Meet Avidon Health, the behavior change solution that’s solving the engagement problem in healthcare for good.
Born in 2020 after the merger of MedPro Wellness and SelfHelpWorks, Avidon Health enables Healthcare organizations across the country to touch their patients’ lives and inspire long-lasting change. By leaning into cognitive behavior training and technologies that advance human connections, they launched a platform called Engagement RX™. This platform not only enables providers, hospitals and telehealth practitioners to increase patient engagement, but also guide their patients to optimal health by focusing holistically on the individual, rather than just their conditions.
In this week’s episode of Tallwave’s Innovator Series, our Partner Robert Wallace talks to Clark Lagemann, the co-CEO of Avidon Health who is responsible for spearheading the strategic direction and implementation of Engagement Rx™. They discuss Clark’s journey from sales and marketing to entrepreneurship, the “aha” moment that inspired Avidon Health’s newly-defined purposes, the true definition of innovation in the modern digital age, and how Clark’s personal and professional experiences – including being a three-time Ironman athlete – has influenced his business mindset and approach.
Q&A with Avidon Co-CEO, Clark Lagemann
Robert Wallace: Thanks so much for taking the time to speak to us today, Clark! You’ve had a pretty interesting and inspiring professional journey so why don’t we start at the beginning… In your Linkedin profile, [I love that] you say, “I climbed the corporate ladder and then jumped off into an entrepreneurial world.” Tell us more about how you made that leap from marketing and sales into entrepreneurship.
Clark Lagemann: You’ve probably heard the story many times among entrepreneurs. I wasn’t that great in school. I didn’t know what I was going to do but I graduated college and thought, “Well, now what?” I lived close to New York City so the idea to go onto Wall Street or in finance was prominent amongst most of my fellow graduates and friends, but I was someone that could tell a pretty good story, so I decided to go a different path [and] into sales. I said “I’ll go a couple years here and just figure it out and come back and do something else.”
So, I started getting into sales, interacting with people, really learning where problems [were], and leveraging a set of solutions that enabled us to solve problems they had for their business. I spent a couple years at a company called ADP, a payroll company, arguably one of the best entry level sales positions and training you can go through. I really had a strong interest in healthcare and transitioned into GlaxoSmithKline. [I] helped that company launch a variety of pharmacologic agents, and then went into the medical device world, where I was working directly with physicians and patients to impact their lives in a very meaningful way. On that journey – let’s just call it 10 years or so – I saw a lot of inefficiencies or difficulties or challenges [that] weren’t being solved…
I liked sales because it helped problems get fixed by solutions. In many cases, you’d have a bag you [could] pull out and say, “Here’s a solution that fits for you, Robert…” “Here’s a solution that fits for you, Clark….” But, if you don’t see the solution ever being built, you have to say, “I don’t have a solution for that.” Or you can say, “I’m going to build it myself.” So, I decided to build it myself.
RW: I’ve seen a fair amount of entrepreneurs throughout my career and they’re typically either great sales people or great product people. Sometimes, they’re both. Sometimes the best ones are able to – no matter where they started – be that translation layer between here and what the market needs and [then] translate that into what people want and will pay for. What challenges and lessons would you say, as you built your own company, especially in healthcare, were primary lessons that [you learned]?
CL: There are [an] infinite number of problems to solve. There’s no shortage of challenges if you think about how much we spend from a GDP perspective on healthcare. How the aging population is being addressed and treated. I would say there’s no limitation to where you can go and solve something, but ultimately it comes down to: Can you solve it quick enough with the budget you have?
Many people have this idea that they want to have the beautiful house, corner lot, multiple acres of land, in-ground pool, but they have the budget for none of that. So, how do you eventually earn and get the right to build that house [that] you’ve always dreamed of? It’s by solving micro-problems that ultimately become macro-solutions, and that can be deployed across large scale populations.
RW: How would you articulate the biggest problem that is specifically in healthcare today?
CL: [That goes back to] my “Aha!” moment, and where we changed the direction of our business in a very meaningful way.
Forever, in my origin story – in starting my own business – I was in an operating room in a very prominent New York city hospital system and I was helping a surgeon do a case. So, basically, surgery. The person we were doing this case on was there only because they weren’t taking care of themselves. My [“Aha”] moment [occurred one day as I was] sitting in the OR – wearing my scrubs, wearing my mask, watching this person through this procedure – and [thinking], “I can’t believe he didn’t just do X, Y and Z, and if he did X, Y and Z, he wouldn’t be here today.” I became so frustrated that people weren’t treating the health and wellness of themselves… I saw that there was this huge opportunity to flip it. To say, “Let’s help these people get healthier.”
