Leadership Edge with Healthline.com CEO, David Kopp
Doctors should prescribe more education for their patients. There’s a lot of modern technology to assist in this. Consider this: you book a trip to New York. Over the next few days, you’ll get emails from your airline preparing you for the flight, such as entertainment options and discount offers for adjacent services like cars or hotels. In healthcare, if you go to your doctor and receive a diabetes diagnosis, you suddenly have the need for a lot of education on diet, glucose monitoring, insulin and exercise. Yet you may not even hear from your physician until your next routine appointment.
As a part of our series about “The Future of Healthcare”, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Kopp, CEO of Healthline Media, publisher of Healthline.com, the world’s fastest-growing health information site, reaching over 250 million people monthly. David has overseen and directed the growth of the company since 2010. Prior to joining Healthline, David led North American ad product marketing for Yahoo! as well as marketing for a division of Disney and held leadership roles in several internet advertising and technology start-ups. In addition, he founded and sold Winfire, a consumer search business. David believes that together we can create a stronger, healthier world — and this starts with each of us owning our own health with the support of our doctors, therapists, friends, and Healthline.
Thank you so much for joining us, David! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I interned as a reporter on a metro desk in college and found that so much of metro coverage is bad news — murder, corruption, and the like — that it was depressing. For a long time, I thought that bad news was what journalism and publishing were all about, so I built a career as a marketer at Disney and in internet technology, building search and community products. Healthline gives me the opportunity to gather and publish news in a way that can improve lives. This gives my life real meaning.
As we’ve evolved Healthline Media to be the #1 online health information property in the world, I’ve found that running a purpose-driven company is much more rewarding than simply chasing advertising revenue. Healthline Media’s vision is to create a stronger, healthier world. We’re doing that by providing our audience with the best ad-supported, evidence-based, doctor-vetted health content on the web.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
It’s hard to pick just one, but Susanna’s story comes to mind. Susanna had suffered from symptoms that her healthcare provider kept telling her were side effects of her recent surgery. She wrote to tell us that our content gave her the confidence to insist that her symptoms might be unrelated to her procedure. The result of her perseverance was a potentially life-saving diagnosis. We hear thousands of similar stories — people who read something on a Healthline site and use the information to partner with their physician and optimize their health. These life-changing stories give true purpose and meaning to what we do.
What makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
No other online health media property is delivering quality of health, nutrition, and lifestyle information in an empathetic, reader-friendly voice. For example, in October 2019, we hosted an intimate conference called Chronicon for social media influencers who live with chronic conditions. Attendees told us it was the only time they felt they had a voice at an industry event. They felt included. This is only one example of how Healthline Media is creating confidence and a sense of belonging.
Can you share with our readers the innovations that you are bringing to and/or see in the healthcare industry? How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo? Which “pain point” is this trying to address?
Chronic health issues can bring about deep and penetrating isolation for the people living with them. We’re working to connect people not only with very high-quality medical information but with each other, so they can share their experiences and insights and be less alone with their diagnoses. Imagine that you have multiple sclerosis — a degenerative neurological condition. In theory, with each passing year, you will be more debilitated. Virtually no one around you — family, friends or acquaintances — has MS, so you literally have no one who can truly understand your perspective, not just about your health condition but also its impact on your work, your family, and many other aspects of your life.
We’ve created a mobile app for people with MS and a number of other chronic conditions that enable people to connect one on one to share their perspectives. Thousands of people are connected and using our app. We get incredible feedback about how it makes people feel so much less overwhelmed and alone. Two of our users created such a strong connection over the app that they are now getting married!
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
Shortcuts rarely pay off. I hate to admit it, but earlier in my career, I spent a lot of time trying to find shortcuts — something I suspect most of us is guilty of. But shortly after I joined Healthline, I read my sister’s book about the reforms necessary to improve American education. One of her key themes was that there are no silver bullets, shortcuts, or band-aids. If we want to fix education, we have to work hard to improve every aspect of what we do, from training and supporting teachers to improving school system management and funding. As I thought about the potential of Healthline to impact people’s lives, I realized that the same tenets would be true. As we at Healthline have strengthened our commitment and discipline to drive quality in everything we do, we’ve realized much greater success than we would have by settling on easy fixes.
Constant improvement is the key to success. We talk a lot about excellence at Healthline, which differs from perfection. Excellence is a commitment to make something better today than it was yesterday. If you look at Healthline content today, for example, we invest almost 20 times more for every article we produce than we did when I started — and have over 100 times the audience — because we have found hundreds of little things to improve about our process.
Mission matters. I have always loved being in business, and for the first 20 years of my life I worked in good organizations — good in that they were largely well-run and contributed to the economy in ways that mostly helped people and almost never hurt anyone. Healthline’s mission is something greater — we are committed to making the world stronger and healthier. We want to build a good business because we believe that the more success we have, the more we can invest in fulfilling our true objective: to make more people stronger and healthier with resources that empower them to own their well-being. While I always enjoyed my jobs, the deep sense of purpose and accomplishment I feel leading Healthline is truly special.
Leadership responsibility is about car and house payments. I’ll admit I stole this from Ric Elias, the CEO of Red Ventures; Red Ventures acquired Healthline this past summer. He talks about how driving into work, he sees cars in the parking lot and just thinks about all the car payments and real-life responsibilities of the people on his growing team. This is the core of a leader’s responsibility — the ups and downs of a business can and do affect your team financially and in every other way.
