Executive Spotlight—Ryan Schmid of Vera Whole Health wants to create a health revolution

Ryan Schmid, the co-founder of Vera Whole Health, says his company’s vision is to create a health revolution.

The answer, he says, lies in advanced primary care.

While the current environment is largely a sick-care system, the design of the advanced primary care model is aimed at helping people achieve optimum social, psychological and physical well-being, Schmid said. The Seattle-based company Vera—which Schmid helped found in 2008—replaces the old fee-for-service model with a new value-based structure that emphasizes whole-person care based on relationships, spending time with patients and changing behaviors.

Its employer-sponsored clinics serve as the medical home for patients, providing access to primary care. Its centers can be found in Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Missouri, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. 

More about Ryan Schmid

Age: 40

Family: Married with two sons

Most important part of your daily routine: I have a six- and a five-year-old and a company that’s doubling every year. So, I have absolutely no daily routine. That said, I exercise almost daily, do at least weekly fasting and practice mindfulness throughout the day.

Three words that describe your management style: Direct, empathetic and visionary

A book you recommend: Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight

Biggest pet peeve: Entitlement

Favorite thing to do on your day off:  Almost anything outdoors, specifically hunting, fly fishing, running or a long bike ride

The goal is to not only improve patients’ health but to save healthcare costs. One of its clients, Seattle Children’s has saved $3.5 million by working with Vera to build a clinic near its main campus, according to the company. Other clinics are located within corporate sites.

Earlier this year, Vera announced a partnership with Universal Health Services to add advanced primary care services to UHS's clinically integrated delivery network. UHS received a minority equity stake in Vera as part of the transaction.

We caught up with Schmid to chat with him about Vera.

FierceHealthcare: You don’t have a medical background. So what got you interested in healthcare?

Ryan Schmid: Right after undergrad, I moved to Seattle to focus on nonprofit, community development work. Almost from day one, the thing I was really passionate about addressing was health disparity and the drag on a family or a community that created. I had no medical background, but I developed an awareness of the impact of environmental determinants and social networks on health. I ended up co-founding three nonprofits in a little under a decade that were loosely connected to addressing some biopsychosocial health factors. I saw the power of meeting an individual where they are at.

FH: After seeing firsthand the impact environment has on health in communities, what did you hope to do?

RS: When you talk about health, it’s so much bigger than just payment reform and access to insurance. We’re really talking about the fabric of holding our communities together across this country. And that, ultimately, is the real goal that we’re trying to address. At Vera, our vision is to create a health revolution and we’re very intentionally not calling it a healthcare revolution because that communicates that we just want to fix the clinical healthcare system and it’s much bigger than that.

FH: So what void in the healthcare industry is Vera filling? 

RS: If you look at the industry there’s the provision of care and the payment for care. I think that in very few cases do you have one care team dedicated to one population with aligned financial incentives for all the stakeholders, to really drive the appropriate outcomes. We are certainly not the only ones doing that, but it’s pretty rare still.

FH: So how has the company grown?

RS: We have 19 care centers today in eight states and have about 320 employees. We will quite a bit more than double that by the end of next year and probably in each of the next two years. We opened our first care center for Seattle Children’s in 2013. We will open up in at least three new states next year and over the course of the next two years, my guess is we will be in about 15 to 18 total states. We’ll eventually be in all of them. I’m just putting that out there.

FH: And it’s a model that runs on a per month, per person fee?

RS: That is the core economic building block. It will vary depending on the cost structure of the care center and client.

FH: How do you measure success?

RS: If 30 years from now we haven’t dramatically transformed the way care is paid for and delivered and as a society we are not healthier—by health I’ll steal from the World Health Organization that we’ve attained a state of total social and mental and physical wellbeing—we won’t see ourselves as successful. We have to see total health improving or what else is the point?

FH: What lessons have you learned that can help other primary care providers?

RS: How much time do you have? One lesson is to follow the money. That was the most eye-popping way for me to identify the right solution when I first started exploring all this. It’s true for so many things in life. Just follow the money and it will tell you absolutely everything you need to know about why the system is broken today and what you need to do to fix it. And as a sub-bullet to that, every stakeholder has a completely different financial goal in today’s models whether it’s the patient, or the health plan, or the company, or the hospital or even the medical group, everybody wants something different.

But I’ll also say that it turns out empathy is a massive differentiator. The very first time the idea of Vera popped into my head was during a leadership course when I was doing my MBA. We were talking about empathy as it relates to emotional intelligence. I thought, I wonder if you can create a company—regardless of what product or service you sold—where the core differentiator was empathic listening. It is in such rare supply in our world.