When I was in college I didn’t know where I was going or how I would get there, but as long as I took the classes that I enjoyed, joined the groups I was interested in and took the opportunities that appealed to me I would find myself in whatever place I was supposed to be. I realize not everyone works that way. Some people need a solid plan with a map of how to get from point A to point B. Others who take a route similar to mine end up meandering through life with no clear direction. But for me, the approach is similar to the philosophical concept of “doing the next right thing.” So, I learned to do the next right thing for my life. At the time that meant getting a “useless” degree in Psychology and two “useless” minors in Sociology and English Literature, but I loved every class I took and that has kept me a lifelong learner.
Fast forward. The next right thing was to go to graduate school. I loved my Health Psychology class, so the next right thing was to get a master’s degree in Health Education and Promotion. As a research assistant I was a health coach and was studying physical health improvement through a 10 session program of structured health behaviors. I loved the program and the experiences I had, but it didn’t lead to a clear career path.
Fast forward. The next right thing was to get a job in the child welfare system because if we can improve the health of children living in poverty and in difficult family situations, then they will have a much better chance of ending the cycle of poverty, abuse, dependence. I learned an enormous amount about working in large systems, working with clients and families, working through people in middle management. But I didn’t get to do the kind of work I wanted, there simply wasn’t room to worry about physical health behaviors when the families I worked with were in crisis.
Fast forward. I decided to start a treatment center that would allow me to combine the health promotion care with the mental health counseling. I didn’t really know how to do it, but the next right thing for my clients seemed to be one place where they could get the emotional and relational support they needed and the physical, behavioral interventions they needed. I learned so much about the business of behavioral health care, from real estate and construction to medical billing to advertising. But we struggled for many reasons, first among them was how hard it was to get paid for our work.
Fast forward. In building the treatment center we ran into a year’s worth of construction and permitting delays (that’s a whole other blog post) my partner, Kati Lohr, and I were looking for ways people could access care outside of our building. We saw three problems: 1) we couldn’t operate, but we knew people were in need of the services we were going to provide 2) People would come into our office for session, make great progress, but then return to their lives and routines without being able to integrate what they got in session into life. 3) Many people who needed more intensive care couldn’t get it because of time and money. Intensive Outpatient Programs are often 12 hours of programming a week and often go on for a few months. The people who needed that level of care would have had to quit their jobs to get it. So we developed WellAssist, an online platform that allowed us to put a client’s treatment plan in an app that would deliver daily readings, lessons, activities, skills and resources to them. They could still come into the office for one session per week but get the intensity of daily practice and support through the app. Neither of us knew how to build an app, but it was the next right thing so we set about figuring it out.
We built WellAssist quickly and cheaply to test the idea. We found from our clients who used it that it was a great tool, but if we wanted to develop it further and open it up to the general public we were going to need a lot of help – money, time, technology expertise, business development, and so on. Kati and I started talking to everyone we knew, including Tom Cigarran, who has been on the founding team of billion dollar health care companies including Healthways and AmSurg and now is President of the Nashville Predators. In our first meeting with Tom, he had great advice for us. In our second meeting with Tom he offered some wonderful connections. One of those was Guy Barnard.
In June 2016 Kati, Guy and I legally formed Synchronous Health, Inc. All along my path of doing the next right thing, I never could have pinpointed what I would be doing today, what Synchronous Health would be. If I had needed to know what I would be doing and how I would get there I am certain I would have ended up doing something else, less innovative, less transformational, less interesting.
Kati, Guy and I each have our own paths for how we arrived to Synchronous Health. Each story is unique, but all three have in common a focus on what is possible, what we want to achieve. We have high expectations for the impact Synchronous Health will have in the health care industry, and it all started by simply doing the next right thing.