Shavone Hasfal-McIntosh talks to TryCycle's VP of Operations, Kelly Gregoire, about how the company is helping doctors, therapists, and clinicians reach people in treatment for addiction, substance use, mental illness, depression or trauma through this pandemic.
Shavonne: Welcome to Invested in Our New Reality, a limited series podcast for business leaders and entrepreneurs navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. My name is Shavonne Hasfal-McIntosh. I'm the Diversity and Belonging Lead at Shopify, as well as a member of the Board of Directors for Invest Ottawa. And I'm really glad that you've chosen to join us for today's conversation. We are living through unprecedented times. And there is so much uncertainty for communities, for businesses, for Canadians. In fact, uncertainty about where this pandemic will lead and what it means for all of us is one of the most destabilizing aspects of COVID-19. And that's why we've launched Invested in Our New Reality. This podcast will provide a platform for business leaders to share their experience of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, to offer practical advice on leading through crisis and candid observations about navigating this new reality. In our first episode of Invested in Our New Reality, we spoke with Michael Tremblay, President and CEO of Invest Ottawa. But the challenges and opportunities confronting businesses and entrepreneurs as we navigate the effects of COVID-19. Today we're talking with Kelly Gregoire, Vice President of Operations at TryCycle, a startup which is helping to mitigate the effects of the pandemic for people in treatment for addiction, substance use mental illness, depression, or trauma. TryCycle is focused on improving health outcomes using real time data systems and an approach designed to increase empathy, compassion, in conversation, all things we truly need in the middle of a pandemic. Kelly, we're so glad you've joined us today. Welcome to Invested in Our New Reality.
Kelly: Thank you so much for having me.
Shavonne: Kelly, can you tell us a bit more about TryCycle and how it's trying to help both healthcare providers and patients?
Kelly: Absolutely. So TryCycle is a digital health platform. And it was born from an idea that in order to break the cycle of addiction and mental health, we need to try something different. So we set out to tackle a pretty large problem in a traditional environment like healthcare, but in a really non traditional way with software. The way we help healthcare providers is we recognize that they have a very large caseload and with the right data and information that we can help gather through their patients, those clinicians and health providers can direct care to the right people at the right time. Calendar based care simply doesn't apply in the realm of addiction and mental illness because, as we know, triggers and symptoms can pop up in the moment and outside of the clinical setting for patients. What we really want do is provide access to a mobile app that they can use with their health professional, allowing that person to share private health information like symptoms, how they're doing, what their medication, any triggers they might be experiencing. But in the moment, as it happens, not after, when a health professional can no longer help them. So what we really provide is a way to connect people through software. And what we're trying to do is change the way that healthcare is delivered through decision making.
Shavonne: Amazing that it's been up and running for several years now. But this pandemic must have really shifted things into overdrive. Can you tell us how COVID-19 has affected your company?
Kelly: Absolutely. We've had a lot of, I guess, positive impacts through COVID. But I'm going to really focus on three things. We've always recognized in the healthcare community that the digital transformation was coming, and we needed more solutions to help doctors and therapists and clinicians. What COVID has done is really amplified the need, and it's really accelerated that need, to bring solutions to those people. I'm also seeing that the speed at which decisions are being made are now faster than what we've seen before. So individuals, organizations, and even patients that might have been resistant to technology, or scared or unfamiliar, are now more open to use it because it's now an option that is available and it's common across the board. We're also seeing a lot more stress, just as a population, and in the context of addiction and mental illness. Those individuals are already a highly stressed population. So what we're starting to see is that we can actually start to use the information that we're gathering through TryCycle. And we're starting to learn a little bit more about patterns of behavior. And I would say the last thing that we're experiencing right now is really positive. That's an increase in what I would frame as creativity. We're seeing and hearing from our customers and from our staff some openness to come up with some new ideas. One of our customers specifically has identified some new use cases that we didn't realize were available before, using TryCycle for patients on a waitlist versus when they're in treatment.
Shavonne: We've heard a lot about very specific health products during this pandemic. Tests, vaccines, personal protective equipment, ventilators, but TryCycle talks about using its data to increase empathy, compassion, and conversation. Why is that important to your company?
Kelly: So those three elements are actually part of our core values as a company. We strive to promote empathy, compassion and conversation internally and with our staff. And we wanted to apply that also to our product, and as one of our key differentiators to other solutions out there. Why we think it's really important is that the key to engagement and treatment is really the ability to be listened to. And a lot of people sort of think of technology as a barrier and a way to isolate. We actually see it as an opportunity to create dialogue that would not have otherwise existed.