That was kind of my origin story, where I said, “I’m going to build a business to help these people get healthier.” So, six plus years into running the business – this happened about a year ago, prior to COVID; prior to this incredible change and shift of landscape – I had [that] “Aha!” moment [and] realized, this whole time, I was trying to fix people and help them get healthier. But that’s a byproduct of what we’re really solving, which is: How do you get someone engaged around health? How do you get someone to enroll, to participate, and to complete a set of activities that will change either their health or their life? So, all of our attention went into solving that problem of engagement.
That is the problem that we think is the biggest in healthcare, today.
RW: That’s well said. A lot of people just have those “Aha!” moments in their everyday lives. Those solutions are sitting out there. It just takes the right people, at the right time to put them together… Tell us about Avidon Health. The company merged two smaller companies in the past year and a half… What you guys are doing and how?
CL: Our belief is [that] healthcare is driven through human connection, but the problem with human connection is that it’s very expensive. In a perfect world, I’d have a doctor, a nutritionist, [and]a personal trainer living with me and telling me what I should and shouldn’t eat, how to workout, making sure I get my vaccinations and take my vitamins, but that’s completely unscalable, and not realistic for most normal people…
We spent five [to] six years doing health coaching, so, one-on-one interactions with people all across the country and identified certain trends we recognized that people need to work with. We sought out a digital solution company based on the West Coast that had an incredible cognitive behavioral training process and video courses to support a coaching methodology. We said, “One plus one probably doesn’t equal two, but one plus one equals three.”
It took those two pieces: [Being] human-centered and coach-driven, and layering in enablement technologies to make the coaches more successful and effective. [That’s what we] think is a huge differentiator [for us] – [we empower] technology with a human-centered focus and [partner it with ] a human-first approach. We’re having our coaches and our care teams and clinicians say, “Here’s all the things people need.” Then, the technical team and engineers build it. So, now, it feels like you’re really interacting with one person.
RW: There are a lot of solutions in and around that space, but you really seem to have a lot more empathy around what people are facing, and understanding that connection. It seems to be more about the combining of real people and technology, and trying to figure out where that happy ground is, because it seems neither one on their own is fixing the problem.
CL: Changing unhealthy behavior is hard. Most people are going to fail. The most ambitious, driven individuals are not always achieving what they hope for in their health and in their wellness.
The belief behind this is [that] there aren’t great solutions – that we’ve identified – that are solving that problem. There are great solutions that have assets that could solve that problem. But, the problem is, Robert – as I say problem six times in a row – they’re not being used. There is no engagement. There is no acceleration, on top of that. You can’t just do text messages and emails, because it doesn’t feel natural. It doesn’t feel like a person. It doesn’t have [that] connection. So, we’ve been able to incorporate that human connection into all the other steps [we were] taking.
RW: I have at least three health and wellness apps on my phone, and I don’t use any of them. But, I do track certain things, and I do answer when my human trainer yells at me. That, I pay attention to.
CL: Accountability is incredibly important.
RW: Tell us about your business and how it’s structured – who do you sell to?
CL: We’re an enablement solution or technology for third parties. So, we [identify where] people [are] trying to interact or engage with a large population, and [ask], how do we make it run better, faster, stronger, longer?
Primarily, you think of the BUCAs – the Blues, United, Cignas. They have a large number of members that interact with them for health and wellness. Can we make their solutions run better? The answer is: Of course, we can. We have incredible third-party data and case studies that validate and demonstrate [our] efficacy in creating more meaningful change. Then, [we] just go down the line [considering] where people interact with health. So, hospital systems and healthcare providers…
Prior to COVID, people weren’t talking about virtual coaching – how [to] make engagement in people’s homes and communities. They were doing it a little bit, but COVID happened, and it’s like the whole world shifted. [Our] expectations – as consumers, consuming healthcare – are a lot different than they were a year ago. [We’re] not waiting for the doctor for 45 minutes, [we’re] expecting things to be delivered to [our homes], [and we’re] expecting things to be easy and simple. We believe – and you know this, Robert, from your experience – [that Healthcare is] slower to implement newer technologies… We can help give them a little more speed… Consumers are expecting that right now.
RW: I’ll diverge here for a minute. In many ways, a lot of the things that have happened in E-commerce over the last 12 months pushed everything forward five years. I think there are some things in the healthcare world that happened, too, around telehealth.
Telehealth was a thing, for sure, but now, I think it’s been pushed forward five years. And here we stand. That plays well for Avidon Health.
I actually heard the other day, you know, the Mirror, the fitness solution recently bought by LuluLemon? They’re now thinking about having that be the portal for telehealth. That’s an example of how the whole thing got disrupted right under our noses, and it bodes well for the kind of integrative approach Avidon Health is taking.
CL: Again – going back to the problems – think about a huge problem right now that’s across every state. It doesn’t have any empathy. [It doesn’t care about] your social, economic class: Substance abuse.
