Episode #147: Addressing the crisis of rural healthcare in America – with Dr. Jennifer Schneider, CEO & Co-founder of Homeward Health


Let’s start with a statistic. I suspect that many of you consider rural healthcare a somewhat esoteric or niche market. Let’s correct that misconception right up front. There are over 60 million Americans who live in rural settings and they tend to be older and have more medical conditions than the general population. Just for comparison’s sake, there are 30 million Americans with diabetes – that’s half the number who live in rural America. Point being, the topic we’re talking about in this episode addresses about one fifth of all Americans and according to this week’s guest, “there’s definitely a misperception around the size and the crisis that’s happening in rural America.” And if you’re wondering what makes this a crisis, hit ‘play’ and listen to this enlightening dialogue with a healthcare leader who, along with her colleagues, is attempting to make a positive difference in the lives of nearly one out of every 5 Americans.

Our guest this week, Dr. Jennifer Schneider, is the co-founder & CEO of Homeward Health. Prior to this, she served as Chief Medical Officer of Livongo and then as its President, where she led the company’s strategic clinical product vision, data science & clinical trials. As many of you are aware, Livongo was acquired by Teladoc in the largest digital health acquisition to date. Prior to Livongo, Dr. Schneider held several key leadership roles at Castlight Health, including as its Chief Medical Officer.  Earlier in her career, she was a health outcomes researcher and Chief Resident at Stanford University, and has practiced as an attending physician at Stanford University and Kaiser Permanente. She is the author of Decoding Health Signals: Silicon Valley’s Consumer-First Approach to a New Era of Health, which explores how companies are using big data analytics and artificial intelligence to reinvent care delivery for people with chronic conditions. 

In this episode, we’ll hear about:

  • The unique challenges of providing and receiving healthcare in rural America

  • Some startling statistics about the lack of providers and access to care in rural America.

  • The 3 differentiating ways in which Homeward Health is tackling the problem of rural healthcare.

  • A unique partnership that Homeward Health has formed with Rite Aid.

  • Some of the amazing state-of-the-art, tech-enabled approaches that Homeward Health is bringing to an antiquated system of care for the elderly in rural America.

This mission is very personal for Dr. Jenny Schneider, as was her last venture at Livongo. Jenny was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a child, and her treatment was delayed for weeks because she was living in rural America and did not have access to the healthcare she needed. So, in a very real sense, she has come home. With Livongo and now with Homeward, Jenny – one of the leading physician healthcare entrepreneurs in our country – is addressing medical conditions and healthcare challenges that she and her family have great personal familiarity with. It’s a profoundly purposeful story. 

While the technologic and digital sophistication that Homeward Health uses is amazing, the real differentiation is that they are tackling the very practical challenges in a 3 part fashion. 

First, the shift to a viable economic model: value-based payment. They’re focused on the senior segment and are leveraging Medicare Advantage payments. Let’s be clear, there is no way that Fee-For-Service (FFS) aligns with the care of the elderly. Older people require a relational approach to healthcare, not a transactional approach, and the FFS payment model incentivizes transactional volume, not relational preventive care. 

Second, Homeward is able to replicate and scale its services because of the state-of-the-art tech-enabling platform. Folks – there is no way around this. The brick & mortar, centralized care delivery model is not financially viable. What is needed now – for so many reasons – is the ability to utilize remote patient monitoring, virtualized care, and home-based care delivery. 

Third, the key differentiator is building credibility, trust and synergistic impact through partnering with local healthcare systems.  I love the fact that Homeward is partnering with hospital systems in a way that benefits the healthcare system, the local communities and most importantly, patients and their families. We’ve heard this theme of partnership from other forward thinking healthcare entrepreneurs. It may be the key to unlocking the future of healthcare delivery.  

The partnership with Rite aid is particularly interesting. As I understand it, Homeward is using mobile health units and literally parking itself in Rite Aid parking lots. This does at least two things.  First, it brings medical care closer to people’s homes in rural America; and second, it provides tremendous convenience by enabling folks to obtain their prescriptions and other medical equipment simply by walking right into the adjacent Rite Aid store.  Keep in mind that we’re talking about older patients in which medications are not only critical but a major challenge – in terms of appropriate dosing and polypharmacy. Being next to Rite Aid, with immediate access to pharmacists and pharmacy tech’s is the right way to deliver healthcare for the senior population.  

The specifics of the care model that Jenny and her colleagues have created is incredibly elegant and supremely patient-focused, with much of it actually being accomplished within patients’ homes – both virtually and in person. I hope you appreciate learning about it as much as I did; and please let me know what you think.

Until Next Time, Be Well.

Zeev Neuwirth, MD