Sean Duffy
CEO and Founder Omada Health

Sean is the Co-founder and CEO of Omada Health, a Silicon Valley digital health startup tackling chronic disease.

Prior to Omada Health, Sean was enrolled in Harvard’s joint MD/MBA program, and previously worked in IDEO’s Health & Wellness group driving innovative work for providers, health technology companies, and employers. Sean also spent two years at Google and served as an editor at Medgadget.com.

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On today’s episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup speaks with Sean Duffy, co-founder and CEO at Omada Health about how companies can help their employees manage chronic health conditions.

Omada Health is a virtual care provider that specializes in disease areas where a virtual first approach is the best approach for both the person and to pull costs out of the healthcare system. They specialize in chronic health conditions such as: pre-diabetes, diabetes, hypertension, mental health, and musculoskeletal disease for people suffering from muscle and joint pain.

A lot of people have forgone needed care during the pandemic, which is a huge problem. That’s where we’re so proud of what we do at Omada, that in the context of a world where it’s not easy for people to go in and get the care they need, we have to bring it to them. COVID really illustrated that need.

Some conversation highlights:

Is some of this preventative or reactive?

An example in chronic health conditions is diabetes. There’s a metabolic state right before diabetes called prediabetes. That’s really the canary in the coal mine. Your body’s sugars are abnormal and all evidence shows that you can help support people with pre-diabetes through intervention and helping them make some targeted changes, adjustments and reduce the risk.

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But the current healthcare system is not set up to do that. It requires lots of day by day, minute by minute support of people. It’s very inconvenient for employees to, every week, take two hours off of work and go into a session in person. That’s an area where digital can make a huge difference and you can prevent diabetes progression. You can prevent progression from early diabetes to later diabetes. You can prevent progression of modest musculoskeletal challenges to severe. And that’s really the power of virtual care. It’s taking that proactive approach versus just waiting, “Oh, well, I’m going to wait until someone books a visit with me.”


Tune in for the full conversation.

Listening time: 26 minutes

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William Tincup:
Ladies and gentlemen this is William Tincup. You are listening to The RecruitingDaily Podcast. Today we have Sean on from Omada Health, and we’re going to be talking about how companies can help employees manage chronic health conditions. Really interesting topic, can’t wait to get into it. Sean, would you do us a favor and introduce both yourself and Omada?

Sean Duffy:
Absolutely, William. Firstly, thank you so much for allowing me to be on here. I’m Sean Duffy, I’m the co-founder and CEO of Omada Health, we’re a virtual care provider and we specialize in diseased areas where it’s just so clear that a virtual first approach is the right approach for both the person and to pull costs out of the healthcare system. We have capabilities in pre-diabetes, diabetes, hypertension, mental health, and then musculoskeletal disease for people suffering from muscle and joint pain. And all those work together in a common integrated platform with the hopes of advancing care in ways that the in-person healthcare system couldn’t.

William Tincup:
Is some of this preventative or… Reactive versus proactive I guess is one way to think of it. But is this for companies, is this a way to look at chronic pain of treating it, not just reactively, finding out that and then.. Which is great, if that’s what happens. Someone finds out they have diabetes, they need a solution, but is there also things that could be done preventatively?

Sean Duffy:
Oh, absolutely. You’ve hit on a really good one, which is diabetes. There’s a metabolic state right before diabetes called prediabetes. That’s really the Canary in the coalmine. Your bodys sugars are abnormal and all evidence shows that you can help support people with pre-diabetes, intervene, help them make some targeted changes and adjustments and reduce the risk that they get diabetes. But the current healthcare system is not set up to do that. It requires lots of day by day, minute by minute support of people. It’s very inconvenient for employees to, every week, take two hours off of work and go into a session in person. That’s an area where digital can make a huge difference and you can prevent diabetes progression. You can prevent progression from early diabetes to later diabetes, you can prevent progression of modest musculoskeletal challenges to severe. And that’s really the power of virtual care. It’s taking that proactive approach versus just waiting, “Oh, well, I’m going to wait until someone books a visit with me.”

Sean Duffy:
That’s what the current healthcare system is like.

William Tincup:
Yeah, of course. Preventative is almost like a curse word to modern healthcare providers. It’s interesting, I was actually in that pre-diabetes category years ago.

Sean Duffy:
Oh, no way.

