Health Innovators
Health Innovators

Episode 118 · 5 months ago

Finding success when your solution isn’t on healthcare’s roadmap w/ Dr. Katherine Saunders


I see it a lot: an innovator has a solution to a problem - a solution that could change healthcare for the better… only to find out that problem isn’t even on healthcare’s priority roadmap.

You might think that’s the end of it, right? Maybe you need to go back and find a different issue to address? Not so fast.

Sometimes the answer to getting your solution into the market is to become the provider for that solution.

That’s precisely what Dr. Katherine Saunders did with her company, Intellihealth. When the healthcare companies said, “Not right now,” she said, “Watch me.”

From understanding ‘person first’ language to tying healthcare, wellness, and lifestyle together, Dr. Saunders shows us how she successfully took an idea to market - even when her main audience hadn’t yet taken interest.

Here are the show highlights:

  • This is what a successful ‘pandemic pivot’ looks like (5:14)
  • What is ‘Person first’ language and how do you use it? (12:10)
  • Different pathways for different people (14:40)
  • How ‘Next level’ decisions could be a new sub specialty (17:24)
  • Women’s health trends and where they’re heading (21:39)
  • How conversations and shared experiences can put you on the right track (25:22) 

Guest Bio

Dr. Katherine Saunders is the co-founder at Intellihealth and Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College.

Specializing in obesity and weight-related medical complications, her areas of expertise include advanced medical approaches to obesity and strategies to counteract medication-induced weight gain.

Dr. Saunders received her undergraduate degree from Dartmouth College and her medical degree from Weill Cornell Medical College.

If you’d like more information on Intellihealth, or wish to reach Dr. Saunders, she can be found on LinkedIn at Katherine Saunders.

You're listening to health innovators, a podcast and video show about the leaders, influencers and earlier doctors who are shaping the future of healthcare. I'm your host, Dr Roxy Movie. Welcome back to the show health innovators. On today's episode I'm sitting down with Dr Catherine Saunders, who's the CO founder of intell a health. Welcome to the show, Dr Saunders. Thank you, Dr Mooney, thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to be here. It is wonderful to have you here. So I always like to start off every episode by having my guest give the audience a little bit of information about your background and what you've been innovating these days. Sure happy to elaborate. My background is that I'm a physician. I initially trained an internal medicine and during my internal medicine training I was really just struck by how many of my patients were we're, diagnosed with weight related health complications because of their overweight or obesity, and in my medical training I have really had little to very little education in what obesity was and how it affected health and how, and most importantly, how to treat it. And so I did a fellowship it obesity medicine at while Cornell medicine with Dr Lewis a Roney, who was one of the pioneers of this field of obesity medicine, and I've earned everything about what obesity was, why, you know, it's a disease, how to evaluate people with obesity, how to treat obesity, both with lifestyle intervention and with medications, so medical management of obesity. And then I joined the faculty at while Cornell, where I've been practicing now for many years. A few years ago my husband, who is more on the entrepreneurial side, and I teamed up with Dr Rowney to start our company called until health, which was based on his, Dr Rowney's predecessor company called Bamq, and our mission is really to scale and democratize access to exactly the kind of medicine we do, so effective and impassionate and comprehensive obesity medicine. So it's such a great founder story. But when I think about obesity it's such a complex kind of stigmatized industry that really people have been trying to solve or change in a positive way for decades. So what is it that you all are doing differently? That's going to make a different. Yeah, there it's you're absolutely right, Dr Money. It is incredibly complex and there's so many different, you know, things that we need to consider in terms of even just talking about obesity. So much bias, so much stigma, so much misunderstanding, such a lack of understanding. So, you know, some of this is public health, some of this is advocacy, just really getting the word out there that obesity isn't just a lifestyle problem. This is actually a disease that, for most people, requires medical management. Our goal, as I mentioned, is really to scale and democratize access to obes treatment. So when we initially started it was a software company. So we have software called evolve that is designed to train any healthcare provider to understand what they need to know about obesity and how to treat it and give them all of the sport they need to practice really compassionate, individualized, comprehensive care of obesity and then, on the patient side, to give them an online program and now we actually have an APP that launched recently, to give them all the support they need in their journey to lose weight and then, more importantly, to sustain that weight loss long term. So the software is what we initially focused on. Talking about challenges,... know, because of the pandemic, which we had touched on before we started talking on the podcast. You know, trying to speak with health systems about anything other than covid during the pandemic was definitely challenging and many health systems don't have obesity on their road map. And you know there are some places that have obesity centers or weight and agement centers and they've been much more receptive in some of them. You know, we we've been working with but you know, when when institutions just don't have obes on their Road Map, thats it's very hard to get into that. We also started to get more and more requests to just really provide the medicine, provide the comprehensive careselves, since we're, you know, some of the leading experts on in this field of medicine. And so about a year ago we decided to develop an affiliated clinical services line that were calling flight flyte and that's that's been very exciting to launch. So now not only can we work with customers with our software if they have providers who can use it, but we can also be the providers and work with, you know, self ensured organizations or employer populations, and so that's been really exciting to transition our business model sort of to be a much more kind of full service solution to obesity. So I want to pause for just a second and talk about, you know, just the idea of the early stage company. That's really you know, in innovators who are trying to identify what is the business problem that they're going to solve going forward for the market, and what you just describe to something that I hear really often. We're innovators have a problem that they're really passionate about, that they want to solve, that they really feel like would be valuable to the health system, but it's not on the health system's priority road map right and there's this disconnect. And so I love that you guys were able to kind of leverage the pandemic to probably identify that much more quickly than you would have if you didn't have the pandemic happening and then to be able to pivot, because so often I see innovators that not necessarily during the pandemic, but just end up spending years trying to persuade someone in the healthcare, in the hospital system that they are their problem that they want to help solve is should be on their road map instead of trying to figure out a way to be able to position it to people that are actually looking to solve that problem right now. Yes, that's those are excellent points and we've lived. We've lived a good deal of that. The pandemic, in a very strange way, as you know, obviously been extremely challenging and devastating for so many, but for some aspects of health care it's actually been helpful in that, you know, the the forced transition to tell a medicine is something that wouldn't have happened otherwise and tell a medicine is just such an incredible tool to really democratize access to populations that are underserved. So for us being able to do what we do through tell a medicine and have, you know, widespread adoption of tell a medicine, that's the first thing that came out of the pandemic that's been incredibly helpful. The second thing is really just the focus on obesity. You know, obesity is associated with worse cases of Covid and death because of Covid so very early on in the pandemic it was recognized as a big, big, big risk factor. So the focus on obesity in the focus on tell medicine have both been extremely helpful for us in a strange way. Well, in just to even think about, you know, maybe some of the folks that either already struggled with weight management or really didn't but started to just because of the more sedimentary...

