Carbon Health CEO Eren Bali on COVID-19
What is COVID going to change in healthcare?
Eren has a masterful way of breaking down the healthcare industry and outlining its future in our earlier story [read here], but naturally, as of late, much of his time is concerned with mobilizing Carbon Health to curb the Coronavirus pandemic, a virus that rapidly spread from person to person until the entire world shut down.
Eren is no stranger to the powerful effects of scale, at least from an entrepreneurial point of view. Prior to Carbon Health, Eren helped start Udemy, an online learning platform recently valued at over $2B, which experienced rapid growth over the last decade: Udemy currently boasts over 295 million course enrollments, 50 million students learn, and 57,000 instructors teaching 150,000 courses in over 65 different languages.
Today, Eren is combating the negative effects of scale: viral contagion. Carbon Health currently has 15 clinics, with an aim to get to 150 by the end of 2021. By 2024, Eren sees 1,000 Carbon clinics with a strong virtual offering.
Today, we got a glimpse at what it’s like being at the helm of one of the most innovative tech companies in healthcare, and how Eren sees COVID impacting the industry.
Re-birth of Telehealth
Previously perceived as a more of a superfluous feature, the ability to talk to your doctor through an app has turned into more of a necessity.
“Everyone is aware of telehealth, but not many people are taking it seriously,” says Eren. “Few customers, at least healthcare customers in the traditional sense, have shown a preference to talk to their doctors virtually.”
Eren believes that COVID accelerated virtual care significantly. Similar to how almost all companies have shifted to full remote setups are experiencing remote life for the first time, many patients and doctors are getting their first experiences with remote consultations.
“Virtual care was a non-trend until now,” comments Eren. “Virtual care is no longer an option, it’s more of a requirement. People, meaning both providers and patients, are trying it for the first time and seeing it’s not so bad. There still be a substantial chunk of health services that remains virtual after the outbreak.”
The COVID Silver Lining
“If there is a silver lining to COVID, it’s that it may eliminate many other infectious diseases” comments Eren. “COVID is going to require an infrastructural and systematic upgrade to the approach modern health services take towards infectious diseases.”
“If there is a silver lining to COVID, it’s that it may eliminate many other infectious diseases”
“Infectious disease design factors will have to change,” says Eren. “We might see a post-COVID healthcare system kill off the flu, as well as significantly reduce other infectious diseases.”
Eren also notes a few other aspects that will likely change, including better last-mile healthcare delivery and increased mobile testing, and an inversion of the HUD medical record system.
“Patients should have direct ownership of their medical records, and providers should just be consuming the information,” comments Eren. “Today, each doctor makes a separate copy of your record. This looks innocent, but the care of each patient deeply relies on prior medical records. The medical groups that provide these records should be 3rd party entities.”
How Has Carbon Prepared?
The cumulative global government response to COVID has been the target of much criticism for its lack of preparedness and operational execution. Carbon Health, a privately held startup with under $50m in funding, has showcased a notably exceptional approach to handling the pandemic.
“We’re currently the most active COVID19 response company,” says Eren. “We’ve tested 2,000 people at our clinics, launched the first mobile testing services, launched the first clinical data set publicly, and were the first ones to do at-home testing.”
Even and the team started to look at the situation in China seriously around January 15th and started asking incoming patients whether they had been to the Wuhan Region of China and the Medical Director added the responses to the patient intake system. They realized they had two patients who recently came from the region, and started to plan accordingly.
Throughout its testing, Carbon has compiled models for risk levels of patients include over 25,000 unique attributes and 6,000 independent models predicting something very specific.
Carbon Health is the most active COVID-19 response company in the country
Carbon has even created a free tool to help individuals self assess their risk of coronavirus infection (you can access the tool here.) The tool was based on the latest CDC protocols as well as the medical opinions of the Carbon Health medical team., and it provides personalized recommendations based on the user’s level of risk. If necessary, the tool refers the user to a clinician, whether the clinician is Carbon Health-affiliated or not.
The CDC was a limiting factor initially, says Eren. We are first and foremost responsible to our communities. We were making the right calls a full month before anyone else.
“The CDC was a limiting factor initially, says Eren. “They didn’t allow testing. We later learned they had only done 200 tests. People weren’t getting tested. We put people on the shelter at home and did virtual monitoring. We had the infrastructure to execute on all those things. We started matching symptomology with COVID symptoms and referred patients to ERs for severe respiratory problems. We monitored patient zero in California. Our California locations in the San Francisco Bay Area (East Bay, South Bay, and North Bay (Carbon Health Partners) played an instrumental role in realizing the protocols early.”
Eren feels healthcare providers shouldn’t be limited to just what the FDA and CDC say.
“We are first and foremost responsible to our communities,” says Eren. “The CDC still doesn’t have guidelines. We were making the right calls a full month before anyone else. Healthcare providers have a stronger direct relationship with their patients that the CDC or FDA, and there is an enormous opportunity to keep them better informed with the situation at hand. We are communicating with the patient databases far more than the government is. For example, if someone is living with a high-risk patient at home, that’s actually a good enough reason to get them tested. Having the freedom to make calls like this independently is a big help.”
Coronavirus will inevitably continue to wreak havoc on a significant number of companies, particularly so on the healthcare industry. COVID exposed the weaknesses of modern healthcare at the misfortune of millions of people around the world.
An optimist sees a stronger and better world after the pandemic. Many of today’s companies, in healthcare and other industries, may not get to see it. Eren, with realistic undertones, believes the post-pandemic world will be built by companies willing and able to change fast.
When things change fast, the organizations that can change fast end up winning. The ones that can’t end up losing.
Healthcare companies, in particular, are stuck at a crossroads. Many are mired in their duties to take care of their patients or fulfill their supporting roles so care providers can. Healthcare companies that are able to plan internally for a post-pandemic world, however that may be, will have to be ready to move fast in the near future.
Similar to how the Chinese word for “crisis” is made up of two characters that mean “danger” and “opportunity,” respectively, COVID presents a chance to give the healthcare industry a much-needed re-birth.