People are addicted to pain pills, addicted to different substances. They’re having a difficult time going to their traditional therapies and treatments, because they’re not in their same environments, anymore. So, we said, “This is a tremendous opportunity for us to leverage what we’ve learned and throw it against a big problem that many Americans across the country, healthcare systems and communities are suffering from…
So, we built out a program to solve that, because we can acknowledge that there’s this [fear] that [people battling addiction aren’t] going to be able to get the treatment they had in the past. Now, we’re doing something where they can get [treatment] 24/7. Within minutes, [they can] be interacting with an experience that can change their lives and help them get off of – or stay off of – those abuses and different substances they [are or] were on.
RW: How are you thinking about the customer experience? You’ve described a much more different, and potentially effective, way of doing things for the business, but how are you thinking about how the customer experience is being effective? How are you ensuring you’re effective? Are there specific metrics you look at?
CL: Ya, going back to engagement. Can we increase the interactions? The completion rate of certain predetermined clinical paths or clinical protocols? While we are a face fresh in the industry, we have a tremendous amount of experience: [We’re impacting] four million lives right now, [and hosting] hundreds of thousands of interactive coaching sessions. Everything we’ve built has been built on the problems and pain points that we were trying to solve for ourselves, and now, we’re saying we can package this whole thing up, and give it to another organization and say, “We know you have these problems too. Take this box and open it. It will give you all the tools you need to be successful and engaging with your own populations.”
RW: How does the product actually work. I’d love to hear about how the pieces interact: What a customer might go through and how they interact with the technology, coaches and content?
CL: Almost always, someone has a solution. They have something they’ve worked on, built, or is sitting on the shelf behind them that they want to use, but don’t know how.
We built our solution to fit into their solutions. So, robust APIs, webhooks, [and] documentation. People can take our solution, and bring it right into their universe and environment. The end user would never know it’s us…
For those [who] don’t have a solution, we say, “Well, we’ll give you something that’s white label, so again, the end user will never know that we’re there.” They’re just running with the solution. We give them all that at their fingertips with a few clicks.
[Now], the end user’s perspective. This is where it becomes very fun and very interesting. The greatest solutions in the world only work if you use them, you know about them, and you’re engaged with them. This is a repeated theme, over and over. So, we built out what we call a Recruitment Phase. Most solutions start with the person actually on your product. That’s, like, step five. You don’t just download an app and put in your information – that’s crazy talk, man! You had to have a moment, a life event, [or] a motivation to get signed up.
Now, once you’re there, [that’s when] everything happens. Our magic starts when we try to get you interacting. We say. “We’re going to educate you and engage with you.” We look at zip codes where people are [interacting from]. We have data to support different personality types of those zip codes. So, we look at one of five different personality types that you will most likely have if you live in a certain zip code. Then, we start to create a messaging strategy to get you into our system and solution. You come on our solution, you verify that our assumptions were correct, and your experience begins.
Some personalities say, “I want to tell you everything about me, I’m going to give you my life story!” Other people say, “No, thank you, just give me what i need. Give me my answer.” So, as you’re interacting. the solution evolves and shows you things that are more relevant for your personality type. Then… it gets exciting. We’re dancing at that point. [The solution surfaces] interactive content relevant to your health risks, holds you accountable and makes sure we use – and this is really important – cognitive behavioral training actually influence your activities long term.
RW: That’s really smart. When I think about customer experience, I use the term “Persona,” but what personas really are are amalgamations of behaviors. What you’re saying: You’re trying to think about what behavior types and what personality types lead to certain behaviors and build the product around that – or at least form the pieces of the product based an individual person’s needs. That’s really interesting.
CL: Ya, and think about this: There’s five generations in the workforce right now… It’s insane! Think of someone in their mid-60s working, and someone in their early 20s working. Do you think they want the same solution? No, absolutely not! Yet, the idea behind it is, “Let’s build something that fits all people.”
Our solution is focused on the individual. Not the condition, but the individual. Their personality, their interactions, their learning style – which we haven’t even talked about. How people learn is different. You may want to consume something that takes you seven minutes to read; I may want to consume video content. So, how do we serve it up to you [so that it’s] relevant and timely?
RW: I have more of a philosophical question, when you define innovation, do you think it has to be disruptive?
CL: When you hear the word innovation, it’s sexy and people want to just slam down innovation and say, “Thats me, look at what I can do!” But innovation happens everyday. I look at my daughter – she’s 2 years old – she’s innovating, she’s telling me what she wants. It doesn’t need to be so disruptive that it changes the world, but it [needs to change] her world.
For me, if I can innovate on something that makes a meaningful change for one of my employees. or for a person that’s consuming our product, it could change their life. [Even if] it’s just a small change for them, [it could] ultimately amass into something very large because it’s so incredibly needed for their own experiences or personal beliefs.
