David Weingard is the President and CEO of Fit4D, a nationwide diabetes health coaching service. Fit4D works with patients to customize a workable health plan to self manage their diabetes. Fit4D contracts with individual companies or insurance companies to provide this service as a benefit of employment. This is a remarkable service and well worth a listen, particularly if you are an health insurance company executive or business professional.
TRANSCRIPT AND INTRODUCTION
DWB: Today, I’d like to welcome David Weingard, who is the founder and CEO of Fit4D. Fit4D is a leader in providing affordable and personalized diabetes self management coaching from the comfort in our home. Each client is able to work with their own certified diabetes educator coach to help them achieve their fitness, and nutritional goals.
Thank you David, for joining us today on our program. We really appreciate it.
GUEST: Thank you, Erich.
DWB: Okay, first off David, you have a pretty unique story about how you came to be involved with diabetes self management. Can you tell us about your background in how it’s led to you starting Fit4D?
GUEST: Sure. I’ve always been an athlete. I’ve done Ironman triathlons. One day, I was training for a survival race, and I found that I had no energy. I went to my primary care doctor, and I found out I’d lost 30lbs, and I had Type 1 Diabetes.
I really was committed to staying healthy, to be part of my family’s life as they grew; with my three boys, as they grew up. I recommitted to my own health. I started doing high profile Ironman triathlons for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. People started coming to me for help around the country.
I was glad to help them as best as I could, but I’m not a clinician. Along the way, I met some really terrific clinicians that helped me who were located across the United States.
At the time, I worked for Microsoft in an e-business role. I realized, “Well, if we could use technology to scale the talent and expertise that these clinicians have to help people with diabetes, we really have something special.” So we began that initiative in 2007, and have been helping people since.
DWB: That’s excellent. One of the things that, over the last couple of years I’ve been reading a lot on it, is that it seems that health care is really moving more towards for preventative care, and also promoting healthy lifestyle changes such as nutrition and exercise. Was this shift in focus by health care companies a part of your decision to start Fit4D, or were you been ahead of the curve in this area?
GUEST: Well, our goal has always been empowering people; helping them overcome the day to day challenge of living with diabetes. Diabetes is very complex. People dealing with the diabetes police, which is well meaning families that are staring at that food plate that are eating dinner. They’re dealing with the tactical issues of how they could do an injection, or take their meds on time, or the socio economic issues that are, maybe, preventing them from refilling their meds, and the foods that are available to them. It’s really complex. Every day, people have to deal with this.
So our goal is empowering people to overcome these challenges, and live fulfilled lives. Along the way, we make sure that we keep people on their medications, because the number one thing that people need to do to stay health with their diabetes is to take their oral meds, and take their insulin. That is a very big issue in this country, and very significant impact to the cost of health care, and people’s health. This is due to their lack of staying on their medications. So we make sure we do that. Along the way, we do the behavioral intervention, we do the education, and we give the personalized support that helps them overcome the challenges.
DWB: Now, you’ve been running the country for almost seven years now. Has the diabetes marketplace, for this type of service, changed a lot since you started it? If it has, how did you have to adjust to that market?
GUEST: When we started in 2007, we were offered the coaching services directly to people with diabetes. They came on a website, they put in their credit card, and we helped them by leveraging these diabetes educators who are really diabetes experts around the country. We proved that people are accomplishing their goals, and improving their health. Our goal was to tell millions of people that diabetes could do that.
We realized we needed to work with organizations that already have these relationships. We started working with pharmaceutical companies who have hundreds of thousands of patients, or millions of patients, like Bayer HealthCare, with Weight Watchers, with Humana, with GlaxoSmithKline. We’ll be announcing another big client in a few weeks.
Those companies want to keep the patients healthy. They have business drivers to keep people on their medications both from an economic perspective, and also to help them lower costs associated with the hospitalizations. If people don’t take their medications, they’re not going to be well. They may end up with an in-patient or an emergency room visit, and that’s a loss to everybody.
We really modified our model to sell directly to pharmaceutical companies, to self insured employers, and to insurers to want to help the patients, and scale delivery these services.
DWB: Now, shifting gears a little bit, how does coaching help people manage their diabetes? Why is this service so helpful to people versus someone just trying to do it on their own?
GUEST: All right. Diabetes is a lonely disease. We talked about how complex it is. It’s similar to… Think of a gym membership. People in a motivated state of mind will go and sign up to the gym membership, and then they don’t go, or they commit to a working program, they start, and then drop off, or a healthy diet.
If there is someone who they’re accountable to, who is a friend, who is a support, who is an expert like a personal trainer in the gym, or a certified diabetes educator, that will understand them and motivate them, and help them through the obstacles to stay on course, it is invaluable. It is because they have a personal trusted friend who can help them though it.
