Meet the Wonderful Humans Behind Humanize Health: Christine Carrillo and Helen Lee

Meet Christine Carrillo and Helen Lee. Though they’re relatively new Hub LA members, they jumped into the Hub LA community from the get go. Their consulting firm, Humanize Health, works with healthcare providers to optimize their systems to achieve the best results for their companies and for patients. Now, Christine and Helen are in the midst of developing a new platform from the other side: humanizing the healthcare system for patients as they navigate insurance options.

Christine Carrillo and Helen Lee of Humanize Health.

Christine Carrillo and Helen Lee of Humanize Health.

You run a consulting firm, Humanize Health, which aims to humanize healthcare companies to the patients they serve. How did you get into this space?

Christine: About 9 years ago, I was hired by a healthcare startup that was in need of someone to bring order to a chaotic frat house. The staff was brilliant, but had more clients than they could keep up with. During my time there I ended up overseeing all of our clients, which were health plans, and realized how siloed they were. Even though many of them were experiencing the same challenges, they faced them alone, in almost a secret vessel. Not only were they siloed from each other, but from their patients. They had no clue what people wanted from a health plan, as a matter of fact, they didn’t understand who their patients, the patients, really were. The concept of collaboration between health plans was unheard of. The concept of aligning with your patients to provide them what they really need was completely ridiculous.

I then was recruited by Kaiser Permanente to help them “flip” their Medicare book of business. Being at one of the most innovative and forerunning health plans in the industry was quite an experience. You had a giant of a company who was leading the way in healthcare, and still there was such disparity between any real alignment with their patients. At the same time, I was in awe of how much they got screwed by vendors. Prices for anything always ran in the multimillion dollar range, and no one at KP really questioned the prices. It was sort of accepted that you paid through the roof for software or consulting, and then possibly had to cut the project if the vendors you hired did not come through. I wasn’t yet drinking the kool aid on how the “system” was supposed to work, so I challenged, and negotiated the vendor contract on their behalf from $9 million to $1.5 million. This led me to start our own firm to help health plans better understand their patients, and implement initiatives that align them with patients. I believe if you want to really change healthcare, and you really want to humanize it, it needs to start from the top.

Helen: I graduated with a Computer Science major - not knowing where I wanted to go, but in my gut knew that I would recognize it when I saw it. After interviewing and landing software engineering gigs at Fortune 500 companies and well known technology and aerospace firms, I decided to place the start of my career in a small healthcare startup company. The atmosphere reminded me so much of my college computer lab days - I was instantly drawn to the family-feel and thrived on the ‘racing against time to get everything done’ atmosphere. I was the only one who could speak English fluently and therefore quickly became the go-to developer the project managers would pull into client meetings. That was my first taste at the Business side of this organization, and I fell in love with it because now there was a story and purpose to what we were building. I could then tell that each health plan truly had a heart for their members and wanted to do right by them. I attribute a lot to that startup - including meeting my mentor and business partner; Christine Carrillo. From there I was offered the opportunity to help run a significant project at Kaiser Permanente in which I was now the client working with vendors to implement a robust membership system that would help streamline their Medicare book of business.

As Christine mentioned, it was shocking to learn that this health plan who was known to be the leading innovator in the healthcare realm - so much so that every other health plan was looking up to them as examples - were accepting of bringing on additional consultants for an inflated fee without the guarantee that the work would be quality. This really hit home for both Christine and I as we were huge advocates of providing our clients with only excellence. The road was paved, and we decided to take the chance and run our own consulting firm - on our own terms. We are one of the only value-based consulting firms and we’re proud of it. We designed it so that we could create a more partner-like relationship with our clients instead of having a meter running. Ultimately we’re in the business of humanizing this world of healthcare for our clients who impact the services they provide to their members as well as applying that same doctrine directly to everyday health care consumers like you and me.

Where do you see your work making an impact?

Our biggest impact has been directly with health plans and their patients. We get brought in to fix the messy, complicated, no one wants to touch projects. These are usually the most critical to a health plan as they impact their patients directly, and the health plan has a lot to lose if they do not get implemented. The projects usually tend to involve various vendors (software, implementation, development, etc) and a large number of business units. Since we are literally the throat to choke on the whole thing, we don’t take sides. Not with the client, or any of the vendors on a specific project. Our goal is to get everyone to the finish line with the highest quality service and/or product we can provide.

Technology and the future of healthcare seem to be pretty intertwined, given Apple’s latest announcements, the rise in wearable technologies: how do you see the relationship between technology and healthcare, both from a patients perspective and a healthcare providers perspective?

