Burlingame, California-based Color is seeking to make clinical-grade genomic testing more accessible—and to better integrate it into care. (Color)

Color is a winner of FierceHealthcare's Fierce 15 awards. See our other honorees here

When new technologies are introduced, there's usually a hobbyist phase. That's the time when enthusiasts begin figuring out the most interesting uses for the newest widget.

For example, in genomics, it all started with folks testing their DNA to learn about their ancestry or interesting health findings, said Caroline Savello, the VP of Commercial for Color.

But the field is finally entering the next wave in figuring out how to harness that information, Savello said. 

Caroline Savello (Color)

“Everyone understands intuitively that this is going to be an incredibly important data layer in human health and how we manage and deliver care to populations," she said.

And that is where Burlingame, California-based Color has been seeking to change everything, she said.

"We’ve built this complete delivery model that makes it very simple for institutions to be able to implement that across the whole population," she said. "What came next was, we realized in building that end-to-end delivery model, we'd built the full virtualized delivery model of a clinical service that could be made available to the full populations."

To that end, 2019 was a busy year for Color. 

In December, the company announced a partnership with the Teamsters Health and Welfare Fund of Philadelphia and Vicinity to provide access to Color's clinical-grade genomic services to about 14,000 members of their regional unions. It came just months after Ochsner Health System announced a first-of-its-kind, fully digital population health pilot program that integrates clinical genomics into standard care and Color announced that it would provide more than 10,000 NorthShore University HealthSystem patients access to Color’s clinical-grade testing.

Beyond that, the NIH All of Us Research Program awarded Color a $4.6 million grant to act as the initiative’s nationwide genetic counseling service. It expanded on Color’s existing genotyping of patient samples as part of the program. In October, Color and Verily Life Sciences announced a plan to partner on returning actionable genetic information to all participants as part of Verily’s Project Baseline Health Study.

"In the last 18 months, we saw a huge acceleration with institutions around the world and across every type of player in the health ecosystem—whether it’s hospitals or health systems, large-scale research programs, payers, care delivery, employers—who want to change the care delivery model for their population by understanding genetics across the population."

Color intends to be part of that change, she said. 

Fierce insights from Color VP of Commercial Caroline Savello

What is your best piece of advice for launching a healthcare company that challenges the status quo?

The inertia in healthcare is significant—and there are lots more reasons to say “no” to new technology than to say “yes” to it. And so, in a way, the question should be reframed to "How do you transform together in healthcare vs. disrupt/challenge?" You introduce a layer of efficiency and impact into how things are done today.

The two key areas for launching a healthcare company are to:

1) Make people’s lives easier. If your customers are health systems, don’t add overhead, time or process on top of their jobs day-to-day. Make those functions easier. If your customers are employers, or if you are working with massive academic research institutions, make their objectives much faster, lower-cost, and simpler to achieve. 

2) Focus your efforts in a way that yields a meaningful impact on people. Color is able to have this impact each day, helping inform individuals of serious but potentially lifesaving health risks that can affect them and their family members. We have clients and patients we serve who write to the CEOs of their employers or institutions thanking them for saving their life and making Color available. Seeing that direct impact of a new clinical paradigm is essential to challenging the status quo and imbuing your company with a sense of purpose.

What is the failure you’ve learned the best lesson from?

As a company, we have had a lot of success with major partnerships this year, but there was one lost deal in particular that really stung. With this particular partner, we knew we were the best partner and company for them, and our initial impulse was to blame their decision-making process and communication. But in reality, it was not their fault that they were not convinced of Color’s value—it was ours. 

There are a lot of lessons out of this, but the most fundamental one that we have tried to internalize as a company is that we have agency and control over our actions, and we have to earn what we get. It’s been an important shift in how we approach our partnerships, and it strengthened our team’s perspective and focus. 

What is one change you predict in healthcare that people wouldn’t expect?

The biggest wins in healthcare will be from using technology to fix logistics, not from using technology to invent “frontier of science” types of healthcare applications.

Fixing the logistics of healthcare delivery has massive ramifications on access and cost, and it’s an application of technology that has transformed other industries (think of Amazon and retail) but has barely affected healthcare to date. An example of this is our work in scaling access to—and increasing affordability of—genetic counseling, which has historically been a very constrained pool of talent, training and resourcing in healthcare.

In our work with the All of Us research program, we are scaling genetic counseling to the 1 million participants in that program—not by hiring hundreds of thousands of individuals but by transforming through software and technology the job of genetic counseling itself. Our approach helps our genetic counselors practice at the top of their license and focus their time, talents and training on the critical human interaction. 

This kind of technology-driven efficiency in healthcare delivery is, I think, going to have the single most transformative effect in healthcare in the next five years.