Spotlight Interview: RD Whitney, CEO, Validation Institute

About RD Whitney

With 29 years in leadership at 15 companies building professional communities in 23 industries, I am putting my skills, passions and networking connections to work in a venture that can truly make a difference in the nation’s competitiveness and in people’s lives.

Warren Buffett called heath care the “tapeworm” of the US economy. This is all about to change through the power of a new community! There is a movement of very smart and passionate leaders and conscious capital investors poised to fix healthcare through the Validation Institute ( ) which I have been given the privilege to head up as CEO.

Validation Institute advocates for organizations and approaches that deliver better health value, meaning stronger health outcomes at a lower cost. We connect, train, and certify health care purchasers, and we validate and connect providers delivering superior results.

My entire career has been focused on developing communities that bring buyer and seller together through the gravity of education. This includes events, research, databases, peer learning, and sponsored/membership businesses. I have a track record building and growing community assets to maximize value for members and investors.

Prior roles include:

• EVP of BD for the Tarsus Group (Ticker: TRS.L): acquired and launched communities

• Group VP at Diversified Communications: oversaw a portfolio of business communities

• Partner at Greenhaven: transformed former BNA (now Bloomberg) assets into a thriving business community (IOFM) acquired by Diversified

• VP/GM at Kennedy Information transformed company into a growing, diverse media platform resulting in a 30x ROI for investors in 4 years

• Leadership positions at publishing firms including: Wolters Kluwer, the Thompson Publishing Group, Yankee, Vicon and Connell/IDG

• CEO of Tarsus Online Media expanded the online media division of the Tarsus Group

• Board member for Onstream Media since 2012 (Ticker: ONSM): pioneers in webcasting

About Validation Institute

Validation Institute (VI) is a membership organization made up of a network of health care vendors, health benefits advisors, and purchaser benefit managers focused on delivering better health value and stronger outcomes than conventional healthcare.

US Domestic Medical Travel (USDMT): Let’s start with some background information on the Validation Institute.

RD Whitney (RDW):  I’ll start at the beginning. Validation Institute was conceived at Intel and GE. They were coming out with a health care claim solution, and they were making a marketing claim, just like all the health care vendors do.

But they were just surprised because there were no rules. They could say anything they wanted, and their competitors were making performance claims that were mathematically impossible –so they knew something was wrong.

Some declared, “We’re going to increase outcomes by this much or lower cost by this many dollars.”  Well, math doesn’t lie. There needs to be some data to back that up.

The Intel and GE group attracted funding to establish an independent organization that could validate vendor claims.

They sought to create an independent third-party to “validate” these marketing claims, and it would serve as a much-needed service to the buyer of healthcare.  The intent was to assist healthcare purchasers, so they don’t make mistakes or waste time.

It got good traction right from the start, but it was a commercial enterprise that owned it so it wasn’t perceived as an independent institute unto itself.

But, last summer, it was acquired by Vidar Jorgensen who has been very passionate about trying to improve healthcare in the United States.

USDMT: How did you get involved?

RDW:  Vidar started an awards program called the Health Value Awards to recognize companies that are helping to move the needle to improve health care outcomes and lower costs. But Vidar quickly became Validation Institute’s biggest customer because he thought it was important to validate companies as they applied for an award.

Vidar acquired Validation Institute, and then late last year, I met him.

My background has not been in healthcare but in building professional communities. For 30 years, I’ve been building these professional organizations.

A good example is the accounting space where there were several professional levels that had no formalized education requirements, such as accounts payable and accounts receivable. You don’t learn these skills in college, so that’s where fraud can happen. But it’s where technology is really innovating.

We created the Institute of Financing Management, and today it is the certification program in America that is engaging this business community, advancing people’s careers and helping them do better, and keeping companies in compliance. It’s a really good benefit.

When Vidar told me about Validation Institute, I thought it was a very interesting platform.  But I felt that the company needed to pivot because while the services are very helpful to the buyer of healthcare, it was going to take some time to go out there and validate all these vendors.

USDMT: There are always new vendors, right?

RDW: There are probably at least three new vendors entering the marketplace just since we started speaking!

But what we kept hearing was, “The buyers and benefits managers are getting their education from the same establishment that likes things exactly the way they are, from people who make their money when rates go up.”

That’s how profits increase, and because of the Healthcare Act, only a certain amount of profit could be made at that point. Many concluded that the way to make more money was to simply raise rates. Traditional insurance plans were not interested in keeping their rates flat or lowering them. 

But that opened the door for innovators and there emerged many companies that decided to do things differently – and they are doing amazing things to save healthcare dollars – and that includes medical travel.

USDMT: Of course! Could you give the readers an example?

RDW:  We have one example of a company that’s saving significantly in their healthcare spend while delivering better benefits.  In fact, their savings are so compelling that their employees’ children are going to college – courtesy of the Company.

