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Solving the Popsicle Problem

By Anjali Jameson | February 12, 2019 | Rally Health

Sadly, many of us have endured a health care nightmare, either firsthand or through the experiences of a loved one. Mine happened in 2013, when I was two weeks into my new job as a product manager at a health care startup.

A life-threatening asthma attack landed my toddler in the ER for six hours, and then the ICU. Over the next four days, my husband and I encountered dozens of doctors and nurses, all of whom introduced themselves with the same request: “Can you tell me what happened?” With each shift change, we lived a medical version of the Bill Murray movie “Groundhog Day” —  and each time we retold the story, we were increasingly worried that we might inadvertently misstate or forget something as our exhaustion grew.

When our child was finally released from the hospital, we were incredibly relieved — but the journey was far from over. Our family left with a “care plan” consisting of three pediatricians’ names scribbled on a napkin. Were they in our insurance network? Did they accept new patients? If they did, were appointments available within a reasonable time? And what was an acceptable time frame for a follow-up, anyway? We had no answers.

Over the ensuing months, our confusion only grew. We received more than 30 bills, ranging from $1.99 for a Popsicle® to a $100 bed co-pay. Were any of these bills duplicates? And try as we might, we never received the records from that harrowing week.

Chaotic System

Looking back on our experience, I realize that our family had come face to face with the most common problems in the U.S. medical system. We felt the frustration of having providers who were disconnected from one another, the stress of a complicated claims billing process, and the anger that we couldn’t access our daughter’s data. Another thing I learned in the process: The work of making sense of, and navigating, this broken system falls to the de facto “chief medical officer” of the  family — who tends to be female. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a whopping 80 percent of health care decisions are made by women.

As a working mother myself, without a medical degree (to the chagrin of my Indian mother), the effort required to determine and execute next steps — tracking down records, getting referrals, making appointments, paying bills, and so on, ad infinitum — was overwhelming. Electronic health records were supposed to fix this problem, but the inability of different providers’ systems to communicate with one another has only made it worse. (In Black Book Research’s 2018 survey of nearly 12,000 health care leaders, only 7 percent of users of electronic health records described their system as working well with other systems.)

Thankfully, in the six years since my family and I landed in that ER, progress has been made toward solving these tough problems and ensuring that other scared, exhausted parents don’t face the same obstacles and frustrations that we did. When I re-joined Rally Health last year, I did what product managers aren’t really supposed to do: I made a vow to get personal, to bring my experiences into the design and vision of the products my teams build. Because health is personal. As a mom with two asthmatic children, it's been a natural step to move into product management at Rally®, where I can build products that do what I want those health care products to do.

But even the most powerful digital tools aren’t much help if they exist in isolation or are hard to find or navigate. For me, what makes Rally’s next-gen platform such a game-changer is that it’s powerful, comprehensive, and unified. From one easy-to-navigate interface, patients can find a care provider, schedule an appointment, find out what a procedure might cost, understand their health benefits, and access wellness programs relevant to them. Those wellness programs aren’t an afterthought, either. From smoking cessation and weight loss to wellness coaching, our best-in-class programs can help people improve their health and even reduce ER visits. And we’ve layered in incentives to help people stick with their health goals.

In other words, Rally replaces the usual grab bag of disparate systems with a single point of entry from which users can access and utilize all of their benefits and programs, right at their fingertips. We are also making it easy for people to get medical advice immediately without having to register on a separate site. Soon, they will be able to immediately access care directly from the platform via our Virtual Visits feature, which is prominently featured.

Rally is also helping to solve the incredibly frustrating experience of watching dozens of disparate, indecipherable, and sometimes unexpected bills roll in. In my case, the Popsicle bill was the final straw. The only thing that felt worse was trying to pay all those bills separately and manually.

Rally helps alleviate that feeling of outraged surprise by offering estimates of out-of-pocket costs before the bills show up. Preventing end-of-care surprises and offering efficient payment systems are huge wins for families’ chief medical officers — and, therefore, the whole family.

In This Together

For many Americans, receiving a $750 bill when they were expecting to pay $100 could mean that they fall behind on other bills. Patients desperately need advocates who can guide them through a complex and expensive system, and who know where to turn when information from providers and insurers doesn’t seem to match up. At Rally we are building seamless integrations to advocacy services, so patients can focus on regaining and maintaining their health without worrying about something falling through the cracks or paying an overwhelming bill.

I’m especially passionate about advocacy because like me, the chief medical officers of the family are often working full time, plus dealing with finding and scheduling care, managing and paying the bills, and figuring out how to keep themselves and their loved ones healthy.

I also get how stressful a medical crisis is. While paying bills was never the problem for me that it is for some people, I understand how hard it must be for someone who is worried about money, or anxious about missing work. Fortunately for me, within an hour of notifying my colleagues about what had happened, my inbox was flooded with an outpouring of warmth the likes of which I had never experienced during 15 years in the workforce.

Today, my child is healthy and that Popsicle bill is a distant memory, but my desire to prevent others from going through a similar experience is stronger than ever. I know my background working in health care made that experience slightly less overwhelming. But others aren’t so lucky, and people shouldn’t need a medical degree to leave the doctor’s office feeling empowered. After years working for other wellness-focused startups, I’m at Rally because I want everyone with a health problem to experience the same sense of relief and security I felt in the ER when I heard from my colleagues. All patients deserve to feel like someone has their back — and at Rally Health, we want that someone to be us.

Anjali Jameson is vice president of product at Rally Health, Inc.

Rally® is the only truly integrated health care platform that unites benefits, wellness, medical care, and rewards in a single, intuitive experience. It is the proven choice implemented by more than 200,000 employers, including 47 percent of the Fortune 500. If you’d like to learn more about how to simplify heath care for your employees, contact rallysales@rallyhealth.com.

Anjali Jameson
Rally Health