...lives that we've been living through the pandemic. You know, you always hear that saying, the the Freshman Fifteen, right, that people that go off to college and they gain fifteen pounds, and I think, you know, we've heard a lot about the covid nineteen, the nineteen pounds that you've gained over the last two years during covid and really being able to need programs to be able to, you know, change that exactly. We actually did a study looking at our data. We sent a survey to over a thousand of our patients at while Cornell and we did find that our patients, who are medically managed for their weight, as you would expect, actually did fare better during the pandemic. So didn't gain as much weight as other people and one of the most protective risk factors we saw or not respectors. One of US protective factors they saw was patients who exercised did better that patients than patients who did not. Extra size during the pandemic which we see so much even now. So many people working from home, everyone is so sedentary, so it's easier to gain weight than it can be harder to lose weight when when you're very sedentary. Yeah, absolutely so. I want to go back to the business model. Right where you it sounds like initially you will really be to be focused. In it sounds like you could still be be to be focused. Do you also have or be TOBTC? Do you have any direct consumer component of your business model and, if so, what does that look like? Great Question. We do not right now. We feel that we will be more impactful if we can really power different groups to kind of take this on it do it themselves. So that's why, initially we thought we could do this new software and we still absolutely have our software business. We're working with some major academic institutions throughout the country. Were working with part of the VA or working with hospital corporation of America with our software predominantly. But then in terms of our clinical services line. You know, we are more excited at this point about the idea of working with groups, so different unions, different employer groups, and so that we feel like will be will make more sense in terms of our business model. But we may, you know, at some point in some capacity, do a bit of direct consumer it's just such a different business model that that's not our focus right now. So that could be one of the major differences. But you know, just what do you think about? You know something that's been in the news over the last couple of months with new, who is a weight management tool that has, you know, raised five hundred, over five hundred million dollars in in venture capital and then just laid off, I think, at least a corner, if not half, of their workforce just recently. You know, kind of maybe, kind of just speak to what you think is happening in the market place from their perspective, and then how do you think that that's going to be different than what you guys are doing? Great questions. So we see ourselves as very, very, very complementary to any sort of lifestyle approach. So new is more of a behavioral program. We are complementary to a behavioral program in that what that doesn't work for people and unfortunately for the majority of people who have obesity. You know, not just people are trying to lose five pount five pounds, lose ten pounds, but people who actually have obesity. You know, if you look at the numbers of any studies of lifestyle interventions, it's really a minority of people who are able to lose weight and keep it off from lifestyle alone. So those are the people who we see who have lost and gained and lost and gained and you know, maybe new was one of the many ways they tried to lose weight but at the point where they come to see us, nothing is working and you know they they are a really struggling with their weight and they're very, very appropriate for medical... So different things work for different people. I have plenty of patients who absolutely love new and they do new, you know, in concert with what we're doing medically. But yeah, it's just it's one lifestyle approach of many, many lifestyle coaches kind of in the the wellness space. I would say they're more wellness and more and more in than medical space. Hey, it's Dr Roxy here with a quick break from the conversation. Are you trying to figure out what moves you need to make to survive and thrive in the new covid economy? I want every health innovator to find their most viable and profitable pivot strategy, which is why I created the covid proof your business pivot kit. The pivot kit is a step by step framework that helps you find your best pivot strategy. It walks you through six categories you need to examine for a three hundred and sixty degree view of your business. I call them the six critical pivot lenses. As you make your way through this comprehensive kit, you'll be armed with the tools, tips and strategies you need to make sure you can pivot with speed without missing out on critical details and opportunities. Learn more at legacy and DNACOM backslash kit. So you know, I was on a podcast show as a guest the other day and someone brought up a comment and question about the word, the term obes be in people advocating to have that term excluded from schools, of schools that were protesting to not allow students to really talk about the word obesity because of all the negative stigma around it in just kind of prompted a really rich dialog in you know, my perspective was, Gosh, this is a true medical condition. It would be like, let's not talk, let's not say cancer or let's not say any other medical condition. How unfair is that to the folks that actually have this disease as you describe it? What do you think is happening and what are your thoughts about, you know, changing the language around this great, great question. There's a big push in our industry to use what we call person first language. If you look at an organization like the Obesity Action Coalition, they have very, very good information that's available to the public about this. So, just as we would never talk about people who have diabetes or cancer as diabetic people or cancer as patients or depressive patients, because the disease doesn't define the person, we talk about patient first language, where we say individuals or people with obesity. And every time I'm interviewed for any kind of story that's being written, I always, always, always explained to the reporters that we prefer that they use person first language. So I think that's one big component of it. Just the way we talk about the US. And then you know, personally, when I talk to my patients and ending many providers, many of my colleagues in this field, we generally use a term, you know, excess weight or weight instead of obesity. But the name of the specialty is obesity medicine. And when we talk about this scientifically and when we're talking with other providers, you know exactly it's the name of the disease. Obesity is the name of the disease, but excess weight is generally pretty accepted for the way we talked to patients about it. And and different people are really different. Some people find the word obesity to be very offensive and some people don't mind it at all. And you know, without knowing where people are coming from, I find it just safer and more compassionate and empathetic to to say excess weight or weight. Yeah, yeah, I agree. That makes so much sense. So one of the other things that I wanted to ask you about was I got an email a couple of months ago from health hlth about their conference that's coming up in the fall and how they were...