What we have discovered is that there’s hundreds of millions of dollars to be found in these loaded, misdirected plans that don’t serve anyone except the stock prices of the insurance company and the pockets of the brokers and pharma companies.

Finally, we thought, “You know what? If it’s an education issue.  If you can get unbiased education to healthcare buyers then healthcare in America will improve.”

So that’s what we did! We built the Certified Health Value Professional (CHVP) program, a professional designation, and we found experts in the areas that could move the needle. We rapidly built an online education program and launched about five months ago. It started catching on fire right away because it was such a big need.

It was recently recognized by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and now counts for recertification credit.

USDMT:  What is the process?

RDW:  Anybody that’s in HR must get their certification designation, and they can go through our CHVP for their recertification.

Here’s a few more exciting announcements that just happened in the past month or two:

The Florida Alliance for Healthcare Value, which currently has 110 employer members that includes Disney, Universal, and a lot of other big companies, just took on our program as an employer member benefit. All those professionals within have access to the program via a knowledge library that helps them in their buying journey.

We’ve also developed similar relationships with the Pittsburgh Business Group on Health and the Employers Healthcare Coalition in Illinois.

So it’s really catching on fire, and that’s been the focus of Validation Institute. We help educate those buyers, and we’re validating those vendors to help the buyers become getter purchasers and avoid making mistakes.

We validate, educate, and then the final piece is to connect the vendor and the buyer to create much more beneficial connections for everyone involved.

USDMT: Tell me a little bit about the organization structure.  How many others are involved?

RDW:  We have a leadership team, a core team of experts. We have a chief marketing officer and a marketing manager who are helping to develop online programs and raise awareness for them nationwide. 

We have a sales director and myself, as well. Then we have a pretty prestigious and accomplished group of industry experts, including Brian Klepper, Al Lewis, and Fred Goldstein, who collectively have hundreds of years of experience in trying to create health value for professionals.

USDMT:  You’re a for-profit or not-for-profit?

RDW: I love this question because we have all the components of a nonprofit, but sometimes nonprofits move a little slowly and can be a little too bureaucratic.

We are a fast-moving, nimble for-profit. We are currently funded 100% through fees associated with the online learning programs. This keeps us sustainable so we can continue to grow.

USDMT:  Great. Is this focused on the domestic market, or is there international reach?

RDW:  Domestic buyers are the current focus and assume that you have more perspective than I do about the international reach. There are companies that are doing innovative things with medical travel, for example.

USDMT:  Please take us through a typical engagement on validating a vendor. What kinds of things are you looking at?

RDW:  It all starts with a discovery call.

For example, say there’s some health care point solution that’s trying to sell directly to the employer. They’re making a performance claim, whatever that is —   a wellness program or a musculoskeletal physical therapy program or protocol, a diabetes program or an offering where they are making some kind of claim.

They may be saying, “We can do this for you.”

So it all starts with a call. That vendor sees the importance of validation, and more and more purchasers are starting to say, “Are you validated, and if you’re not, why not?”

Vendors are starting to feel that pressure and then come to us. So we work with them because we want good companies to get out in the market, and then we get them on a causeway to get validated.

We want to make sure we’re not validating solutions that are not accurately describing the benefit they bring to the employer.  Our intent is to get these out of the system because we only want to benefit the healthcare buyer. We start with a preliminary call, understand the data source that’s driving their performance claims and get access to that data.

Our data scientists review that data and validate the vendor’s claim. It’s the equivalent of an accounting audit for their marketing performance claim. It’s important to note that we validate a vendor’s specific program or service based on the supporting data, not the vendor as a whole.

USDMT: Are there key assessments and key points that you go through as well to ensure that all vendors are judged on the same level?

RDW:  Exactly. We have four types of validations we can perform, which are listed out on our website.

USDMT:   Are providers considered to be vendors? Maybe you could go through that definition a little bit more.

RDW:  Our main focus is the buyer — the person at the employer that is buying benefits for their employees. Everything we do focuses on looking at the vendor through their lens.  Our education program is designed for them to become better buyers.

The validation process is intended to help them make better decisions, so we work directly with the vendors in an unbiased way to understand the performance claim that they’re bringing to the buyer.  Then we can validate it.

USDMT:  Are hospitals considered to be a vendor?

RDW:  Potentially, if you’re selling directly to the employer. Hospitals, Centers of Excellence, and hospital services could be validated, but it’s not our typical customer right now.

USDMT: What are some examples?

Any type of wellness program, musculoskeletal programs, fertility programs, diabetes management, health technology, telehealth, primary care solutions.

USDMT:  What is the typical cost to get validated?

RDW:  It depends on the scope of the project and how identifiable the data is. It could be very quick and inexpensive. It’s based on the time spent with the data scientist.