Technology and healthcare are two entities that are definitely in the honeymoon phase. There is so much out there in terms of mobile apps, web apps, and even wearable devices that help consumers monitor their health and even utilize 3-D printing for smaller human limbs. From a healthcare provider perspective, there is a definite shift as a good number of well known providers are setting their sights on what small startups are doing to bridge the gap between them and their patients. Before, they relied on the bigger name companies that provided backend tools to help streamline a line of business or help with claims processing - something the everyday consumer wouldn’t even know or care about. But now, you will see these providers attending healthcare technology conferences in hopes to finding tools to help their doctors become closer to their patients and truly provide what their members need for care. This is a huge shift from a few years ago. This is also a great era for the patient/consumer. Not only do you have someone in power who is looking to provide everyone with access to care - you also have technology firms (big and small) trying to create tools to bridge every gap that you could find in healthcare. Everything from keeping track of your personal health care expenses, to being able to schedule appointments with your doctor on your mobile phone - to our tool: humanizing the process of actually choosing a health plan based on your personal needs and out of pocket costs. No longer is health care this mysterious beast that you had to make sure you had through your employer or family member, but not really knowing what your costs will be - it is now accessible and tangible and people can feel confident that they know what they are covered for.

You are in the midst of building a new Humanize Health platform. What will it do?

We are so excited to finally be on the other end of the spectrum! Our tool will make choosing a health plan, well, more human. Now that we are all required to have health insurance, it has made a painful and confusing task, simple and personalized. As a patient, our current options for choosing a health plan are: go to a website that will show you a list of health plans based on the area you live and the price you would pay monthly to the health plan or have a broker help you choose a health plan to purchase. The problem with this is that you don’t always see all the choices available, and the suggestions can be biased due to the fact that brokers (and many of the websites out today) get paid a commission from a health plan to enroll you. Each health plan pays a different amount, some higher than others. So many times, you are receiving a suggestion to enroll in the “highest commission paying” health plan, instead of the one that is really right for you. Our tool is completely non-biased.

What are questions or tools patients can use to feel empowered when communicating with healthcare providers?

There are several apps and tools out now that help an individual track their health on a daily basis from capturing medications and dosages to tracking symptoms. These tools not only give an individual an overall assessment and ownership of their health, it also gives the doctor more information to help treat their patient. They’re able to keep track of the patient’s symptoms, their state of mind, and any side effects from their medications. Before, we went based off of memory or handwritten notes we took - at best. And now, the possibilities are almost limitless. As a patient, you want your doctor to have all the information on your health as possible to make that educated decision on what meds you may need, or care you may have to get.

The other ominous part of healthcare that people have felt they didn’t have control over was understanding their chosen health plan and the costs associated with it. So much so - many wouldn’t even question it. Our tool is focused on empowering patients when it comes to choosing the best fit health plan for them and their families. Our goal is to have the masses understand their spending when it comes to health care and make a decision based on their needs. For years now we have helped our friends and family members choose a health plan based on their favorite doctor, medications they were taking and how often they needed to see a specialist - and now we want to share this tool with everyone.

All these tools are designed to give empowerment and ownership of health back to the patient as well as allows the doctors to be the subject matter experts in care instead of playing the guessing game.

What’s been your favorite HUB LA moment so far?

Christine: Hands down it has to be the day Arie [Edmonds, HUB LA Community Curator] came by to ask if I was interested in hearing another member pitch. I said, “ Sure. When?” She responds with “NOW.” It was fantastic. A few of us sat down around the front couches to hear her pitch and gave her our feedback. The best part was when I realized this was her practice run before her real pitch in about 3 hours in front of some deep pocketed investors. This was probably one of truest examples of what a space like the HUB LA can provide. Instant collaboration, real peer feedback, and lovely people to work with.

Helen: I have two favorite moments. One was my first time at the Wednesday lunches provided by HUB LA. It was so refreshing to take that time out of my day to sit and converse with other members and talk about what each of us were working on and even get some great outside perspective! The other is the same as Christine’s (can you tell we work well together?). I loved hearing the pitch and loved even more the constructive feedback everyone gave. You could tell it all came from the heart and wanting to help her nail her pitch to these investors. I LOVE that we get to work in this type of environment where collaboration is encouraged and networking is organic. Okay wait, I actually have one more… when Helen and Arie read our signs that one afternoon in the Impact Room - it’s hard to beat that moment.

Stay tuned for updates on Christine and Helen’s new platform!

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September 25th, 2014

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Profiles, Socent News, The Hub LA