Well Health scores $45M in series C funding, taps Haven executive to lead payer partnerships

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Improving patient experience is a growing focus for health systems as they face new-age competitors, reimbursement pressure and rising staffing costs. (Getty/marchmeena29)

Patient communication is a hot digital health market that has the potential to grow to the scale of the medical records market, according to entrepreneur Guillaume de Zwirek.

"There will be an Epic and Cerner for patient communication. And we believe that will be us," said de Zwirek, CEO of startup Well Health.

While Santa Barbara, California-based Well Health might not yet have name recognition like Epic or Cerner, the company is growing quickly and has attracted big investments from venture firms.

The company scored a $45 million series C funding round led by Lead Edge Capital. It's the first investment publicly announced by the company, which has raised $75 million since its founding in 2015.

Additional participants in the latest funding round include Martin Ventures, the healthcare-focused venture capital firm founded by executive, investor and entrepreneur Charlie Martin, and existing investors Jackson Square Ventures, Health Velocity Capital, Summation Health Ventures, Structure Capital and Freestyle Capital.

The company has seen 100% cumulative annual growth every year since its founding, both in terms of revenue and customers, de Zwirek said.

The funding news comes on the heels of Well Health's partnership with EHR giant Cerner to improve how clinicians communicate with patients. The aim is to make communicating with doctors and care teams as easy as texting a friend, according to de Zwirek. 

Well Health's technology enables conversations between patients and healthcare organizations through secure, multilingual messaging in the patient’s preferred communications channel: texting, email, telephone and webchat.

RELATED: Cerner taps Well Health to improve patient messaging as digital adoption ramps up during COVID-19

"We are investing a ton into R&D with a focus on connecting the dots. We are looking all the way from patient acquisition to care at home and everything in between," he told Fierce Healthcare.

The company also will use the funding to launch into new markets and to improve its platform to enhance the customer experience in healthcare.

"This is a market that is ripe for the taking and we have a unique value proposition," de Zwirek said.

The demand for digital communication capabilities will only grow more intense as health systems and providers look to quickly mobilize to deliver millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccines to patients, according to de Zwirek

"Some of our customers have been selected as distribution centers. Having to vaccinate tens of millions of people in short order, that raises a ton of workflow considerations," he said. "We're in the middle of a pandemic so you can't have people in waiting rooms. You need to think through how to get people into the clinics safely. We're working with our customers on creating the right workflows and communication."

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Well Health nabs Haven's Safran 

Well Health's latest executive hiring underscores the company's plans to focus on payers and accountable care organizations.

Dana Gelb Safran has jumped on board at Well Health from high-profile healthcare venture Haven. Safran will serve as Well Health's senior vice president for value-based care and population health.

Safran was a founding executive team member at Haven, the venture between Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase. Haven tapped the insurance company IT executive as its "head of measurement." She had previously worked as chief performance measurement and improvement officer at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts (BCBSMA). 
 
A measurement scientist and health policy thought leader, Safran was instrumental in developing and running BCBS’ innovative Alternative Quality Contract with physicians and hospitals throughout the state.

Healthcare providers, payers, and ACOs are under tremendous pressure to innovate their patient-engagement methods.

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Providers struggle with that "last mile" of communication to reach and engage patients, Safran told Fierce Healthcare.

"Reaching the patient and motivating them to change behaviors, that is where the rubber meets the road. The ability to communicate with patients on their phones, which many have in their hands all day, can be key to achieving much greater success at getting patients to respond and engage in behavior change," she said.

In her new role at Well Health, Safran will work to expand the company's capabilities to improve healthcare quality, outcomes and affordability through partnerships with payers and ACO providers, the company said.

"I see that many providers are stalling out in their progress at implementing and succeeding at ACO models. I see Well Health as a critical tool for the success of those providers," she said.

Haven's focus on improving employer health care is critical to improving the healthcare system, Safran said, and ultimately what led her to join the venture two years ago.

"I wanted to be at Haven after Blue Cross because I was interested and frustrated with the purchaser side of things in healthcare. Because of the fragmentation of purchasers, each, on their own, doesn’t have the scale to drive change in the healthcare system," she said. "Bringing purchasers together to try to solve some of those problems collectively is an important part of the answer in healthcare."

After two years at Haven, Safran said she joins Well Health with in-depth experience about the "day-in and day-out pain points" for employer purchasers.

"I think Well Health can actually be an incredibly powerful solution for them and their employees as well as for providers and payers," she said.