The walkway leading up to Healthways’ building is dotted with stones memorializing the company’s 35-year history. It needs a new one to mark the next era: Dr. Mehmet Oz and WebMD founder Jeff Arnold want to turn the local health care staple into a leader in digital care.
Arnold and Oz, the daytime TV medical personality, came to the firm’s Franklin office Wednesday to introduce themselves to the 1,700 Healthways employees who now work for their Atlanta-based company, Sharecare.
Sharecare, a mobile health business that wants to be the one health app on every smartphone, bought most of Healthways — and the brand, in a deal that closed Aug. 1 — putting the company on a trajectory to integrate disease management tools with its existing and soon-to-be-launched digital apps.
The parts of Healthways that weren’t sold to Sharecare are being run by Donato Tramuto, who was the CEO of Healthways, and focus on a streamlined business line that focuses on older adults, employer wellness programs and rehabilitation specialists.
Arnold has had ties to Nashville for nearly two decades. He found investors for WebMD here in 1998 and raised about $60 million for Sharecare from local investors.
The Healthways office in Cool Springs will be Sharecare’s largest outpost. Arnold said he is already in town about once a month.
“We both love Nashville separately,” said Oz, whose wife likes to bring him to the city.
Here are seven things to know about the venture.
1. Oz and Arnold talk at length every week.
Oprah Winfrey introduced Oz and Arnold, who began talking about Sharecare about two years before it officially launched.
Oz said he passes along the themes, such as high costs of medications, that emerge from communications with his TV and social media audience so Arnold can think about how they can find business solutions to those problems.
“We try to figure out together where are the opportunities we should be aggressively pursuing. Healthways, for example, allows a high-tech company like Sharecare to maintain a high touch approach with individuals, which is vital because you can’t take care of people from a distance,” Oz said.
2. Sharecare’s relationship with the yet-to-be-named company run by Tramuto will be “like siblings.”
Oz said “it is magical how the pieces fit together” between the Healthways population health unit and Sharecare.
It’s likely Sharecare will help bring more tech features into Silver Sneakers, a program for senior Americans, and share information. The two companies will share the same office building, Tramuto is joining the Sharecare board, and there will be a financial relationship going forward.
“I kind of look it at like sisters or brothers in that this was a very good merger for all of us. The (remaining company) is thriving in their new environment,” Arnold said. “We’re thriving with these new capabilities.”
3. Arnold and Oz want Healthways to lead in a digital care world.
Healthways products are a huge part of the puzzle that Sharecare is trying to assemble, so care is in people’s pockets when they need it and tracking them daily to give clinicians a glimpse into how the person lives.
Media, tech and health care are converging in a way to rethink how people engage with and treat health, Oz and Arnold said.
Healthways’ longtime reputation for coaching and disease management are essential to Sharecare providing information people can use and trust, as technology fuses deeper into daily and clinical life.
“I think the large architecture of what the world of health will actually look is being drawn as we sit here,” Oz said.
4. Sharecare is starting a new chapter.
“The next big wave of Sharecare’s growth is going to be partnering with big players in health care and creating these digital alliances,” Arnold said.
The company went on a buying spree — it made 10 acquisitions — but now Arnold and Oz are looking to build relationships with large entities, such as pharmacy benefit managers, that can feed live data into Sharecare’s system.
“We can’t do it by ourselves, but I really do believe that Jeff’s vision is on target and a version of it will ultimately be how most … acknowledge health is best delivered in this country,” Oz said.
5. Nashville’s health care industry should be thinking about how to be “digital allies” with Sharecare.
Sharecare wants to disrupt the health care system but not disenfranchise it, said Arnold, adding that it’s beneficial to the existing industry and Sharecare if they become “digital allies.”
Arnold wants the established industry to think about how their services fit in with consumerism and to see Sharecare as a bridge to reaching the people who need, and want, a relationship with medical professionals.
“Folks in Nashville thinking about Sharecare, I think, should be believing we built an ecosystem where health will function better,” Oz said. “If they are in any way touching the health field — and that’s a pretty broad area — they should be thinking how can they fit their tools into Sharecare if they are small. If they are big, how can they partner with Sharecare?”
6. Artificial intelligence could help your smartphone to know how you’re feeling all the time.
Sharecare bought a company recently that has technology to detect stress or depression via voice analysis. Relationships are important in providing care, especially as more of the payment model is on wellness, but that means people have to be in touch with and trust their clinicians, Oz said.
AI technology, combined with the existing platforms, could be predictive and proactive, Arnold said.
“It’s not hard for us to imagine … being able to take (existing Healthways products) and dramatically improve on it so folks can get even better experiences they are currently getting,” Oz said. “It just separates us from the pack.”
7. Yoga pants are (still) welcome.
One of the top concerns that trickled to Sharecare from employees was whether they could still wear workout clothes, frequently called athleisure, to the office. Many do, in part to take advantage of the building’s gym or the outside paths that are easily marked with mileage. Sharecare wants employees to wear what they are comfortable in, said Jen Martin, Sharecare spokeswoman, adding the startup doesn’t care what employees wear as long as they are clothed.
Reach Holly Fletcher at 615-259-8287 and on Twitter @hollyfletcher.