Dr. Shikha Anand shares her passion for health innovation and how Well is empowering members to take control of their health
As Chief Medical Officer at Well, Dr. Shikha Anand is helping a digital health pioneer empower patients to make the best, most informed decisions about their health. She explained the overarching mission like this: “What we’re chasing is health equity at scale. How can we create frameworks for decision-making so that people who are less advantaged can get the same treatment as those who are more advantaged?”
How does that unique perspective inform her approach to digital health technology? And what can be done to make healthcare more equitable, overturn long standing health disparities, lower costs and provide better care for all? These are pretty big questions, but when Dr. Anand sat down with the team at Ribbon Health for a recent fireside chat, she was eager to take them on.
Here’s an inside look at how she is working to drive enduring, positive change and how Well is at the forefront of personalized healthcare at scale.
Decision-making guided by patient interactions
Having built an impressive career—from becoming a pediatrician to working in the nonprofit and corporate space—Dr. Anand has seen the link between socioeconomic status and quality of care in rather stark terms. Changing that is something she takes personally. “For the first 15 years of my career,” she recalled, “I practiced in a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), and my mandate there was always: The kids that we see here should have access to better care than my kids get.”
When she later joined Well, Dr. Anand’s decision was motivated by a desire to operate without the limitations and broader linearity she saw as endemic to the care delivery approaches in traditional healthcare environments. “Primary care is messy,” she explained. “It isn’t limited or precise, so it doesn’t make sense to impose restricted and linear approaches. At Well, we’re going beyond the constraints of conventional primary care models.”
For Dr. Anand and the team at Well, broadening the scope of primary care means providing personalized health advancement at scale. Needless to say, transforming the status quo in healthcare is going to take some time. But Dr. Anand firmly believes there are underutilized levers at our disposal right now to start providing higher-quality healthcare in a way that’s highly personalized, more convenient, and low cost.
Looking ahead, she added, “I think the rest of healthcare will eventually have to come along.”
On the front lines of care
On top of her duties as Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Anand continues to see patients today. “I love seeing patients, and it’s important to me that I continue to work directly with them. That’s always going to be my true north. But I feel like I can do more for more people if I actually work to change the system.”
And at Well, Dr. Anand is doing just that. Starting with one of the many areas she calls “the little things”: the factors outside of the traditional confines of clinical care, like the manner or personality of a care provider. Those “little things” have a tremendous impact on a patients’ experience during a healthcare interaction and can powerfully influence health outcomes.
“Hearing people’s stories was one of my favorite parts about working at an FQHC. Just simply asking questions and creating an open and nonjudgemental environment can elicit powerful answers,” she notes. When questions are grounded in empathy, people often share deeply personal stories, and the responses don’t always fall under the category of traditional clinical care.
Dr. Anand recalls moments where patients have shared details about their access to housing, transportation, and other fundamental resources for living a healthy life. “The thing that I can’t stress enough is it’s not what you ask that matters most, it’s how you ask it.” Dr. Anand notes.
The follow-up is just as important as the questions themselves, which is why building a platform that serves everyone and addresses the full spectrum of healthcare needs is core to Dr. Anand and the team at Well. And that starts with ensuring that the Well app is accessible to everyone.
“Regardless of socioeconomic status, people can and will use these digital health tools, but you have to give them the right opportunity,” shares Dr. Anand. “There are a lot of people out there with income levels who are below or around the poverty line and have great smartphones, but have restrictive data plans,” she observed, which is something the team at Well took into account in designing their app. “Our app can operate with WiFi alone, so if you can get to a library or a cafe or a public space with WiFi, you can use it.”
“Underserved communities want good healthcare tech as much as affluent communities do.”
At the intersection of access and health equity
Dr. Anand’s work at Well isn’t her first foray into whole-person care. During her health services research fellowship, she spearheaded a fruit-and-vegetable “prescription” program.
The program’s genesis—as with so much of Dr. Anand’s career in general—trace back to her own firsthand experience working with patients.
“I was running a clinic in Boston and noticed that there was nowhere in the area where you could buy fresh fruit,” she said. Dr. Anand remembers a time she had to hunt across multiple stores to find a fresh lemon. When she finally found one, it was spoiling and overpriced. She felt the barriers and pain to access a basic human need of fresh produce.
The fruit-and-vegetable “prescription” program connected food insecure communities with healthy produce that’s locally sourced and farmed sustainably—and allowed them to get it at a significantly reduced cost, to boot.
Innovation born of unmet needs and built on a foundation of empathy and shared experiences—all of these things continue to be at the core of Dr. Anand’s work at Well today. And they’re part of the reason she believes context is key. “We need to understand the context in which people are making their health decisions, then try to morph the healthcare system to reflect that.”
To learn more about Well, check them out here.