Q&A with Leah Sparks, CEO and Founder of Wildflower Health

By July 8, 2018CEO Spotlight

Leah Sparks has more than 15 years experience building innovative healthcare businesses in both venture-backed companies and Fortune 50 corporations. Leah founded Wildflower Health in 2012 while starting a family of her own and seeing firsthand the gaps in healthcare for consumers. Prior to starting Wildflower Health, Leah led business development for a personalized medicine startup that was acquired by Medco a few years after she joined the company. She began her career in healthcare at McKesson Corporation in corporate development, where she focused on strategy and M&A. During her tenure at McKesson, she held a variety of leadership roles including spearheading the company’s entry into the oncology market. Leah received her MBA from the University of Virginia in 2001 and holds a B.S. in Journalism from the University of Tennessee.

Wildflower Health, HEP’s most recent addition to the portfolio and the final investment in HEP II, is a leading mobile health company working with employers, health plans and hospitals nationwide. Wildflower delivers smartphone engagement platform that helps health plans and providers support women and families through major healthcare episodes, including all stages of pregnancy and pediatric care, and soon expanding to also include adult health and senior care. The company’s applications are fully configurable for health plans and their employer clients to reflect their branding, benefits and clinical support, enabling healthcare consumers to better identify health risks and make connections to care right from a smartphone. The company also partners with outpatient and inpatient providers, enabling its clients to offer integrated clinical solutions that reduce the silos of information and care. As a result of driving better risk stratification and clinical triage, Wildflower Health has demonstrated in a peer-reviewed study that it lowers the rates of low birthweight babies and NICU admissions in high-risk pregnant populations.

How did you come to start Wildflower Health?
I started Wildflower Health when I was pregnant with my first child and felt firsthand how difficult it can be to navigate the healthcare system. At the time, I’d worked for large healthcare companies and health tech startups for 10 years but had never really confronted the healthcare system firsthand. I contrasted my experience with consumer mobile apps for expecting families with the experience I was having with my health payor and provider, and it inspired me to create a health engagement model that would marry the best of mobile-based consumer technology with personalized connections to the healthcare system. I believed that if we could do that, we could harness that consumer engagement to positively impact key clinical and financial metrics for large health payors and providers. Over the years, we’ve been able to prove that the simple act of engaging consumers on mobile devices and driving timely connections to healthcare does, in fact, move the needle on healthcare access, cost, and quality.

How have you seen the consumer engagement evolve throughout your healthcare career?
The launch of the iPhone in 2007 transformed the ability of the healthcare system to engage consumers. As smartphone ownership has grown across all demographics, it has obviously become the device of choice for engaging consumers because of its ability to capture data, trigger personalized notifications, and drive real-time actions. However, I believe we are just scratching the surface on what we can do with mobile and other new technologies. The healthcare system is still focused on tech-enabling the transactional aspects of healthcare – scheduling appointments, accessing medical records, sending patient data. These are all incredibly valuable and necessary functions for the healthcare digital footprint. However, for us to really engage families as “consumers”, we must go beyond the transaction to create deep and lasting engagement. That type of engagement comes from wrapping the healthcare transaction with other content and tools families can use in their day-to-day life, and creating experiences that make a family feel supported during major healthcare episodes. In our company, we talk about a vision of making it “joyful” to interact with healthcare, and I think as an industry we have a long way to go to fulfill that vision. Companies like Wildflower Health hope to help make that vision a reality.

Where do you see the company going across the next few years?
Our vision is to be the digital “front door” to healthcare for families across a lifetime of health and care decisions. To deliver on that vision, we have to break down key barriers to true consumer engagement with healthcare. For example, a huge challenge we see for consumers lies in the natural silos of U.S. healthcare and the fact that you have to go to three different places to get your healthcare resources from your employer, health plan and doctor. We want to tackle that challenge head-on and believe we are uniquely positioned to do it. We’ve assembled a large network of clients over the past few years. Our health plan contracts cover 45 million lives and we work with some of the country’s largest health systems. Our enterprise technology enables a consumer to access multiple clients from a single Wildflower Health application – meaning a consumer can identify her employer, authenticate with her health plan, pick her doctor or hospital, and then access all those resources in one view, in a hyper-personalized way. We intend to keep chipping away at that vision to create transformative experiences for consumers and to help our clients reap the financial and clinical benefits of highly engaged healthcare consumers.

What occupies your time outside the office?
My first priority outside the office is to spend time with my husband and our two young sons (ages 3 and 5). I love taking the boys for hikes and playing under-appreciated games like hide-and-seek. I’m also an avid home cook. When you work in healthcare, it takes a long time to see the fruits of your labor. When you cook a great meal, you can enjoy all your effort that very evening! Finally, I have two secret weapons for staying energized: I get eight hours of sleep as many nights as I can and I sneak in a yoga class at least once a week.