...starting up a new stage called well by health, and it's really, from my perspective, the first time that I'm seeing a healthcare conference entity really take such a strong approach or strong step in integrating both wellness into healthcare. So they're kind of more integrating. The conversation about the power of fitness, in nutrition, in mental like mindfulness, you know, categories that have really been siloed from the healthcare industry, even that we know that they are very much in a related and so you know, my thoughts are as it's about time that we're starting to integrate that. What do you think about that, which your perspective? I think that's great. I agree with you. The more we can focus on people's wellness, and that definitely includes dietary strategies and and physical activity and behavioral change, so everything that we talk about in our field sort of as lifestyle modifications or lifestyle at preventions. That's wonderful and and the key thing in this area is that different people, different things work for different people, and so the more options we have, the more you know, we have this in every single way. Different people will figure out something that works for them and that really will impact every aspect of their life. We're absolutely sort of part of wellness, but again we're a little bit separate and complementary to wellness, because we're much more on the medical side. So if someone wants to lose some weight and died in exercise work, that's wonderful and I'm very supportive of that. You know, unfortunately, the people who we see as our patients are people for whom they you know, who they just haven't had as much success with lifestyle. So we're complementary, but a huge part of what we do, really the cornerstone, is still lifestyle and conjunction with our medical management, and I think that's that's really common. I think that we've really tend to kind of separate medical and healthcare and in separate wellness, and you know, there's all these competing views of which one's more important and what role each one of them play. And I love what you just said about, you know, different pathways working for different people. And then really this just more of an integreedive approach. You know that we're seeing grow in expand. So what are some of the key decisions? You know, kind of as you look back from the starting point of cofounding and tell a health in this, you know, journey that you've had, what are some of those key commercialization decisions that you have made that you think that have led to some of the successes that you guys are experiencing so far? A great question. So again, you know, we were so excited about the idea of really being a software company when we started, and then the big decision to develop our affiliated clinical services line has been great. It's just so exciting for us now to offer really a full spectrum solution to what we're doing, because it's just it's so needed. Many, many potential customers just don't have their own healthcare providers to use software. They really need much more than that. So that was probably the the most important factor and we also recently launched our APP a few months ago, which was very exciting. Up until then we have had, you know, an online platform that was, you know, mobile friendly, but having an actual APP has really taken things to the next level. We are also working on what we call subspecialty programs, so talking about commercialization and sort of different opportunities for collaboration. The first one that we've been developing is a women's health program so looking at menopause, looking at pregnancy, looking at different women's stages of life and conditions that affect women and... they overlap with weight, so that, you know, people who have overweight and obesity where on our program just have much more support in those areas and can be part of these actual programs, and then providers have a much better understanding of what their patients are going through and how to help people who are in these situations, bring them through these programs and just be very educated and treat their weight in a way that's very focused on their other conditions. We're also doing a diabetes program of very etric surgery program a fatty liver program there are so many. They're actually over two hundred different weight related health conditions and so we've been excited about being able to focus on, you know, subspecialties and different populations who who, you know, would really benefit from kind of more support that's in their specific area. So, as you're kind of thinking through these two hundred, you know, health conditions that are associated with obesity, how are you prioritizing? What are some of those so specialties that you are going to be deploying your growth strategy going forward? So it really depends on potential partnerships that we have and what we're interested in and where we think, you know, the most high yield areas are diabetes type to diabetes, obviously you know is you know there's a huge you change, overlap with obesity. So that's that was one of our first programs that we were developing. Same thing with bariatric surgery. In order for a bariatric surgery practice to be considered, you know, a center of excellence, they need to have a medical weight component. So we're able to kind of fulfill that with the program that we have. And then, just for me personally, I've I was really excited about, you know, launching the women's Health Program I mean, if you look at pregnancy, I mean how many women have not had any sort of weight issue related to pregnancy? Nobody, think, maybe some people, but they're really just isn't much out there for how to help people manage weight, you know, in the different stages like trying to conceive, during pregnancy, postpartum, you know, talking about infertility. How much weight can be gained during during those phases? So for me that was just such an unmet need and it's something that we do in our practice all the time and even though there isn't so much day that in this area, because we can't do you know randomized control trials on women who are pregnant in ways? That would be interesting, but it's really sort of more our expert opinion and, you know, just pulling together what's out there and putting it together in a way that's going to be really supportive to patients and to providers. You know, the women's health trend is is something that I'm excited about, you know, obviously being a female as well, and just you know, I think that there's so many women's health issues, like you just indicated, that are overlooked and it's nice to see, you know, whether their female entrepreneurs or not, but that more of these issues are being explored and invested in. You know, I think that a big part of why we don't have as much happening in women's health is because a lot of times those aren't getting funded. Those are often, I think, female founders that really struggle with raising capital. It's happening, but statistically it's not. You know, it's more difficult for women to raise money than it is for men and their counterparts, for variety of reasons. That's a whole nother episode right. Really great to see you guys investing in more women's health issues. Yes, I couldn't agree more, and it is much more challenging. But despite the challenges, it's been very exciting to see how many new companies are popping up in women's health, so specifically around menopause, specifically round pregnant and see. So we're...