Shavonne: That's really interesting. Can you give us an example of how you've used that data to increase empathy, compassion and conversation?
Kelly: Absolutely. We get a lot of customer stories, which is a great opportunity for us to understand how our software is being used. An example I can share is through TryCycle patients are sharing information about themselves in a safe way, a private way that's only shared with their health provider. They would answer questions like how they're feeling, whether they're taking their medications, what their stress levels are, but one of the key elements is an open-ended question. My question is, how are you? It's structured and by design. It allows a patient to provide any information that they want. One such example would be a patient who was describing the financial stress they were having, unrelated to their health journey and their recovery. But because of that financial stress, they were unable to afford their medication and were deciding that they were no longer going to take it. Their clinician was reading that response and was able to intervene and find options for that patient to be able to afford their medication and continue their treatment without disruption.
Shavonne: I love that the way that the data helps is to also ensure accessibility to things that people need in real-time as they go on their journeys.
Kelly: Exactly. And the exciting part is, we don't anticipate what could happen. So it really reinforces that this is a clinician-decision-support tool. There's a lot of really great analytics tools and options out there. But the key element here is that a human being is on the receiving end and a clinical expert will make a decision as to how to use that information.
Shavonne: That's amazing. I'm going to go into something that's kind of forward looking, talking about the future. And really, it's really hard to predict what the future holds. But what are your hopes for TryCycle, and its real-time data systems once a vaccine has been found for COVID and we're back to the new normal? How would you like to see your product be used in communities?
Kelly: We would love to see TryCycle recognized as a solution and an approach, not as a an app or a platform. So really just that recognition of our uniqueness, but specifically, what I'd love to see are more creative ideas from our community of customers, finding ways to utilize TryCycle in non-traditional ways to extend and complement the way that treatment is delivered. And really to explore what it is we're doing so that patients can continue to receive the benefits of that conversation and to be in connection.
Shavonne: Amazing. And you may have covered this a little bit earlier. But I just wanted to dig in and ask this question. Have you seen any differences or an uptake in the usage of your platform since COVID has happened in this world?
Kelly: We have, we've seen quite a significant increase in our existing customer base. And we've seen really unique patterns of behavior. So we did not anticipate what was going to happen. We were collecting the data anyway, but it's still early days. However, we can start to see patterns of behavior changing, patients are checking in more often, more regularly. And it’s really unique times. Those patterns of behavior I think will be of interest as we move through the crisis. I think the other thing we're learning is that there's no specific gender or social class or diagnoses that is unaffected. So we're seeing consistent increases across all of those aspects.
Shavonne: Interesting. And I'll ask one question that's kind of building off of this idea of like the new normal. Can you give us an example of how you have like pivoted your product or innovated since this new world has developed and evolved?
Kelly: Yes. So we've been listening. I think that's really where, as a leader, I've been trying to focus my attention, is listening and talking more with our customers. So how can we continue to use what we're using, but how can we build on it? What we learned is we've got a pretty good thing going and we can leverage what we're doing and what we've built. But we can also add on some additional opportunities to collect data. So some of the things we're doing is we can start to collect information related to the social impact of COVID, we can encourage patients to contribute how they're feeling, what their social life is like. And in another use case, we are considering extending this to other languages and to individuals with lower rates of literacy.
Shavonne: That's amazing. That's phenomenal. I mean, I could sit here and have a conversation with you all day. I love, again, just the fabric of your company and the values of empathy, compassion and conversation, and making sure that your product is accessible to as many people as possible. But we have come to our last question. So I just want to ask if you have any final thoughts and what advice you can offer to business leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators who are listening to us today?
Kelly: I love this question and I love that we have the opportunity to answer. I would say stay optimistic and stay connected. The ability to listen right now is unprecedented. We are experiencing what a lot of people are calling an opportunity to pause. And I think we should really exploit that opportunity by listening to each other, listening to our peers. I personally have been attending and participating in more peer groups so that I can listen to how other businesses are scaling and pivoting their business. And I would encourage others in a position of leadership to also do as much listening as they can.
Shavonne: Amazing advice. Kelly, thank you so much for being with us today and for the work that you're doing to support people in need and communities across the country.
Kelly: Thank you for the opportunity. It's been great chatting with you.
Shavonne: All of our episodes are available on the Invest Ottawa website, and on Spotify. And if you're enjoying what you're hearing, we hope you'll share the podcast through your social media channels too. We have a new episode coming up next week, so please join us then. But in the meantime, I'm Shavonne Hasfal-McIntosh, stay strong, stay healthy, stay safe. And thank you for listening to Invested in Our New Reality.