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Tea Leaves Health president discusses being acquired by Welltok and his predictions for 2018

Posted December 14, 2017

Miki Kapoor is well-versed in healthcare.

His background and diverse experiences give him a broad perspective on the issues facing the industry today. Though he currently serves as president of Roswell, Georgia-based Tea Leaves Health, he has held positions at Everyday Health, IMS Health and McKinsey & Company.

In a recent phone interview, Kapoor talked about his company, healthcare trends and his thoughts on the future.

This exchange has been lightly edited.

Earlier this year, Welltok acquired Tea Leaves Health, where you currently serve as president. What does the acquisition mean for you and your company?

I’ll start with the company first because, in my opinion, that’s what really matters. We have some of the most passionate people in healthcare. They wake up every day and think about how they can help the customer.

When we started thinking about how we could sell ourselves, we were looking for partners. There was only one optimal partner and that was Welltok. I was lucky to have spent time with the CEO of Welltok, Jeff Margolis, early on. Jeff and I constructed a view of what Tea Leaves and Welltok looked like together. What we realized we could do is help a larger component of the market, which is the risk-bearing parts of the system.

I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years. I love scaling companies for growth. I love putting together the most passionate team. When I had the opportunity to work with Welltok, I was excited. On a personal level, it meant mentorship by one of the greats in healthcare [Jeff Margolis]. On a professional level, it meant working for an organization that represents the same kind of excellence that we do in our organization.

Healthcare is in my DNA. Helping healthcare operate better and more efficiently is very much part of my DNA too.

Earlier in your career, you were an investment banker, a Fulbright Fellow and the executive vice president of health systems and health finance for The Clinton Foundation. How did you go from holding those positions to your current role at Tea Leaves Health?

The first thing I’ll say is there is nothing linear about my healthcare experience.

The second point I’ll make is that I am a person that is driven by passion. When I get excited about something, I run at it. I have tons of healthcare interests. I sit on boards, I’m writing on the industry and I spend a lot of time at conferences.

I was an investment banker and my bank was being sold. I realized on the healthcare spectrum that you could either be a renter or an owner. I was a renter, but I wanted to go on and own a piece of the market. I got excited about the opportunity to do that after my Fulbright, and I got to be an operator of payer/provider groups.

I acquired Tea Leaves Health about two and a half years ago when I was president of Everyday Health. When Everyday Health was sold about a year ago, I decided to take on Tea Leaves Health exclusively.

There’s a growing focus today on patient engagement. But what are your thoughts on physician engagement and its significance in the field?

Traditional physician engagement is difficult.

I think we as an industry have been talking about patient engagement for a while, though we haven’t come close to closing that conundrum. In the process, we’ve been ignoring providers, who are part of the system.

We at Tea Leaves Health want to help with that. We’re working with physicians through our physician relationship management tool called Physicianology. We are lucky enough to have software that addresses that core piece of the market as well.

You also have expertise in the payer landscape. How are payers working to ensure patient engagement and deploy population health initiatives?

Payers have done a really good job of getting to be quite large in this country. They’ve tried to get larger through M&A and have been blocked by the FTC. Instead, they’re doing vertical integration, which means that in some ways, they’re trying to become the provider themselves through acquiring provider networks.

Today there’s an acute focus on outcomes. In some ways, payers today are far more at risk than they have been historically. They’re doing their best to find the best networks to work with.

Sometimes, unfortunately for the consumer, that means a reduction in choice. Payers are increasingly cost sensitive, so there’s been a lot of focus on utilization review. There’s a lot of shifting risk that’s happening in the industry.

What are your predictions for healthcare in 2018?

One of the strongest trends we’re seeing today is the consumer is becoming more and more the center of healthcare. Traditionally, the consumer was an afterthought in healthcare.

We are seeing more and more the consumer actually being considered in care. They are the ones for whom health plans are designing actual insurance plans today. Providers are becoming a lot more consumer-focused as they’re becoming mobile and technology-driven.

We at Tea Leaves and Welltok have been focused on that trend for a number of years. The timing is now.

You’re going to see massive vertical integration. You see a lot of constituents vertically integrating to get closer to the consumer. You also have a number of constituents in healthcare saying, “I know how to manage the risk of some of the other players in healthcare.” That allows them to own more pieces of the actual healthcare system.

I also think costs are going to continue to escalate in healthcare in the short- to medium-term. We are seeing pockets of hope. Those pockets are built around programs, a lot of which come out of the employer ecosystem.

Editor’s note: This article previously listed Kapoor’s title as CEO. His title is actually president of Tea Leaves Health.

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Tea Leaves Health president discusses being acquired by Welltok and his predictions for 2018