RW: You’re a technology person. You’re also a healthcare person. Do you see any larger trends that you believe are moving one way or the other for 2021, 2022, or even over the next five years?
CL: I think of the acceleration of everything – virtual and remote – that happened with COVID. It was really incredible. Where I thought the market was, as you touched on, it basically got sped up by three years – five years potentially.
So, where I thought we were going to be going, we’re almost there now, which is kind of crazy because i was only thinking – as an entrepreneur you look at, “What am i going to do tomorrow? What am I going to do in a month from now? What am I going to do in a year? Three? Five? You’re not twenty years out. That’s just not realistic. So, where I think we’re going is almost what I see coming at me right now, which is leveraging this highly personalized approach to interact with people in their homes, and a very convenient time that they desire, versus forcing people to get into their cars, to wade into buildings – typical brick and mortars – with a dozen other people waiting. You don’t get seen on time; the experience is not great. It’s not a consumer experience. You’re going to take that experience whether you like it or not because you have to.
Now, there’s a different way. It’s making it more interactive and more compelling.
RW: A lot of startups are ahead of the trends and, a lot of times, they have to either hope they can pull the market with them, or hope the market catches up with them, and that those two things hit each other while the company stays alive. You were doing that and everything went like this, and now, you’re standing here saying you have a perfect solution for the time. It’s so fascinating and rare.
CL: Before [we acquired] the company in the West Coast, we just saw white space and thought this is where [things were going]. We started pulling it together, and as COVID happened, it came almost too fast… It’s a good problem to have.
Now, it’s a matter of, “How do we translate our story, so that it’s compelling to the budget holder that’s making that decision, that has some sort of solutions or budget in place?” They’re deploying against this problem that isn’t getting better. People are not reversing the curve in healthcare – healthcare costs are getting more expensive every year, it’s insane. But yet, we’re doing the same thing, over and over and over again, with a different skin, maybe a different smell or a different taste, but it’s the same general solution.
So, we say, “Let’s take that solution, and let’s make it a hell of a lot better.”
RW: Right. I mean, stay healthier. There’s the first answer, right?
CL: I’ll take that. Yes, please!
RW: I want to switch to a personal question and fun fact. Our research team dug up that you’re a three time Ironman, is that correct?
CL: I’ve suffered those hours on the course, yes.
RW: My guess is that what you learned during those Ironmans has helped you in how you approach your professional work. Is that a fair statement?
CL: It is. To get to that starting line, the amount of work you have to do… People [associate] overnight success [with] entrepreneurs, but [they] only see the final product.
It [took] eight months of training to get to my first Ironman, and it forced me to cut out noise. When I started training for it, I cut out social media. I just disappeared because my primary focus – just like when you’re running a business, is making sure this thing gets to the starting line. Not even the finish line, to the starting line. And when you get there, you’ve got this race, the cannon goes off, and you realize: There’s a whole community of people that are there, that want you to get to the finish line.
So, just like an entrepreneur, as I’m seeing right now, there’s a whole community – yourself including – that wants to see us get to the finish line. And the finish line for me could be different than someone else’s finish line, but the idea is that we rally behind our entrepreneurs, and people want to see them do really well. But you have to earn the right to get to the starting line. You’re sure as hell not going to go do it without thinking about it. You have to earn the right to get to that starting line. That, to me, was my “Wow” moment.
RW: There’s also a mental stamina to entrepreneurship. Those overnight successes you mentioned, and people think about the “Unicorns.” Those unicorns are 10 years old. Those first seven or eight years were really difficult, but no one remembers that first half of the process.
CL: I remember when I ran across the finish line at my last Ironman. It was 15 ½ hours on the course. I was exhausted… As I’m coming up to the finish line – I’m not having a good day. I’m not feeling well. I was telling my wife and family friends that were there, “I’m sure as hell not going to do this, again. No way. I’m done, I’m exhausted, this is stupid. What was I thinking?”
The next day, we’re in wine country having a couple glasses of wine celebrating, and I say, “I’m going to do this next year.” And [my wife] said, “You told me you were never going to do it again?!”
What you said is so true. You forget the pain that got you there. Ya, it was painful to get there. But I have this desire to run this business. You see a problem, you go to solve it, and if you don’t have the solution, you keep working on it.
RW: It isn’t about the money, it isn’t about the finish line – well, it is but it isn’t. It’s about doing what’s necessary to see if you can make it happen.
CL: How often in life do we have times like that? We have a finite amount of time to be here. For all the things I’ve done, there’s so much more I want to do and achieve, and I need to force myself to do it.
It’s easy to let a week go by. And [then, when it’s gone] you don’t realize what you’ve done and achieved to help make yourself better, your family better, or your community better. I want to make sure that I’m doing that.
This business that we’re doing right now is going to change the way people interact with healthcare in a very meaningful way.