...viewing this. As you know, these are all opportunities for us to collaborate. So we're excited about, you know, where this will take us well, and I think female consumers are excited about these issues and problems being solved and addressed and so there I think as a whole, even just consumers are excited to even be a part of that movement, even if they're not in healthcare, because they've, you know, have such personal experience with these issues, willing to invest and willing to, you know, purchase some of these solutions directly. It's very interesting to see what's going to happen as this continues to unfold. Agree, we are very excited about this. So what other insights or advice would you have to share with fellow entrepreneurs that are in our audience today that are maybe ahead of you, maybe just behind you as well in this commercialization journey? Gay Question. I would say that, you know, obviously being entrepreneurial is extremely challenging, extremely challenging, maybe more so for it for me personally, than medicine. I feel like at a certain point with medicine you feel very, very comfortable with what we do day in and day out, but this is something for me that I had never dabbled in at all and it's hard. There's so many ups and downs, it's very unpredictable, it's a lot of hard work. It's just really challenging in so many ways. So I would say, you know, especially for women who have other challenges, particular family perhaps, you know, just having a lot of support is is really important. So you would ask me before we started to talk about the Women Business Leader Group, and that's a group that I've been part of where it's been wonderful to meet other people who are going through similar challenges and and women who really want to support each other. So that's just one example of one of the groups that I've been part of. But you know, another group that I've been part of is through while Cornell, where I'm on faculty, we have a women founders group and it's twelve of us who are mdes or PhDs primarily, who are working on startup companies and it's just incredible to meet with these other very impressive women and, you know, learn about topics that are really pertinent to being a female founder. So different groups like that, wherever they exist, or whatever, you know, where for people have access to groups. I think the support is is really invaluable. So that is just awesome. What are some of the things that you've gotten out of these peers and in colleagues? You know, when you think back of how it's made a difference in your life, something it can be something small, doesn't even have to be anything major. Yeah, I think just, you know, especially among women, People's willingness to help other women is has just been incredible. So whether it's just making connections, making introductions, helping in any sort of way, and then, you know, specifically my women's Founder Group, talking about topics that are just incredibly helpful to what we're trying to do. So you know how to negotiate and you know talk, we in one session about imposter syndrome and how it's really pervasive and how to recognize it and how to deal with it. So they're all these topics that you know, you might not identify or think about, but you know, when you have a program like this or you know have conversations like this, in some way, it could be so helpful to be on the same page as other people and really, you know, figure out shared shared experiences and talk about advice and where to go from here. It's wonderful. So the last question I have for you is around legacy. So we talked a lot. I like to end the each episode by asking my gask about the legacy that they want to leave behind. So how do you want to be remembered by? Maybe in healthcare or outside of healthcare? We think about...

