A conversation with Ran Shaul, Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer at K-Health
It has now been 10 years since Omada Health, one of the earliest vertical telehealth platforms, was founded. Over the last decade, we have seen numerous other companies build vertical telehealth solutions across chronic care management, obesity, and cardiac conditions, and the overall maturation of the telehealth market.
We believe there will continue to be massive opportunities in telehealth, and that one of the greatest areas of white space today is in telehealth for youth. Gen Z is the first truly digital native generation, which will demand more healthcare experiences to be delivered to them instantly, and virtually. There is significant opportunity to digitize not just primary pediatric care, but speech therapy (ie. Expressable), autism care (ie. Sprout Therapy), behavioral therapy (ie. Little Otter), learning disability evaluations (ie. Parallel Learnings), obesity management (keeping my eyes out!) and more.
One of the early movers in this space was K-Health, who recently launched their pediatric, “K for parents” product. In the interview below, we chat with Ran Shaul, co-founder and Chief Product Officer at K-Health, about the opportunity they saw, some of the challenges to launch a telehealth product for this segment of the population, and opportunities ahead.
What does K-Health provide to its users, and what is its broader mission?
We started K-health because people deserve access to free, personalized information whenever they need it, wherever they are. There are 7+ billion people in the world, any of whom may wake up with something painful and ask the same 3 questions – what do I have? What else could it be? How do I treat it? Most people today go to Dr. Google or WebMD. We created a magical experience where people can have a conversation with a machine in order to figure out what they have, and make a decision about what next steps to take. Within a couple of minutes of conversation, our system can understand conditions and potential issues much better than websites that attempt to diagnose people without clinical data. People are empowered when they have the right information at their fingertips. More recently we launched “caregiver mode,” where you can do the same thing but on behalf of your kids. This is our K for Parents product.
Walk us through how the maturation of telehealth has unfolded over the last decade?
Everything we saw pre-pandemic was mostly what I consider “a connectivity model.” These are platforms that simply let patients connect with a doctor. It’s a supplementary approach to standard care, usually focused on after hours or urgent care. It was mostly putting a doctor on the phone to triage. They believed you could not do medicine online – anything serious you have to go in person. Companies like OneMedical and CVS Minute Clinic built significant brick and mortar infrastructure for this reason.
K Health and other companies have pushed the barrier past this basic, episodic form of care. We built a foundation of continuity of care – not just one at a time treatment but ongoing management of chronic conditions with preventive care to form the first real online primary care. We are a data driven primary care platform that in 90% of the time can solve the issue, digitally.
Tell us more about the pediatric product that you launched recently, and what the core opportunity was that you saw that inspired the launch?
When adults themselves are sick, they know they are sick and can easily articulate what is not feeling right. When it comes to children, this is not as easy. On top of that, parents have a very strong emotion, almost panic, when they think their child isn’t feeling well. Kids come back from school, symptoms start to emerge, it’s 9pm at night and then they have a million questions about what to do – go to urgent care? Go to the ER? Go to sleep and wait it out?
Many existing users on our platform were interested in a product that could be used for their children and answer these questions for them. We have 5M users, and it was a massive opportunity for us to potentially double or triple our reach by bringing children into the loop. It was tough to extend our AI to this use case. When you are building AI to chat with a human, but you are asking about another person – such as, how painful is the headache of your child? – it’s difficult to answer. We built a “caregiver mode,” which instructs and informs parents about how to assess the child’s conditions. It was launched with a pediatrician network that can be looped into a chat if needed instantly, similar to our adult product. We aren’t meant to do diagnosis, which is why we connect to a doctor if needed.
Imagine going online to buy something but you have no idea what you are looking for, and there is no way to understand price options or the effectiveness of the product. This is what it is like in healthcare – you don’t know what to buy, how much it should cost, or what the product experience will be like. By helping individuals answer questions about what might be wrong and what they should do at that moment, we are literally saving lives.