William Tincup:
Yeah, way. I had pneumonia and my sugar spiked. Well, I had several other things, fever, dehydration, all kinds of stuff. But my sugar spiked, so they started treating me for pre-diabetes and I lost weight. It turned out, I lost a bunch of weight and got my… again, decrease the risk doesn’t mean it won’t happen at one point in the future, but completely deescalated that. Which of course, I did that with the help of my doctor. It would’ve been nice to actually have a third party, help me coach me through all those things. But, my general practitioner’s the one that basically said, “Lose weight.”

Sean Duffy:
Well, you’re lucky because a lot of people, A, they don’t even find out they have pre-diabetes, B, they don’t have a general practitioner that does anything. And then, C, you were able to take some action on your own, which a lot of people can’t. So that’s super.

William Tincup:
Well, I’ll tell you what, when someone says there is… And people who are listening to this, you know this. When someone says pre-diabetes you don’t really know what it is until you Google it and it’s like, “Okay, you’re right at the cusp. You’re not there yet.”

Sean Duffy:
Time to not get diabetes, exactly.

William Tincup:
Time to not get diabetes. You define chronic diseases in a lot of different ways. Have y’all seen an uptick in different things that are presented or even have come about because of COVID and remote?

Sean Duffy:
Yeah, it’s been really tough to have chronic conditions in the context of COVID. Take diabetes as a for instance, A, if you’re living with diabetes, it’s so burdensome to do the right things. You’ve got to go in to get your meds changed. You’ve got to get your A1C checked and all of those things can feel very onerous. And what happened is there’s an outsized risk of having deleterious COVID outcomes, if you have chronic diseases like diabetes. So a lot of people have forgone needed care during the pandemic, which is a huge problem. That’s where were just so proud of what we do at Omada and our teams and just kind of this recognition that in the context of a world where it’s not easy for people to go in and get the care they need, we have to, it’s a mandate. We have to bring it to them and which was critical. And COVID really illustrated the need.

William Tincup:
Well, it’s interesting because again if you’ve got to get treatment, I mean, you don’t have to get treatment.

William Tincup:
However, especially when its something like pre-diabetes, it’s probably best to go ahead and get in front of that. But it’s also, like you mentioned mental health. My, my therapist I talked to him once every 90 days or whatever, he moved his entire practice, it’s virtual. He had a physical office and the whole bit and, then used COVID as an opportunity to go telemedicine. I’ve talked to him about it offline. He’s like, “yeah. I’m not going back.”

Sean Duffy:
Yep, exactly. That’s just a great example of where a digital first care modalities better. It’s better for everybody. It just allows access and convenience in ways that you couldn’t otherwise. We’re feeling a lot of pull from employers that like, “you know what, I see my employees trying to engage with the in person system in areas where virtual first makes the most sense. We need to fill that void and solve that for it.” For both their health and their bottom line.

William Tincup:
But it’s also you can reach more people… Now you get into some of the marginalized groups or people that maybe might not go to the doctor for some other reason. Maybe they don’t have transportation, something as simple, like that. Well, yeah, they’ve got a phone, most people at least. Last study I saw, I think everyone has two phones, but they’ve at least got a phone, they’ve got to way to dial in. Now maybe because they don’t have a car or transportation, now they can see a doctor and get some clarity around what to do, where to go next. I think employers that embrace this, I just think it’s a great way to engage the talent that they have, but also to help them live a better life, which pays in dividends. It’s not just about health insurance premiums. This pays dividends because these are folks that are going to probably perform better. They’re definitely more engaged. They’re probably not going to be taking off as much work. There’s a whole lot of other things that kind of come with this.

Sean Duffy:
Yeah, a hundred percent. Sometimes I joke when we, deploy a motto, of course when we work with self-insured employers, we build out all the economic models, the savings, all of that. Sometimes I joke, this is the only benefit you’re going to roll out where I promise you within weeks, you’re going to be getting, thank you notes sent directly to you. You’ll be able to talk about it as you attract talent as kind of a way that you’re doubling down on the health of your workforce and innovative strategies and it saves money. There’s kind this dual, there’s this dual win here. You’re spot on. It’s a statement that employers make to their employees on caring for them in new ways.

William Tincup:
So, is this additive to their benefits mix in a way that they look at… Because traditionally some of this stuff might have been EAP or even somewhere in the quasi health benefits side of things, is this additive to things, are you displacing things that are there or not there?

