular provider.
  • I would significantly increase the level of preventive care options that are fully paid for each individual.
  • I would force the payers (insurance companies) to simplify the billing process so that providers can focus more on care delivery and patient experience when it comes to choosing their technology, instead of billing and administration.
  • I would create a very detailed and publicly available database of each provider and update it quarterly.
  • I would reevaluate the majority of the regulations. Although they are usually created with the best of intentions, most of them now serve to protect the monopolistic positions of the incumbents by making it really hard to enter the market.

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?

Individuals need to demand their providers and employers for a better patient experience. Communities should aggregate the challenges of its participants and ask payers and providers to address them, and leaders should get more involved with the day to day of healthcare so they can build empathy for the people receiving and providing care.

As a mental health professional myself, I’m particularly 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?

The status quo for mental health is that it has been isolated from the overall healthcare system. Even among the healthiest demographic, one in every four patients has a mental health consideration like depression, anxiety or ADHD. Most of the time these people don’t seek care since there is a big chasm between primary care and mental health. I believe a good path would be to bridge the gap between them, and even including things like nutrition and sleep to allow providers to take care of patients as a whole.

How would you define an “excellent healthcare provider”?

We have a very standard way of defining it. We want our patients to feel like they have a doctor in their family, and whoever enables that would be an “excellent healthcare” provider for us.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

This one’s more about business than life lessons but I love this quote from Jeff Bezos: “The thing I have noticed is that when the anecdotes and the data disagree, the anecdotes are usually right. There is something wrong with the way that you are measuring it. ”

I think people, particularly in the business world, ignore how powerful human intuition can be. Our brains are far more complex than anything we are able to create.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We’re working on bringing the latest innovations in genetics, diagnostic imaging, testing and longitudinal data to reimagine preventive care.

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 loved “The Patient Will See You Now” and “Deep Medicine” from Eric Topol, and “The Checklist Manifesto” from Atul Gawande. Digital Health Today is my favorite healthcare podcast. Daniel Kraft’s Future of Medicine presentations and CB Insights’ healthcare research are other inspiring resources.

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 start a “Real Humans Real Problems” movement. For a place that prides itself on innovation and creativity, the herd mentality in Silicon Valley is striking. There is an extremely small group of people who control the technology world and they are oblivious to the most important challenges of humanity since they, by and large, don’t observe them. It will be key to create diversity in the technology world considering how much impact it has on the rest of the world.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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