When It Comes to Digital Health, the Business Model Matters. Here’s Why We Focus on Healthcare Enterprises

When It Comes to Digital Health, the Business Model Matters. Here’s Why We Focus on Healthcare Enterprises

Digital Health, Maternity, Mission

By Leah Sparks, Founder & CEO


You can only serve one master.


That is something we understood as a company from the very beginning. It was one of the foundational truths guiding the initial design of our product and our business. It is the anchor of our mission today. It is the core of what we’re building for the future.


When I started Wildflower, I knew I wanted to create an enterprise business model that worked with the healthcare system rather than outside of it, because I intuitively knew that our value would be directly related to driving meaningful outcomes for the healthcare system. The assumption was that users and clients would trust us more if we didn’t sell ads, and we were 100 percent aligned with what’s important to them.


It has never been about selling data or generating advertising revenue for the next great diaper. I wanted us to be paid because we improved quality and reduced healthcare costs. From the first day, I wanted our compensation to be the result of creating better outcomes for our users. We set out to grow healthy families and improve the effectiveness of healthcare. As it turns out, that is a much more difficult, though vastly more rewarding from my perspective.


To successfully execute on our chosen path, we’ve had to invest a great deal of people power and resources into creating extremely flexible software that can be adapted for our clients’ brands, workflows, business rules, outcome goals and so on. Our model also makes engagement a more intensive exercise for us. We can’t leverage traditional consumer advertising aimed at millions of individuals to recruit users. We typically market under our client brands in very targeted communities and populations. This requires a more strategic and customized approach to user adoption and engagement that is personalized for each client. All the extra effort has been more than worth it.


Throughout the years, many people have asked if we have a consumer business model. Some of those people highly recommended that we develop one to augment our revenue. I must admit I was always tempted to pursue those conversations further. But I always had nagging concerns about maintaining the trust of our users, about aligning with our clients and about keeping our company focused.


There are no doubt some digital health companies, for example wearables and consumer-paid care, where a consumer business model is a perfectly reasonable alternative, or even the absolute right way to go. But for the work we are doing here, it isn’t.


As I stand here today, I am extremely confident the decision NOT to develop a consumer business model is an important factor in our company’s success, and the future impact we will have on healthcare.


So, as I said to open this blog. You can only serve one master.


Many healthcare startups launch with an ad-based consumer business model and then eventually try to make the leap into serving health plans, providers and employers with an enterprise model. Others begin with an enterprise model but eventually are drawn to the shiny lights of the consumer market. In both cases, what happens is a constant tug of war between advertisers and individual users, between click rates and clinical best practices, between pushing product and payor/provider expectations. I never wanted us to be caught in the middle. I didn’t want to try and serve multiple masters. At the end of the day, it simply just doesn’t work. You must sacrifice one for the other. And in my experience, the advertisers always win.


So we have maintained an enterprise-only revenue model. And it has been the right thing to do for our clients, and even more importantly, for the users who trust us to personalize and simplify their healthcare journeys. 


To bring the importance of our decision to life, when preparing for the launch of a new fertility tracking feature our product team diligently researched other top trackers available in the app stores. We found that some trackers demanded an overwhelming amount of data from users. We quickly confirmed that much of this was not evidence based and could easily create undue stress for users. It was clear to us that these popular trackers were beholden to a consumer business model that demanded advertising value over user experience, and more importantly, user wellbeing.


If you are a healthcare enterprise, I urge you to ask one question as you compare and contrast new digital health solutions. Are they built entirely on a healthcare value model, or do they also leverage a consumer business model to generate revenue? Once consumers realize an app is more concerned with its advertisers than their personal health, they stop trusting it. And then, they stop using it.

We have documented before that consumers believe in their health plan and providers to deliver quality information and guidance. We know that consumers need help making intelligent connections to the resources available from their health plan and providers. And we know what is most important to consumers as they attempt to traverse the healthcare system. Most importantly, we know that none of these problems are solved by a consumer business model. In fact, such a model is more likely to fly in the face of these issues as it is to offer effective remedies.


Click bait and product placements can ring the cash register. As for Wildflower, we much prefer to ring true with our users, providing them with trusted guidance and real value that is personalized to their individual needs. That brings meaningful results to our clients and, quite frankly, helps us sleep really well at night knowing we are making a positive difference in the world.