For example, we have this Health Value Awards program that happens once a year, and companies will come in to apply for that, and, often times, that’s where you might talk to the company about getting validated.

If they come in through that awards program, it’s a flat $2,000 to go through the whole program and get validated. Otherwise, we base it off the scope of the project. The amount could go as high as $10,000 if it’s a very complicated validation.

But our goal is to help get them through it quickly, and help identify high-quality services for the buyer. And if somebody comes to us and they’re not ready for validation, we’ll tell them that and say, “This isn’t ready yet, but here’s how you can get in shape so that you are ready, and then come back to this.”

USDMT:  Does the buyer have to pay to access the validation?

RDW:  No. It’s completely free for them.

USDMT: It’s essentially a service to the industry. 

RDW:  Exactly.

USDMT:  Is it still associated with World Congress?

RDW:  We run the Health Value Awards out of the World Health Care Congress event, but we are a completely independent and separate organization.

USDMT:  Is there any advice that you would give to the vendor community to whet their appetite to getting validated? Is this something that’s going to become expected, or does this increase their chances of a winning business?

RDW:  Here’s one quick testimonial that we just got from the head of all benefits at Comcast: “If an employee benefit vendor comes to us promising an outcome or result, we would ask if the outcome is validated by the Validation Institute or, if not, why not? We will be interested in hearing their responses.”

That’s from Shawn Leavitt, SVP, Global Benefits, Comcast. It’s on our website with other testimonials from Michelin, Rosen Hotels and Resorts, Walmart Health and Wellness, and more.

USDMT:   Should companies such as a third-party administrator or a broker organization apply?

RDW:  They don’t need to apply. It’s just that a broker or advisor is often bringing best-in-case vendors to the buyer, and they should demand that that vendor is validated. It is very mission-driven, to try to highlight the performance claims of high-quality organizations and get rid of the companies that are not meeting expectations or living up to their performance claims.

USDMT:  How long does the validation process usually take?

RDW: If it’s a clear data source and a very clear point from data source to performance or outcome claim, then it could be a couple of weeks. But it’s typically somewhere between two weeks and a few months, depending on the complexity.

USDMT: It’s not a long, drawn-out process.

RDW: Correct.

USDMT:  What is your role in the Validation Institute? Do you ever get involved in the validation itself or you strictly run the organization?

RDW:  The inquiries will come in from all different directions, especially as we’re starting to get more known for what we do, and through the education program. My job is to connect them as quickly as possible with data scientists so that they can get moving.

Mostly, my job is to make healthcare buyers aware that this exists so that they can demand it.

USDMT:  Do you think that the buyers of healthcare, just overall, have seen this void in the market, where they just don’t have enough to go on, or are they just buying indiscriminately?

RDW:  Yes, they’re inundated with solutions, and they don’t know where to turn. There’s really no organization to it at all. And it’s hard to tell where the value is and who they can trust with their company’s dollars.

They want to believe these vendors, and they’re putting their careers at risk by bringing them in, but there’s always that uncertainty factor. As we educate more people through our CHVP program and create a common language and way of evaluating vendors, we can connect peers to peers and allow them to comment on their experiences with that vendor — like TripAdvisor –so everyone can purchase with greater confidence.

A feature of our website that is in beta right now is called eXchange, and it contains an online directory of 1,100 of these vendor companies. They are categorized in a way that we think will make it easier for the buyers to review.  It’s all free, and in the next few weeks, we’re inviting the healthcare buyers that we’re educating to come in and provide comments for their peers — to learn from the mistakes and successes of people just like them, which will be really beneficial to their decision making.

USDMT:  How many companies/vendors have you validated?

RDW: It’s a smaller number than you would think.

I’m going to say it’s under a hundred and, to that point, we can’t validate everyone fast enough. There are thousands of vendors that should validate their programs, especially if they want to stand out to buyers in a really powerful way.

This is why we created CORA. It’s the first module of the CHVP program and teaches the techniques of our data scientists. So while we’re working to officially validate vendors one-by-one, CORA students can apply many of these core data scientist techniques themselves.

Validation is intentionally a detailed process, and as I said, depending on the project it can be slow-going, but it’s essential to the industry. We are ready to scale up as awareness for validation grows and buyer demand increases.

USDMT:  What would you say are the areas of the biggest concern to the buyers? Is it wellness? Chronic condition management? Specialty pharmacy?

RDW:  Specialty pharmacy is definitely an area of growing concern and spend. The biggest area of spend by employers by far– right now — is musculoskeletal issues — back, knees, hips, etc. There are some great solutions out there that are lowering costs and helping people live healthier lives.

Cardio-metabolic is the second. Wellness is very popular, but that’s where an educated consumer is the best customer, right?

Companies are trying to add benefits that appeal to a certain workforce. So financial wellness, for example, is really hot right now, as well as fertility benefits. It depends on the company and their employee makeup.