Sean Duffy:
The cool thing about Omada is we are a provider. We contract as a provider, think of us like a virtual clinic. In, within that context, we are blessed in that we can build through claims, so you as a benefits leader you can implement Omada and we can fit into your existing economic flows of just filing claims, hitting the medical spend, you don’t have to go through gymnastics to create kind of a separate corporate initiative or separate corporate budget. It’s just as if you enabled a new network provider for your employees, but instead of them walking across the street to visit it they come to our website.

William Tincup:
I love that. And again, what’s great about that, with a lot of this, it’s gated because of HIPAA. What happens over on one side of the house, doesn’t cross over. As soon as it goes in your employee file , none of that stuff. So an employee doesn’t have to worry about anything like that because they need help and they might not want to disclose that they need that help, but if they have a way to then access that help and get the treatments that they need, you’re helping them live their best life. I think that I can see employees love… Especially, it’s interesting because mental health was probably two years ago, not taboo, but maybe more taboo than it is today.

William Tincup:
Today, you can be on a phone call with somebody, “yeah, I got to take my Wellbutrin.” And it’s not an issue like, all right, cool. Go ahead get your glass of water. What have you seen because of COVID, when we talk about chronic health, you listed an awful lot of things that I kind of already had on my list, but what do you see? Just trending things that you see across the metadata that’s of something that maybe isn’t on people’s radars as much as it should be.

Sean Duffy:
Yeah. COVID is interesting. Here’s the biggest change that happened, and it was kind of a funny domino where overnight you had a hundred million Americans wake up at the same day and be like, “well, can’t I get this care without having to show up somewhere?” And the whole system had to be a response to that. In some ways it worked in some ways it didn’t, but what it did is it allowed people to try to get care remotely. It allowed health plans to try to enable that. It put employers in a position where you had to solve this need for your employees, for their own health and safety. And it kind of created this market orientation where my reflections of the last five years at Omada had been… Sometimes I’d be in these meetings with either healthcare executives, either payers or providers.

Sean Duffy:
And it felt like they’re viewing digital as an afterthought. “Oh, maybe I’ll save my patient out with an app” or “cool, we have a portal that people can log into.” Now that’s very different than the orientation that we’ve experienced because of COVID. Which is, what does a world look like where you lead with digital? Internally to model, we call that in-person healthcare as option B. Why wouldn’t you try to solve someone’s need conveniently in their home, in their pocket. Before saying, “Hey, you need to come into my center.” That’s kind of the obvious. Now that mindset was not prevalent in the US healthcare system.

William Tincup:
We needed COVID to actually shake us. We might have gotten there 20 years, 30 years from now, we probably would’ve gotten there, but COVID shook us to then say “nope, better way.”

Sean Duffy:
100%. I used to have contracting conversations with health plans, “oh we’re a provider.” Okay, well that’s interesting. We’re happy to introduce our network team. And we talk to them and, “well, so you want a contract as a provider? Well, that’s no problem, but where, where are your offices?”

William Tincup:
WWW dot…

Sean Duffy:
Can I text you the URL of our offices?

Sean Duffy:
That’s no longer the case.

William Tincup:
No, there’s no need. Well, and again, it’s quality of care. It’s meeting people where they are, not necessarily forcing them, as we have over the last two or 300 years, forcing them into a place. I like that a lot. Getting back to something that I’m just curious about, chronic conditions, health conditions that you’ve seen on the rise that might be shocking to people or might surprise some of the listeners?

Sean Duffy:
One surprising thing is… Its always just shaken me to my core… Well, interesting, 10 years of diabetes innovation and that’s how long our model’s been existent. If you would ask yourself, “has the country’s diabetes, clinical measures moved even an inch in those 10 years?” And the answer is unfortunately, no. Despite billions of dollars of investment in new drugs, providers doing their darnedest.

Sean Duffy:
That’s kind of one… The marketing team right now is doing a kind of team meeting and a kickoff for next year’s planning. And I told him, “look, we should be so proud of where we’ve come, but at the end of the day, the success for us is when tomorrow’s epidemiologists are looking at incidence data in some of these diseases and notice a bit of a bend.” And they’re like, “whoa, Hmm. What the heck caused that?” And they dig in and that’s Omada. That’s what we’ve got to keep running toward. The surprising thing is how little progress we’ve made against that. I found in the company, healthcare was I think 2.5 trillion in the US, and now it’s 4 trillion. Show me anybody who can call that progress, and that life expectancy is not changed.

