Ashley Reid & Wellist: Risking it All to Make Illness a Little Easier
A quick Google search on “social innovation” and “social entrepreneurs” will tell you that impact entrepreneurship is on the rise and here to stay. While mission-backed for-profits aren’t anything new, more and more are cropping up.
One such startup is Wellist, an online and mobile tool that helps hospitals and payers connect patients to support resources, founded by Ashley Reid in 2014.
Prior to Wellist, Reid was Strategy Director at Philips Healthcare, where she fell in love with the industry and had opportunities to witness healthcare conditions across the globe.
“Healthcare is the most economic, social, philosophical problem our generation will have to tackle,” Reid says. “It will change year-over-year, every year, for the rest of my career. Combine that with working on-site in so many countries and getting a good view of what healthcare looks like across the world, and it became the thing I couldn’t not do.
“For me, it’s healthcare with a big capital ‘H’,” she adds.
Connected to the cause
Reid hadn’t planned to start her own company. But after meeting with a group of leading oncologists and learning that the No. 1 reason cancer patients don’t follow their treatment plans is because they can't find a ride to appointments, she knew she had to do something.
Her motivation for Wellist wasn’t driven solely by that meeting, though. In the early 2000s, her mother battled breast cancer and, when a close friend’s father died of cancer, the emotional and physical toll took such an impact on the friend that she went into preterm labor. Through these events, Reid learned first-hand just how taxing cancer (and any major health condition) can be on not only the patient, but anyone who cares about that patient - including healthcare providers.
“So I did this crazy thing,” Reid says. “I asked myself, 'If I walk away from trying to solve this to have a very lovely career, who am I?' And without doing anything you should do, I said, 'But what if I leave?’” she adds.
Here’s where Wellist’s story starts to sound like it’s straight out of Hollywood.
Reid risked it all. She quit a job she loved and - without much of a plan or savings - launched the startup. She pulled together a team of three unpaid interns (now three top-performing employees at the company) and the group toiled away on Wellist through summer 2014. Amanda Carbonneau, former intern and current user support and database lead, manually built up a list of vendors and would send hand-selected lists to patients and providers (“She was the product for awhile,” Reid laughs). Wellist hired Carbonneau as its first full-time employee in September 2014.
Easing the burden of illness
Wellist helps connect patients to support and resources across a range of 28 categories. For patients, it helps get them the services they need but may not feel comfortable asking for - like home cleaning or laundry services.
“Meals, transportation - those are socially acceptable things to ask for,” explains Reid. “But what people really want is to have their houses cleaned. But you’re not going to ask even your best friend to clean your toilets.”
It also cuts the amount of time patients and their families spend looking for these services - which can take not just hours but days and even weeks - down to a few minutes. Many of the vendors within Wellist’s portal are free (17 percent, according to Reid) or discounted (15 percent), meaning patients don’t have to incur additional expenses on top of the costly medical treatments they’re already paying for.
On the provider and payor side, Wellist helps increase visibility of the services already offered. The tool’s tailored to the demographic it serves, meaning an oncology department’s patients would have a different experience than patients in a cardiology department.
It creates efficiencies for providers too, helping them cut back or eliminate entirely the numbers of man hours spent searching for the various resources an individual patient may need.
Currently, Wellist is rolled out at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, in three departments at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and is in talks with most major players in Boston. Over 25 percent of cancer patients at MGH engage with the tool, and the site had over 17K visitors last year.
“It [illness] is a really hard period for patients and families,” Reid says. “We’re able to give them some brief moment of relief and feel like they aren’t alone and can get through this. That’s the most important thing by far than anything else we do.”
Want to join mission-backed Wellist? Check out the open roles on its BIZZpage.
Image via Ashley Reid.