Why Firefly Health?

Andy Ellner, MD, MSc
Primary Care Physician / Founder & CEO
August 2, 2019

A few years ago I was approaching a major birthday and doing the kind of thinking one does at those moments in life. I’d had success in my role at Harvard and had a clear path to more of it. I loved taking care of patients and felt I’d finally reached the point of being a pretty darn good doctor. Yet I had a gnawing sense that continuing on my current path would leave me feeling that I could have done more to bring about the revolution in health care quality, safety and cost we urgently need in the U.S. and around the world.

...if I saw 10 patients in a morning, I also knew it was completely unnecessary for eight or nine of them to have physically come in that day.

Working in my former medical practice there were transcendent moments of joy, connection, and healing. I knew my patients valued the care I provided. Some even thought I’d made a difference in their lives. But, if I saw 10 patients in a morning, I also knew it was completely unnecessary for eight or nine of them to have physically come in that day. We could have provided care that was as safe and high quality (and emotionally connected) through video conferencing or other digital tools. Some of my patients had taken a few buses, often in bad weather, and some had taken at least half the day off from work, to sit in my waiting room.

As a medical system, we were taking dollars out of families’ pockets that could have been spent on more impactful health-related items like food or housing. Meanwhile, for every one of those transcendent moments I experienced, there were 50 more doing rote administrative tasks and providing routine, algorithmic care that were burning me and my colleagues out.

I had a clear sense of what much better looked like and knew that it could actually cost less money than traditional care.

My hospital implemented a new electronic medical record around the time I decided to leave. It wasn’t the reason I left but it certainly didn’t convince me to stay. Aside from my clinical work, I’d spent the last decade studying the best models of health care around the globe: researching, writing, experimenting in collaboration with traditional clinics, and obsessively thinking about how we could fundamentally change the care model to get everyone access to much better care than even the wealthiest can access now. I had a clear sense of what much better looked like and knew that it could actually cost less money than traditional care.

Getting there requires radical changes to how doctors and other healthcare team members work each day; to how smart technology empowers them to work together and connect with patients and their families; and, it requires paying us in a way that aligns us with providing the best care not the most care. I realized that the only way to get to much better was to go out and build it from the ground up.

Firefly Health is that model of much better.

Firefly Health is that model of much better. We are hiring amazing, empathic doctors and nurse practitioners (NPs) with great clinical skills and a deep commitment to helping us build something new. We’ve been incredibly fortunate to attract some of the best software engineers, designers, and data analysts to build a technology product that fuels a fundamental, structural change in how we care for, connect, and partner with our patients.

The technology product we’re building supports us to provide safer, higher quality medical care and strengthens our human connections with our patients and with each other. Our care model helps us learn how to provide personalized, goals-based support for our patients’ behavioral and emotional health in addition to on-demand treatment for any new symptoms or conditions that come up. We’re solidifying partnerships with visionary health plans, employer groups, and retail and digital health companies to help us build an ecosystem to quickly scale this model across the country.

Building and scaling something radically different has its challenges. Chief among them is figuring out how to merge strong, talented people from two distinct professional cultures - clinical and engineering/product - into one high-functioning team. Another is getting the word out to potential customers that our disruptively innovative product has kept all the things many people value in healthcare (particularly access to and a human connection with the best doctors and NPs) while designing out all the things they don’t (unnecessary visits, concierge fees, phone tag, waiting on hold, etc.).

With the ups and downs, we’re constantly learning, growing and having a ton of fun. Other than the wonderful time I have with my family, I can’t imagine a better way to spend my days. We’re not going to stop until we’ve built the model that changes healthcare. And we’d love to have you partner with us on the journey!

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