William Tincup:
Which, is not a good sign.

Sean Duffy:
Not a good sign. So, we have to keep running hard.

William Tincup:
And with chronic disease for the listers, some of that’s, I’m assuming some of that’s genetic and some of that’s environmental. Some of it could be just in your genes and in your DNA and some are maybe predisposed to certain things. And some of it’s maybe lifestyle, diet, exercise, other choices.

Sean Duffy:
Yep. Exactly. And a lot of chronic disease is the intersection between biology and behavior. Where you may be genetically predisposed to having diabetes or otherwise. Let’s say you get diabetes, now it’s something that in background is going on an ongoing basis cause health challenges for you. Our job is to make it as easy as possible to get the care you need. With as little inconvenience to your life as possible. Because, the word chronic disease, the real definition is a disease that you’re living with chronically. And it’s something that you got to constantly think about and manage. And those tend to be just so hugely frustrating for, for people. Our job is to make it so simple and easy. And to allow you to feel cared for in ways you haven’t.

William Tincup:
Have, y’all been pulled into the space of chronic pain, different from disease. Obviously, like I was in a car accident a hundred years ago and I’ve got a bunch of titanium all over the left side of my body. I chose instead of pain medications, I chose chronic pain. I made the kind of cognitive decision to then say, you know what, I’d rather deal with not being addicted to this and just deal with being in pain, but everyone goes about that choice differently. I totally respect that. But are y’all being pulled into that or have y’all thought about that or you’re customers asking you about chronic pain?

Sean Duffy:
I have a lot… We do have a musculoskeletal clinical area for Omada. And a lot of folks you might have chronic low back pain, chronic knee pain. So we do help with a combination of physical therapy when it’s indicated. We’ll set you up with a licensed PT, they’ll do an evaluation and some cognitive behavioral therapy. We do dabble in that, however, though, it’s not on our current clinical objectives, it is something that I’ve thought about a lot. My mom is a chronic pain patient, she had a herniated disc. It resulted in damage of her sciatic nerve and has chronic sciatica. That is an area where I see the way that she has to get care and it’s hugely burdensome in her life. That’s an example of a care area where digital could be just so very powerful.

William Tincup:
Oh yeah. Again, you don’t have to get in your car and drive to a place. And when you’re going through there’s an emotional, there’s a physical part. And then there’s the emotional part of dealing with the physical part.

William Tincup:
You got to unpack both those. Where do you think your customers going to be pulling you in the next year or two?

Sean Duffy:
I think the next year or two, the customers will be focusing on integration across the conditions that we serve. Because, every time at customer summits, we always ask, “well, where would you want us to be?” And we’re in the areas that folks want. Because they’re top priorities. They’re top cost drivers. They’re the areas where in-person systems is not doing a great job. I think the next question will be, “well, what do I do here? I have a mile long line of vendors outside my benefits office. What’s the world look like for my employees where I’m using Lark for diabetes prevention, Livongo for diabetes, Hinge for musculoskeletal, Ginger for BH, not to pick on any one of those companies that are all great.

Sean Duffy:
The question is, well, what’s the integrated experience across the ball. And that’s where we’ve got all of our chips. Our belief system is that for employers and for their employees, care in context really matters. And knowing that 58% of people with diabetes also have a musculoskeletal problem and being able to operate the care and context of both is critical. And that actually simplifies the employer experience from an implementation standpoint. I think it’s a very fragmented world right now for employers and the next couple of years to bring it back to your question is going to be, “Hey Omada, can you help us just solve this and coordinate and integrate across all of these clinical areas?”

William Tincup:
I love that. I see this also as a potential way to recruit talent. Because if done well, it’s a model that’s just far superior, easier on people’s schedule and all the other stuff for everything that we’ve already talked about. And again, if you’ve presented well in a job description and on your careers page, it’s like, listen, we have this, you’ll have access to this if you join the team. It’ll help you with whatever you have, whether it’s been diagnosed or if it hasn’t been diagnosed, we’ve got a way to help you with that. Have you seen companies, or have you seen some of your customers move this out of the silo of benefits and post-employment into kind of using it as a recruiting strategy or part of their recruiting strategy?