You don’t get to pick all your leadership challenges. About a year ago, one of the executives on my team took his own life. In an instant, my job changed from being a strategic business leader to exercising “soft” skills in communicating with my team while grieving myself. It was an incredibly difficult time. Together we wanted to turn this tragedy into something that our friend and colleague would have valued while helping the user community we serve. As a result, we are harnessing our platforms to positively impact mental health through education and reducing stigma.
Let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this study cited by Newsweek, the US healthcare system is ranked as the worst among high-income nations. This seems shocking. Can you share with us 3–5 reasons why you think the US is ranked so poorly?
The US healthcare system is overwhelmingly complex. As medicine becomes more specialized, it has gotten harder for people to receive good coordinated healthcare. While medicine is better than in the past, we need to do more to ensure that physicians have the time and resources to integrate treatments and care effectively.
Incentives are misaligned. Most healthcare is still delivered on a “fee for service” basis, meaning that a doctor or hospital gets paid for the number of individual treatments, procedures, and tests they provide. But we know more tests and procedures — particularly if they aren’t effectively coordinated — don’t necessarily guarantee better outcomes. I believe most doctors are incredibly well-intentioned, but in the context of a complex and largely uncoordinated healthcare system, we currently have a massive incentive for investment to go into more treatments and not into important activities that take time but aren’t recognized as “services” — such as coordinating care among doctors, regularly checking in with patients post-treatment and comprehensive diagnoses in complex cases. Imagine instead if payments were based on helping a person restore full health. That would be a real game-changer for all of us.
Patients are often left out of the discussion. At Healthline, we consistently hear from people who use our site that it is invaluable to them because it helps them have the confidence to discuss their conditions in more depth with their doctors. Research is very clear that when a person understands their condition and treatment, they are more likely to do their part in getting healthier, such as making lifestyle changes and complying with follow-up therapies. But in an increasingly complex healthcare system that often limits the time doctors can spend with patients, too few people insist on the depth of conversation required to achieve these better results.
You are a “healthcare insider”. Can you share 5 changes that need to be made to improve the overall US healthcare system? Please share a story or example for each.
We should require med schools and board exams to cover diet and nutrition. We all know how important diet is to our health, yet only 5% of medical schools require any nutrition education.
We should connect mental and physical health more directly and more intentionally in our health systems and in our insurance system. Physical health issues often create mental health problems. Consider chronic pain: when a human being is in constant pain, how can that constant stress NOT affect their mental health?
We should insist that doctors ask every patient how they want to make decisions: the doctor decides, the patient decides, or they collaborate. While this may seem mundane, raising the question opens a dialogue that rarely happens today. I just turned 50, and during a recent appointment, my doctor ordered a colonoscopy. I know that I want such orders to be a collaborative decision, so I asked whether the procedure was required — it is expensive and time-consuming and requires pretty heavy anesthesia which I didn’t want. I have no family history that indicates a need for a colonoscopy versus a non-invasive stool test. I’d done the research and knew that — and so did my doctor. She just hadn’t been aware of my priorities and that I cared about having options.
Doctors should prescribe more education for their patients. There’s a lot of modern technology to assist in this. Consider this: you book a trip to New York. Over the next few days, you’ll get emails from your airline preparing you for the flight, such as entertainment options and discount offers for adjacent services like cars or hotels. In healthcare, if you go to your doctor and receive a diabetes diagnosis, you suddenly have the need for a lot of education on diet, glucose monitoring, insulin, and exercise. Yet you may not even hear from your physician until your next routine appointment.
We should improve end-of-life care. I just read Atul Gawande’s “Being Mortal.” He paints a picture of how end-of-life care is improving — but I think we can make it happen faster. The crux of the opportunity is to get patients more deeply involved in decision-making around their care options and to make sure that the patient’s goals are primary. For instance, Dr. Gawande wrote that his father had a clear goal of NOT being paralyzed — so when he was offered a treatment option that had a high risk of paralysis, he chose not to have that treatment. While some might have said the treatment was necessary, exercising his option to decline it dramatically improved his quality of life. Paradoxically, studies of palliative care (the practice of choosing treatments with consideration of the quality of life) show that such care often not only improves the quality of life, it can also prolong life versus more aggressive treatments.
Thank you! It’s great to suggest changes, but what specific steps would need to be taken to implement your ideas? What can individuals, corporations, communities and leaders do to help?
At Healthline, we’re taking active steps every day to promote the five areas I just referenced. We talk about diet and nutrition as critical aspects of health and medicine; we write about, educate on and advocate for mental health treatment; we endeavor to prepare people to tell their doctor they want to be part of treatment decisions, even if their doctor doesn’t ask; and we recently launched a business to help physicians prescribe relevant Healthline content to their patients. We’re also just beginning to talk about how we can include more education about palliative care and hospice treatment on our site.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better healthcare leader? Can you explain why you like them?
A recent favorite book is “Being Mortal” by Dr. Atul Gawande. He provides an empathetic and humanistic view of what we can and should do for those we know who are growing old and preparing for death. His book should be required reading for anyone in the health, nutrition, diet, or lifestyle industries.