Maven Clinic’s first chief medical officer, Dr. Neel Shah, is using digital health to help people grow their families with dignity.
Dr. Shah says the healthcare system treats patient experience as a luxury, and he is helping to change that.
Maven Clinic is helping manage risk by connecting people to the right expertise and resources when they need it, through digital care.
Accenture: Maven Clinic is not a traditional healthcare organization. Please tell us about who you serve and what makes the business unique.
Dr. Neel Shah: We serve anyone who is in a phase of life where they are building their families. This ranges from those who are pre-contemplative about having children, those exploring pathways to parenthood, like adoption or in vitro fertilization, and those who are experiencing pregnancy and early parenthood.
Historically, this is not a group of people the industry has focused on. Healthcare typically centers on those with chronic disease and who are on Medicare. At Maven, we believe that family-building journeys are a powerful entry point to drive change across healthcare. That’s both due to the scale of the opportunity — 1 in 4 hospitalizations are due to pregnancy or childbirth — and the urgency of need, with rising maternal mortality here in the US and pervasive disparities in outcomes according to a patient’s race, socioeconomic status or physical location. Providing world-class healthcare to the birth parent and their baby (and supporting birth partners, too) opens up significant possibilities to deliver meaningful downstream outcomes for individual patients, their families and the broader ecosystem.
A: Please tell us about your role and responsibilities.
NS: I am Maven Clinic’s first chief medical officer. It hasn’t been too long—just about 90 days. As CMO, I am the chief doctor overseeing clinical operations, our provider network, our care advocates (who are the quarterbacks of our members’ individual care plans) and the overall clinical strategy.
Every person deserves the choice to grow their family with dignity, but that’s not what the world looks like now.
— DR. NEEL SHAH
A: As a clinician, what inspired you to work on the business side of healthcare?
NS: I have spent most of my career evangelizing the changes that need to happen in care. I’m an OB-GYN and do primary care, surgery and deliver babies. I help those who are accessing care for the first time, whether they are pregnant or trying not to be pregnant. And over the course of my career, but especially during the pandemic, I’ve had a front row seat to the ways that the traditional brick-and-mortar system fails to meet patients where they are with affirming, quality care.
Digital care presents an opportunity to help people be healthy when and where life happens, in homes and in communities when we can be there along the journey for the key milestones, the joyful moments and times of vulnerability. We can step in and help manage risk by connecting people to the right expertise when they need it.
A: How do you feel the unique care model at Maven is helping to close gaps in care for women and families?
NS: Every person deserves the choice to grow their family with dignity, but that’s not what the world looks like now. Maternal mortality rates are shocking. Tens of thousands of people are suffering from untreated illness, social isolation and lack of economic empowerment.
The American health system as a whole is suffering from a crisis of trustworthiness. The first step in addressing this is to affirm people by listening and really hearing their concerns. It’s so important to connect. Something might come up that may cause a person to cancel an appointment that may then take weeks to reschedule, or they might need help at 3 a.m. when they are struggling with breastfeeding.
Too much of our patients’ lives must be shaped around healthcare. Maven is flipping this paradigm on its head. We’re never closed, and the breadth and depth of our network, with more than 30 types of providers and 350 subspecialties, means that for every question that comes up during a person’s journey, Maven has real experts who can help them. We are also committed to building a provider network that looks like the patients we serve, which allows us to connect patients, upon their request, to providers who share their background.
A: What are some recent patient care stories that come to mind for you?
NS: Almost every week, we end our team meeting with a “Maven Moment.” These are cases where we steered toward a better clinical outcome—someone who avoided an emergency C-section or an emergency room visit because we helped them to have better blood sugar or blood pressure control.
At Maven, I am most proud of the way we affirm people’s dignity along the way. The healthcare system treats patient experience as a luxury. Emerging unscathed from childbirth is a low bar. We should be empowering people and aiming for more than that.
A: What are some of the technologies Maven Clinic relies on most to enable the platform?
NS: For our patients, the typical brick-and-mortar experience is that if you have any complexity at all — if you deviate from what’s ‘normal’ — you are forced to squeeze in as many questions as possible into a 15-minute visit. Or if you are characterized as high risk, you might have a case manager call to make sure you are following medical guidance, but there’s little follow up or day-to-day support.
We do things differently. Maven lives in our members’ pockets, is always on call and offers support that is tailored to a member’s needs. In addition to having access to the largest virtual provider network in women’s and family health, our members have their own Care Advocate who is with them at every step in their journey. This longitudinal support is invaluable, particularly as you think about the reality of family-building journeys, which are not always linear. One in five pregnancies ends in loss, for instance, which is an experience in itself that healthcare hasn’t served well. If a Maven member were to go through this experience, they would be connected by their same Care Advocate to specific providers and resources to provide the right support.
A: Please tell us about some of the work you’ve done outside of Maven to build equitable, trustworthy systems of care.
NS: I delivered thousands of babies before bringing one home myself. Boy, was that humbling. I’ve done a lot of traveling and seeing what giving birth in America looks like. Rural America is hurting. For instance, in Minnesota, you have to drive further than anywhere in Kenya to deliver a baby. I’ve shared my point of view with policymakers to advise them on how we can deliver better care at a lower cost.
In 2017, I co-founded the March for Moms Association, which is a coalition of more than 20 organizations that are joining forces to increase public and private investment in the well-being of mothers. Together, we advocate for the best possible health and well-being of all American mothers.
A: You are also a professor at Harvard. How do you juggle it all?
NS: It sounds like I have many jobs, but I actually have just one job, and it’s to help people who are going through this journey because they deserve better. I’ve deployed that mission in different ways. Now, it is time to deliver that mission via digital health. The healthcare infrastructure is in need of care. The ways in which we deliver care are the roads and bridges to maternal health. I can’t imagine five years from now that virtual health won’t be an option for your care needs. I want to be part of building that.
A: What is the most important piece of wisdom you impart to your students?
NS: The most common question I get from students is about which specialty to pick. I think it’s important to have a personal mission that is independent from a job. For me, it is to help every person grow their family with dignity. I pursue that mission in all that I do. I encourage students to find their passion, which will illuminate their path.
A: Who has inspired or influenced you in your career? What advice or guidance did that person provide?
NS: I have been so lucky to follow amazing leaders and mentors. Dr. Atul Gawande, who is a surgeon, writer and public health researcher, has been a key mentor to me. He taught me to think boldly and audaciously about solving tough problems. He established the surgical safety checklist which has helped to drop mortality in half for every surgery on earth. That was the bar for my pursuing similar success for women and children.
A: What do you like to do outside of work?
NS: My son is 5 and my daughter is 3, so with two young kids, we get outside as much as possible. We live in Cambridge, so we go to the Berkshires a lot to hike.