New Meaning to Personalized Medicine – A Consumer Approach with Linkwell and Jiff

Matt Dumas is a Partner at Oxeon with expertise in healthcare technology and big data analytics as well as consumer engagement leveraging over twenty years of relevant leadership experience driving product innovation and commercial strategy.  Prior to joining Oxeon, he served as SVP and Head of Marketing for WebMD’s consumer website, mobile solutions and magazine.  Prior, to WebMD, Matt led several start-ups in the healthcare big-data analytics space as the Founder and Managing Director of Nielsen Health (a former division of The Nielsen Company) and President of Ecosys Consumer Analytics (now part of Crossix Solutions).  Earlier in his career, Matt spent ten years at Procter & Gamble leading commercial expansion and turn around plans for several global brands in the US and abroad.  Matt started his career in employee benefits at Unum.   Industry analogs are transforming the engagement model for payers and self-insured employers, impacting both patient behavior and outcomes.

When it comes to personalized medicine, industry vernacular steers us toward the delivery of customized treatments based on various data points that describe a patient’s medical profile. Specialists in Oncology, as an example, are using patient-level genomic data and clinical information to tailor molecular cocktails designed to maximize treatment efficacy.  Each patient’s receptivity to treatment, researchers have found, is largely determined by their individual profile, and therefore, the more data about the patient, the more effective the prescribed treatment can be: voila, personalized medicine.  

This notion of personalization in healthcare today is going beyond life science applications and firmly into behavior change, showing substantial promise in driving improved outcomes through improved patient engagement.  As consumers, we see the impact of personalization in several mature industries that touch us every day, keeping us more actively engaged than ever, driving satisfaction and ultimately changing our behaviors.  Two obvious examples are the retail and consumer-publishing industries, which have seen significant market disruption and remarkable growth for those players applying innovative ways to personalize the consumer experience through data and digital technology.  As a result, online retailing and multi-channel publishing has transformed how consumers buy products and engage in content today, providing a more enjoyable and involved experience – all fueled by data that reflects individual preferences, interests and needs. While we have seen this phenomenon evolve over the past 15 years, since the arrival of the internet, new and highly innovative healthcare technology companies are accelerating similar applications of personalization in a much shorter period of time, by directly leveraging best practices from these success stories.

Take Oxeon client Linkwell Health for instance. Backed by HLM Venture Partners and Spark Capital, Linkwell applies the consumer publishing analog to membership communication for our nation’s health plans.  Fifteen years ago, the content we enjoyed as consumers was primarily accessed through television, print and radio.  Today, online and mobile applications have transformed how we feed our interests day in and day out.  Depending on our preferences, publishers provide us timely and highly relevant content in a variety of communication channels leveraging smart phones, computers, and television in addition to more traditional formats that remain important like print and radio.  So Linkwell asked an important question:  If payers are trying to engage with their members to provide them important information and content that can improve healthcare outcomes, why aren’t they taking a similar approach as consumer publishing does today?  How many piles of generic post cards, leaflets and envelopes have you received from your health plan?  How many went in the junk mail pile on the kitchen counter and how many did you actually enjoy reading so you could take better care of your health?  Linkwell confronts this challenge facing payers by leveraging a highly innovative multi-channel, digitally driven and highly personalized communication platform tailored to the complexities of healthcare that one would expect from a sophisticated consumer publisher.

Linkwell is led by CEO Gregg Michaelson, a publishing industry veteran and former President and Chief Marketing Officer of Health & Wellness publisher Rodale, Inc. (e.g. Men’s Health, Prevention, Runner’s World).  He is as tall as he is smart, with the passion needed to convince over 15 national and regional payers that a personalized approach to membership communication can change member behavior, leading to improved outcomes, and even (…gasp) an improved relationship between health plans and their members.  Payers are trying to engage specific populations, for example a cohort of high-risk diabetics, to educate them on how to live a healthier lifestyle while driving them to a certain call to action – i.e. taking a survey addressing adherence questions. The challenge, as Michaelson puts it, “is people typically are not paying attention to health plans pushing this kind of information unless it is packaged in highly relevant content that captures their interests and reaches them in the communication channel that they prefer, just like I did in the consumer world.”  Through a HIPAA compliant data integration platform, Linkwell produces personalized content and distributes it leveraging member-level data captured by the health plan. Depending on their demographic/clinical profile and communication preferences, the member can receive highly engaging, consumer oriented articles with important healthcare information distributed through a health plan branded mobile app, email newsletter, text message or traditional print magazine. Given the role of digital in our lives, health plans are trying to improve engagement through this channel, which Linkwell does in spades by leveraging highly sophisticated analytics and segmentation capabilities to drive personalization. Sound familiar?  While it’s still early to measure impact on outcomes, Michaelson points to several case studies with health plan clients that suggest members receiving this kind of personalized communication increases wellness program awareness by over 250% vs. standard industry approaches, with 52% more members claiming to “be inspired to make a change in their health behavior.” Returning to my earlier example on Diabetics, one study in particular showed that plan members informed and incentivized through the Linkwell platform decreased their sugar consumption by 50%.  Customized content and a multi-channel, digitally driven communication platform leveraging the personalization analog is clearly making an impact.