Sean Duffy:
A hundred percent. Because what it does, there’s the benefit itself, which is amazing. Joining a employer that has Omada is great. Then there’s the statement it makes on how you care for employees. The read between that folks have, when they’re considering joining an organization is, “whoa, interesting. This company cares about my health in new and interesting ways, and that’s a statement on the fact that they care with me as a person.” And in today’s recruiting environment, this is the toughest recruiting environment we’ve ever been in the country. We haven’t seen anything like this, and the differentiation matters more than ever. Employers that create that feel of look, not only is this an area where I can use my capabilities in service of the company’s mission, but also the company’s going to care about me as a person, my health and overall wellbeing. That’s a great statement for organizations to make.

William Tincup:
It could be the difference between choosing company “A” over “B.”

Sean Duffy:
Oh, a hundred percent. Yeah, every offer that goes out that’s not accepted is like an extraordinary amount of… There’s an economic cost to that.

William Tincup:
That’s right. There’s days that, whatever it’s coding, there’s days that those lines of code…sales, there’s days that those sales don’t get made. Anything you can do to shore that up the better. You’ve run into some disbelievers at one point in your… Maybe a long time ago, maybe earlier today on a call. You’ve run into some disbelievers around chronic pain and the benefits of treating chronic pain. But also virtual first you put A or B, it doesn’t really matter, but both of those things. How do you typically convert someone that’s a non-believer?

Sean Duffy:
I’ve always found that stories are the most helpful. They’re like, “oh, well, shouldn’t diabetes care be done with primary care docs?” And I just walk through an illustration of some of the people that we’ve sat in their homes with and what they reported to us that care feels like.

Sean Duffy:
After telling a story like that, you can kind of say, “look, based on that, is that the way it should be.” And that can be a real awakening because the fact of the matter is people are just falling into cracks. We’re in the context of enormous physician shortage. So for the digital skeptics, I ask them, “well, what is the alternative?” Literally there are not enough primary care docs in the country to support people with diabetes, nor do they reimburse for it, nor do they have the capabilities of… Tell me the alternative that’s not virtual, and if you can find a better solution to tackle the cost and health crisis that we’re in, let’s talk about it. Because the country needs to solve. It’s been on me and the business. I’ve got such conviction that digital is the answer that that tends to be the way to the way to convert even the most critical.

William Tincup:
It’s like a lot of things in life. You and I have just during this podcast… I’ve talked about two different things in my life where it’s kind of gotten back to chronic, you’ve talked about your mother. It, it touches… If it doesn’t touch the person it’s touched someone in their ecosystem. I think storytelling, I think that’s a wonderful way to kind of bring them back to like, “Hey, listen, your employees are just like, you they’re just like your mom. They’re just like everyone else. They might be suffering in silence. They might be suffering and not know it and not have clear insight into what’s going on in their life.” Let’s clear that up. Let’s get them on a plan. Let’s let them live the best version of their life. And don’t you want to be a part of that?

Sean Duffy:
Yep. A hundred percent.

William Tincup:
What’s your next best strategy? If you don’t get them that way, what’s your next trick?

Sean Duffy:
People, that are like, “well, cool. I don’t care about stories.” The cost tend to do it.

William Tincup:
I knew it’s going to get there. I was just waiting.

Sean Duffy:
I know, then it’s like, all right, imagine that someone is in their diabetes care cycle here and which is better? Someone remotely making a modest adjustment for the medication at extremely low cost or someone taking time off of work, driving in, seeing their PCP, having their medication dose slightly decreased and having a bill of 200, 300 bucks just for those 15 minutes. Which feels better? Speaking of the wallet tends to help. If the heart doesn’t get folks there.

William Tincup:
Yeah. Well I think in both you get… it’s a two prong deal. It’s you hit them with both of them and it’s almost on IQ test at that point. If they don’t get it, it’s like, okay, you know what, call me when you do. It’s okay. We’re not going anywhere. We’ll still have the same phone number, just call us whenever you’re ready. Sean, thank you so much for coming on the recruiting daily podcast. This has been wonderful.

Sean Duffy:
Oh, of course. No. Yeah, really thoroughly enjoyed it and honored to be on.

William Tincup:
And thanks for everyone listening to the recruiting daily podcast, until next time.

The RecruitingDaily Podcast

Authors
William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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