Are there certain pieces of infrastructure or technology that you want to leverage in your platform to expand what you can currently treat digitally today? I.e. home testing kits
We already have some connected medical devices that we can bring into our ecosystem. We don’t think Fitbits and other wearables of that nature are mature enough for this use case, but things like blood pressure cuffs certainly are. We are currently very interested in devices that can listen to the lungs, which are starting to get FDA approval. Unfortunately at-home testing can be very costly to send a kit home and get it back. Some companies also want to send people into the home, but you have to think about cost. In many cases people are struggling to pay for just the medication, and you have to think about the consumer first.
Are there any trends unfolding that could decrease these costs? Many healthcare companies have benefited from the rapid decline in sequencing costs – is there an equivalent trend you are watching in telehealth?
The biggest bet we hope plays out is congress continuing to push legislation in favor of telemedicine, and also allowing physicians to practice across states. Adopting new reimbursement models will also be key. A lot of providers had to go to Zoom during the pandemic and were able to get reimbursed during Covid, but those exceptions are expiring.
I think telemedicine will be one of the biggest drivers of value based care. We hear doctors say that managing chronic conditions may never require in person visits – Livongo was only the beginning of this. I think models like K Health, which are fully integrated providers that can do primary care, mental health, obesity management, etc remotely will continue to play a key role. These are some of the big things that I’m thinking about.
Why do you think it is taking longer for pediatric products to emerge? What are some of the challenges that delayed this?
The progression for us from adults to children was natural, but we weren’t starting from ground zero. What we do is very sophisticated – it’s not just a symptom checker. We built a lot of technology that could be extended. Our AI was already trained on data from deconstructing 400M dr notes with diagnosis information over many years. Other players need to find their own ways to collect data to create any product that will be intelligent. It is also generally a harder segment of the market to target – in most cases you have to target parents first to eventually reach the kid. We had a good wedge to do this, others may not.
Are there any areas that you think are too hard to build digital solutions in for youth?
Anything treating children under 3 years old will be very challenging. This is one area that we are thinking about. Treating anxiety and depression online for kids is also difficult. ADHD management and medications is also not as straightforward as with adults. I’m also still TBD on preventative care, mostly because of the key role of vaccinations. I think it’s a bit of a misconception that the yearly visit that is part of preventative care is needed. You can get basic things like weight remotely using devices. There is room to expand within preventative care, and just refer out to get vaccines when needed but handle everything else digitally.
What are some interesting go-to-market strategies in the pediatric space? What challenges are there in the space and what are some tactics to get around them?
It’s very hard to target kids directly. We don’t do it at all – we go through parents who we already have in our ecosystem. It could be useful for other products in the space to have components of the product involving other family members in the experience.
The most important thing in go-to-market though is transparency and empathy. This is true in both designing marketing campaigns and in interactions within your app. We work with people that other platforms will never work with, because of our price. We are the lowest cost product in the market, and truly affordable for all. We get a lot of uninsured, underinsured populations that a lot of people don’t want to see. For us, it’s a thought exercise about how to truly be mass market. It’s easy to charge $200/month for a membership, and try to get more people in person because that is what the current reimbursement model supports. That is not what we are about.
Looking ahead, what clinical areas within pediatrics do you think represent the biggest opportunities? For example, speech, eye care, and disability diagnosis.
There is a big crisis of mental health in kids that is very problematic today. There is no simple secret to crack this – there are physical aspects, social aspects, and emotional aspects. The question is around what a product looks like in this space. Physicians are resolution-oriented, not service-oriented, and these solutions will involve a combination of mobilizing coaches, practitioners, and other experts over long periods of time. The key ingredient is patience.
There is also a massive opportunity in obesity management. We have seen a handful of companies raise venture funding to do virtual obesity management for adults, but there is an obesity crisis among children as well. We will need true integrated care in this space. Drugs are not the solution – it likely combines diet, coaching, and other techniques. I’m excited to see companies try to tackle this area.
If you are building something in this area, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to hear from you!
Check out other posts from the operator interview series: