Silver Fern Healthcare Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer Colleen McGuire spoke with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price about bringing an innovative new concept to the digital health market.
NAN PRICE: Give us a little background about your career evolution.
COLLEEN MCGUIRE: I was trained in a general leadership management program at Harvard Business School, and I spent the bulk of my career—almost 30 years—in financial services. I wanted to grow within an organization so I could help influence and run a division or department and then, ultimately, achieve the highest level of influence and control by running a company.
I intentionally retired from financial services after the market crash. I’d always wanted a chance to give back in a more formal manner. I moved to academia because I always had an interest in educating, and I specifically wanted to have impact on the future leaders of the business world.
My leadership experience in financial services and then later in academia continuously put me in environments where I contended with various leadership challenges. Those experiences gave me opportunities to hone skills—whether it was working to accomplish the company’s mission and vision at the highest strategic level; building strategy; or acquiring, retaining, and engaging talent.
NAN: Tell us more about developing the business concept for Silver Fern Healthcare.
COLLEEN: When I was Executive Director of the Graduate Business Learning Center (GBLC) at the University of Connecticut School of Business, I approached the Dean of the Business School about an evidence-based scientific solution to chronic disease that I wanted to take the marketplace. I was given permission to launch Silver Fern Healthcare while I was at UConn.
Silver Fern Healthcare is a mission-oriented social enterprise company. Our Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer, Garry Welch, PhD, has spent 20+ years developing a methodology whereby we could tackle and conquer the human and financial costs of chronic disease.
When we started Silver Fern Healthcare, there were about 26 million people in the United States with diabetes. Today, there are more than 34 million people with diabetes and about 88 million people with pre-diabetes. As a society, we’ve created more medicines and we do more procedures, yet we’re not improving the health outcomes of people with diabetes. We still have very low rates of people who are meeting all the national guidelines for good health outcomes in diabetes care.
My involvement in Silver Fern Healthcare is personal, of course. People have asked me if this is a calling. I don’t think this is a calling, but more a responsibility to get this opportunity to the market. I had lost somebody in my life to a diabetes-related complication when they were only 35 years old—and that doesn’t need to happen. Diabetes is a disease we can manage. We have the knowledge to keep people healthy. The issue is we’re simply not getting it done.
So, I felt we had a responsibility and an obligation. We’re a first mover. This is new methodology coming out of research that needed to get to the market.
NAN: You have a lot of leadership experience, but this is your first startup. Did you connect with any Connecticut resources while you were starting out?
COLLEEN: One of the things we love about Hartford is that it’s a very manageable city in terms of size and we’ve made some great contacts between all of our networks. We leveraged those networks quite a bit in the area. We talked to a lot of the local stakeholders and visited with local hospitals and several insurance companies and provider groups, as well as partners and intermediaries, like the MetroHartford Alliance, the Connecticut Health Council, reSET, and the Connecticut Technology Council.
NAN: Earlier you mentioned talent engagement. Have your connections helped with that?
COLLEEN: Yes. Through our networks and working with UConn and our advisory board, we’ve been able to identify and engage some serious local talent, which makes us very happy as a local company.
NAN: Who is your target clientele?
COLLEEN: We’re approaching healthcare insurance companies and digital health companies. We’re also talking to and getting traction with provider groups, hospitals, accountable care organizations, and anybody that’s on the hook for the total cost of care.
NAN: In what ways has COVID-19 impacted your business?
COLLEEN: Like most organizations, remote working added extra challenges to our team. We’re a relatively new team, and it’s important that we continue to drive a close, collaborative culture even when we don’t have in-person, day-to-day contact with each other.
More importantly, people with chronic disease are at extra risk of getting sick and potentially dying from COVID-19. So, if anything, we’ve gotten more attention because we’re not only preventing people with chronic disease from getting complications, but we’re also in the pre-disease space now. Although we came to the market with a chronic disease solution, we’re doing a lot in terms of wellness and prevention.
NAN: What makes Silver Fern Healthcare innovative? How does the company help manage chronic illness?
COLLEEN: From research, we know there are four key factors that drive our health outcomes, including genetics, the care we get from our healthcare providers, our individual behavior, and social and environmental factors. Those last two are important because the individual behavior and the environmental factors account for 60% of individual health outcomes. Before Silver Fern Healthcare, that 60% wasn’t being systematically considered and the treatment plan often wasn’t addressing what was missing: The underlying root causes of what is driving these poor outcomes.
Silver Fern Healthcare uncovers the true barriers getting in the way of why someone is unable to manage their disease properly by asking questions about self-management behaviors, psychosocial factors, and social determinants of health. At its core, our evidence-based solution is an assessment and enhancement tool. We ask hundreds of straightforward questions that haven’t been asked in routine care before but are proven to unlock pertinent patient information that leads to different conversations and different outcomes.
That’s what makes our solution unique. There is no other company we’re aware of that is asking these types of clinically proven health questions in a systematic way, so nobody is getting at these underlying issues.
It’s important to know that, while we’re an innovator and a disruptor, we’re very interested in collaboration and are developing some wonderful partnerships here in the area. As an industry, if we’re all focused on value and preventing disease, we can make a terrific impact on our state.