When we look at the clinicians in the country, there are not enough diabetes educators. It’s been one half of one percent of all the clinicians are the certified diabetes educators. So we recruited a very talented team from across the country; people who know how to leverage technology and communicate not only by phone, but by Skype, by e-mail, by text, and really stay in touch and create an ongoing dialogue with patients, and really make them feel good about living an empowered life with diabetes.
DWB: Could you explain to us what a typical client could expect when they enroll in your service? For example, what type of interaction do they have with their coach? How long do these sessions last? What kinds of topics are discussed? That sort of thing.
GUEST: Sure. Everything we do delivers this personalized experience with the patient. We use targeted content, virtual online community events, and one on one coaching.
Now, we’re integrating a technology platform called Pathways to help scale. Again at the end of the day, there is a lot of contents out there. But how much of it is meaningful?
If I have Type 1 Diabetes, and I’m a triathlon, I’m going to be interested in more specific information that’s relevant to me.
If I was just diagnosed with Type 2, and I’m a senior, I’m going to be looking for different information.
If I am 25, and maybe a salesperson traveling a lot, where I have to deal with meals on the go in different cities.
Different things are going to be more important to different people. We make sure that we bring people down a specific test using our platform in this ongoing dialogue. As we learn about them in what’s bugging them the most, what’s on their mind, we then send them targeted content. We would bring them some virtual events where they talk about the issues with peers, and are led by certified diabetes educators. Of course, we integrate the one on one coaching. If someone is focused on their weight, and that’s what’s bugging them the most, we will help them with their weight. Along the way, we will make sure they’re taking their meds. Along the way, we’ll help them with all the other issues that we’ve discussed around nutrition, fitness, and everything else. But we’ll meet people with what’s bugging them the most and we’ll help them get through it. Through that, we’ll develop trust, and we’ll really help them along to an improved health outcome.
DWB: How long does the typical client receive the coaching? Is it a short term situation, a couple of months, or a couple of weeks? Is it a much longer term? Does it depend on the person?
GUEST: It really depends on who is sponsoring the program.
We’ve had pharmaceutical companies that have sponsored it for a year. We’re launching a program with a self insured employer. From the time that the person enrolls, they get a year of coaching. What we’ve learned is, during the first few months, it’s most important to build that relationship with the patient, between them and the coach, and really do a lot of education and learning and help the person get along the pass. People with diabetes, just like everyone else, go through stages of “motivated – unmotivated”. When they hit another challenge, they re-engage with their coach.
Typically, the program is about 12 months. That’s where we see where we start out with a certain A1C level, medication adherence level. By the end of the year, we reduce the A1C’s. We’ve improved medication adherence. We provide them a return of investments for the pharmaceutical company or payer, where they can measure how this impacted the results they were attempting to get. Also, for the patients themselves, do they feel better? Do they feel more empowered in their lives? Are they accomplishing what they need to do to keep, and sustain in health.
DWB: Okay. Now, if there’s someone who’s listening to this or reading it on the website, wondering how they can use you service, what would you recommend to them?
GUEST: We get a market innovator. There have been the companies that I’ve mentioned that are recognized and deliver them to their patients. We helped hundreds of thousands of people this way.
I think it’s really important to go on social media and talk about the need for a diabetes coach, and to ask their employer and their insurer, and say, “I want a diabetes coach.” I’ve been on the receiving end of some disease management program before I left Microsoft, for example, and they were not personal. Having someone call me and ask me whether I’m testing my blood sugar, is not a meaningful interaction for me. Then I’m trying to get guidance around my issue with high blood sugars at night. I got some canned script. I can tell somebody was reading me a canned script.
So the picture of having a diabetes coach in your corner, a friend, a trusted guide who works in concert with your primary care physician, and primary care team, is really a life changing event, and could be very supportive.
I would highly recommend, if you like what you hear, talk about it on the Fit4D Facebook fan page. Talk about it on social media. Talk about it with your insurer and you employer.
DWB: Thank you. You mentioned your Fit4D Facebook page. Could you give your web address, as well as, maybe, your Facebook page, for those people who want to learn more about you and your company?
GUEST: Absolutely. It’s Fit4D, F-i-t-4-D. It’s www.fit4d.com. If you go into Facebook and search for Fit4D, you’ll find that community. We have certified diabetes educators leading and moderating questions. Feel free to ask questions. We give back to the community by just running that. There’s no charge for it.
On our website, you’ll see our phone number. But I think, again, it’s most important, if you want a personal coach, ask your employer, talk about it online, or ask your insurer. They could sponsor a program, and we can help you.
I’m wishing everybody a very empowered life with diabetes.
DWB: That’s great, David. Thank you very much for taking the time to meet with us today. We look forward to hearing you, and know more about your company, in the future.
GUEST: Thank you, Erich.
Interview Date: March 21, 2013.