...the legacy that you're going to leave behind. Well, that's a great question. Thank you. So I would say, you know, I'm very proud of the work that I do clinically with my patients and it's just such an amazing opportunity to work with each individual patient and, you know, take them from a place where they just feel like nothing is working and they've given up to really educating them about why this isn't their fault and why they have a disease and and giving them hope and, you know, figuring out what we can do about it and working through this journey together to a place where, you know, they've lost a significant amount of weight, they're keeping it off, they've improved their health, and so working with my patients I find to be incredibly gratifying and I will never give that part of what I do up. So that legacy to me is very exciting. And then, on a bigger scale, the reason why we started the company was to take what we do in our practice with each individual patient and and really scale and democratize access to exactly this kind of care. So I think, you know, if we're even a little bit successful and scaling and Democritizing, you know, this is a huge, huge, huge problem. All least is really an epidemic and if we can, you know, help thousands of people, millions of people, I don't know how big we can eventually get, but just the ability to take this out of just my individual practice or group of providers individual practice and and use our skill and our expertise than, you know, technology and our whole incredible team working with us to spread it as much as we can. This is this is what we're really really working towards. That's wonderful. Everybody making a difference, making a difference in people's lives, and you know that. I think that trickles down to families and then communities and in society at large. You know, you know, one patient at a time, right, exactly. So thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate it and I know that our audience would have learned quite a bit from you today. Thank you so much for having me a forener pleasure. Thank you so much for listening. I know you're busy working to bring your life changing innovation to market and I value your time and attention. To get the latest episodes on your mobile device, automatically subscribe to the show on your favorite podcast APP like apple podcast, spotify and stitcher. Thank you for listening and I appreciate everyone who shared the show with friends and colleagues. See You on the next episode of Health Innovators.

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