Health Equity
Public Health

"How I'm Building" with Dr. Kate Wolin

by Marjorie Alford

Dr. Kate Wolin talks with Onboard Health about her 20+ year career and the waves of change she's been a part of.

As healthcare is projected to account for a third of new employment in the next decade, we have the opportunity to build health into our society with new models of care and access; address the social determinants of health head-on; and revolutionize chronic disease and mental health.

Accomplishing all of this, however, calls for inclusion of varied viewpoints and lived experiences in problem solving and decision-making. This is how Onboard Health views sustainable health innovation — through the inclusion of change-makers from historically underrepresented backgrounds.

Onboard Health’s blog is dedicated to giving a voice to these talented individuals hard at work creating lasting change in our society. This post, featuring Dr. Kate Wolin, is the fourteenth of a Q&A series — “How I’m Building” — highlighting members of the diverse Onboard Health community.

You are a Co-Founder of Coeus Health, describe for us the journey that led to its inception.

Coeus Health, which I cofounded with Dr. Gary Bennett, came from us watching companies create population health programs, like weight management, de novo, rather than being able to leverage evidence-based programs that worked. At the time we founded it, anyone who wanted to include the weather in their app/platform/website didn’t need to hire a meteorologist, you could connect to one of several APIs and pull the weather onto your site. We wondered what if it was that easy to access an evidence-based weight management program. We wrote a grant to NIH for support for a randomized trial to test whether or not an API-based software program that utilized the best of behavior change and weight loss science and provided personalized feedback to self-monitoring of weight, diet and activity could work. TL;DR - it did

You’re also the Principal owner of Circea the science of personalized health behavior change. How does your work at Circea differ from your time with Coeus Health.

At Circea, I’m working with other people’s product and company visions to integrate behavioral science, personalization science and outcomes science into their strategy (and execution). That means I get to work with amazing founders and teams across a range of health behaviors and health outcomes.

You co-lead the venture track of the Zell Entrepreneurial Fellowship at Kellogg, tell us about the program and your work there.

The Zell program is amazing. Sam Zell’s generous support for entrepreneurship at Kellogg, Michigan and in Israel has provided the opportunity for lots of entrepreneurs to develop their business ideas and bring them to life. The program at Kellogg is led by David Schonthal and I have the joy of working with Tasha Seitz, an impact investor at Impact Engine to mentor MBA students building new ventures. We have the opportunity to work with them for their last year at Kellogg to advance their businesses with the goal of pursuing the business after graduation. I’ve been fortunate to work with some incredible health care entrepreneurs in my time, like Sam Jactel at Agora Health and Nicole Cuervo from Springrose. I love healthcare and appreciate that Zell also lets me work with non healthcare founders like Emily Mohr from Nine Times Bakery (absolutely delicious - highly recommend!)

You tend to have a lot of balls in the air. How do you juggle everything?

Who says I’m juggling? My teenager would tell you that I don’t know how to say no and right now, I think she might be right! I’ve been really fortunate to work with amazing people in my career and it is always possible to do more together. Plus I have a great support system in my personal life.

Your career spans twenty plus years, what are some of the changes you’ve seen over that time?

I love thinking about the waves (or pendulum swings). When we founded ScaleDown, we offered a mostly SMS based program and it delivered both sustained high engagement and outcomes. But I lost track of how many “industry leaders” (investors, corporate folks) told us we needed to have an app. Shortly after we sold the company, I heard some of those same people talking about needing to think outside of apps for patient engagement strategies. I wish the thinking about data being a feedback mechanism had changed more. I’m surprised how many people still think that if we just show people data (more data, more precise data), that will lead to significant changes in behavior without addressing the context, barriers and motivators to behavior change.

As the season’s change, what is your favorite fall activity?

Eating all (ALL) the apple things. Me about apples:

How do you unwind and reconnect with yourself and your loved ones?

Ideally, I love going for a walk along Lake Michigan or through Lincoln Park.

What does Onboard Health’s mission — “building an inclusive health workforce” — mean to you?

I’m a nerd so I always come back to the science that shows diverse teams have better outcomes. The experiences and perspectives of the people on the teams I have been on have always made our products and services better and that means the opportunity to have a bigger impact.

Where can the Onboard Health Community connect with you online?

@drkatewolin on Twitter and Insta or 

Following her academic medicine career, Dr. Kate Wolin co-founded and served as CEO of a digital health start-up that was acquired by Anthem, Inc. She later served as Chief Science Officer of a PE-backed population health platform company and as head of product for Optum's direct-to-consumer business. She is an advisor to start-ups and enterprise organizations on marrying clinical and behavioral science with commercial product strategy and execution. Kate earned her doctorate at the Harvard School of Public Health and completed her fellowship training at Northwestern, where she now teaches entrepreneurship at Kellogg. Dr. Wolin is a Fellow of the Society of Behavioral Medicine and the American College of Sports Medicine.