An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Kristen Valdes (founder and CEO) of b.well Connected Health, which was honored in our:
- 2023 Best Tech Startups in Baltimore
- 2022 Best Tech Startups in Baltimore
- 2021 Best Tech Startups in Baltimore
- 2020 Best Tech Startups in Baltimore
- 2019 Best Tech Startups in Baltimore
Tell us the origin story of b.well – what problem were you trying to solve and why?
Although I had spent my career as a healthcare executive trying to improve healthcare, I came face to face with our system’s failures when my middle child was born with a significant autoimmune disorder. Even as a healthcare “expert”, it took me seven years to advocate for my daughter to get an appropriate diagnosis. And I was the one who found it! Meanwhile, we experienced countless misdiagnoses, costly repeat procedures, and diagnoses based on limited and siloed health data. Bailey had a preventable near-fatal incident when she was 7 because two electronic medical records systems couldn’t talk to one another.
Just imagine how many others with similar issues might have received a faster diagnosis and avoided errors like the one that occurred with Bailey if only a person’s holistic health picture could be freely shared and if, as her caregiver, I would have had access to her data to share with all of the providers who needed it. As an industry, healthcare has failed to give consumers and their families the tools they need to participate in their own care.
I founded b.well (named for Bailey, who I have called “B” since the day she was born) in 2015 to solve this systemic problem by putting consumers at the center of the healthcare equation. We work with insurers, health systems, retail pharmacies, and employers to provide the people that they serve with a reimagined healthcare experience and with the platform architecture to ensure that they never fall behind in digital technology again.
Our platform delivers on the four tenets of loyalty that today’s consumers demand:
- Transparency into all of their health data in one place with the ability to share it with whomever they choose
- Personalized communications to provide education and alerts to action when there is something they need to do
- A simple interface to access care whether in-person, virtually, or digitally
- The ability to connect to family, friends, and loved ones to share records and alerts so everyone is armed with the right information.
b.well enables our customers to satisfy all four of these tenets. As a result, they are rewarded with increased consumer loyalty and satisfaction, and are future-proofed with the architecture they need to thrive as healthcare continues to evolve.
What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?
b.well was founded 8 years ago on the belief that the experience today’s healthcare consumers are chasing can only be provided if it is grounded in data. Consumers expect personalization, just as they receive in all other aspects of their digital life. We expect services to “know us” and alert us only when something is relevant, which is a big change for healthcare’s one-size-fits-all approach to communications. However, healthcare incumbents have treated data as a proprietary asset and have been reluctant to share. At b.well, we are trying to change that. We are involved in the development of the national regulatory landscape and participate in groups like the CARIN Alliance, doing the hard work to help shape and implement a national standard for all consumers to access their health information through any application of their choosing.
Putting in the sweat labor, along with others, has resulted in the vision we long-ago imagined. Every American consumer can now have access to their full health information from any provider and payer in the country. This data, with authorization from the people we serve, allows us to create a truly personalized experience for families to make understanding, navigating, and accessing healthcare more simple.
What does the future hold for b.well?
Healthcare organizations need active, engaged consumers who, along with their families, have strong ties to the organization. Yet most healthcare providers have really lagged behind other industries in providing a modern digital experience at scale – the kind of experience consumers enjoy when shopping or banking online. In today’s ever-evolving healthcare market, b.well is becoming the trusted partner for healthcare organizations to deliver a unified consumer healthcare experience and encourage deep loyalty by putting people at the center. Our Connected Health platform leverages people-powered interoperability to effectively drive clinical, operational, and financial improvement over the next five years.
What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in Baltimore?
While the b.well team is spread out across the country, we can’t imagine our headquarters being anywhere other than Baltimore. Having spent my entire career working with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and world-class institutions such as Johns Hopkins, Medstar, and the University of Maryland, it made perfect sense to me to have our headquarters here. Thanks to our close proximity to these leading health care organizations, greater Baltimore has been a key player in b.well’s early success. We believe that Baltimore can be and should be the health information technology capital of the United States.
When I first launched b.well, there was a small close-knit tech community in Baltimore, but our city wasn’t considered to be a leading startup city. With the addition of movements like UpSurge and capital commitments from local businesses, I am proud to say that there are so many more startups in Baltimore that I learn of new ones all the time! I believe Baltimore is on a trajectory to be the first Equitech city in America and will be able to prove that the future of Baltimore is with companies that grow up here.
What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Find someone in your space who is 3-5 years ahead of you, someone who has matured in the market segment you’re targeting and can help speed you along. Ask them who’s currently providing funding in the space, and what programs are beneficial or a waste of time. Rather than spend time interviewing dozens of bankers, lawyers, marketing agencies, and other resources, or enrolling in every accelerator out there, they can tell you which ones they found to be credible and helpful or not helpful. You don’t have to go it alone – your network is power.
I couldn’t find anyone in the healthcare space who could help when I started. So now I offer that support as an independent director on several startup boards and industry boards.