Another recent addition to the Oxeon client list is Jiff, a Venrock portfolio company led by James Currier, a well-regarded gaming executive based in the Bay area. When first introduced, candidly, I assumed it would be yet another gaming play with a “challenge” platform leveraging data from wearable devices and promising to improve individual health through behavior change.  I was dead wrong.  Similar to Linkwell, Jiff uses a proven analog from another space – this time online retail – in conjunction with gaming expertise to change how self-insured employers design benefit plans and ensure that employees use these benefits to improve their health. Jiff clients including Qualcomm, Red Bull and most recently, Johnson & Johnson are finding that “employees are more involved in making benefit plan decisions and actively engaged in using them throughout the year through personalization,” according to Derek Newell, Jiff CEO.  “The base case scenario facing most employers today is that they are spending millions on services that could benefit their employees, but that those employees never use them. Employees spend minimal time evaluating their benefit plans during enrollment and don’t have the means to tailor their healthcare needs and preferences (clinical and attitudinal) to what is being made available as a plan offering by their employer. The Jiff application engages employees post enrollment by personalizing their benefit design so they utilize it to the full potential of their benefits, in a proactive way to ultimately lower costs and improve outcomes.”

Jiff disrupts benefits enrollment and utilization by tailoring at the individual employee-level the specific benefit offering based on each employee’s clinical and attitudinal profile.  Similar to online retailing where our preferences and demographic profiles (in addition to other data, as we are learning) are captured to provide a more relevant and enjoyable shopping experience, Jiff takes the same approach to benefits, leveraging a far more complex data ecosystem driving personalization and in turn employee involvement.

Jiff serves as a technology platform on behalf of the employer, personalizing the benefit offering by integrating employee data captured through electronic medical records and healthcare surveys.  Based on their personal information, each employee is presented a benefit plan that is tailored to their clinical needs and attitudes toward self-care and wellness.   The level of personalization driven by the data impacts not only the benefit products offered to the employee at the point of enrollment but also the level of employer funded subsidies (i.e. pricing) needed to encourage specific benefit selections.  Jiff also provides the incentives necessary to achieve employee engagement throughout the year.  Again, sound familiar?  It makes sense that a young, healthy tri-athlete focused on prevention should be offered a different plan and incentives than an employee managing multiple chronic conditions and challenging motivation issues at home.   Bob Kocher of Venrock Capital sums it up well by saying in his blog, “We are not all the same. Yet health plans and employers seem to think so. They keep designing benefits programs and health plans in a one-size-fits-all approach. What each of us can do to be healthier and reduce healthcare costs for ourselves and our employers or health plans is different. So why is it that almost all employers and health plans offer exactly the same incentives to all people to be healthier and reduce costs? This makes no sense.1

Post enrollment, Jiff also creates incentives for people to use their benefits through gamification by collecting, in a privacy compliant way, utilization data for each employee. This ranges from standard benefits like medical and dental coverage through to case management solutions like Accolade, wellness apps like Lose It or even wearable devices and in-home diagnostic monitoring solutions.  Through creative and engaging employer sponsored challenges hosted by a highly intuitive mobile app, Jiff applies proven principles and technology from the consumer gaming space.  “Like a television mini-series, people want to see something new and exciting each month in their health plan challenge,” which Jiff does amazingly well, working closely with their employer clients.  Similar to Linkwell, it’s too early to measure the ROI on this kind of personalization in healthcare, but early research from their 25+ clients suggest significant advances in employee involvement when it comes to benefit selection and utilization throughout the year. More involvement will likely lead to improved outcomes.

As a former marketer and big-data purist in healthcare, I am intrigued by what Linkwell and Jiff are doing to drive “engagement” and “involvement” in an effort to change behavior, all key terms for successful consumer centric businesses in other industries.  Though success in this context is measured by outcomes rather than eyeballs or consumption, the principles of personalization seem logical given the challenges payers and employers are facing.  As a healthcare consumer myself, the promise of industry analogs shared today provides me comfort that we will one day look back at companies like Linkwell and Jiff as those that led the charge in personalizing healthcare — arguably the most important industry of all.


Kocher, Bob.  (2014, Sept 23).. We Are Not All The Same, So Why Should Our Incentives Be The Same? Retrieved from