Health Tech: Arel Lidow On How Cedar’s Technology Can Make An Important Impact On Our Overall…

Posted on

Health Tech: Arel Lidow On How Cedar’s Technology Can Make An Important Impact On Our Overall Wellnesw

Embrace “unsexy” problems that affect the majority of the population — Chances are, many entrepreneurs are focused on finding the next big problem to solve and are likely looking for flashy solutions to problems that immediately strike listeners as interesting. If you can identify something that isn’t on others’ radar, you can be a first mover and pioneer in the space.

In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Arel Lidow, Co-Founder and Co-Chief Maker at Cedar.

Arel Lidow sets the strategic and technical direction for Cedar’s product line and leads the “Makers” team, which includes engineering, product, design and data science. Prior to founding Cedar in 2016, Arel was VP of product at AppNexus where he supervised the development and launch of the company’s flagship products. Arel began his career as a technology associate at Bridgewater Associates, working on trading systems for the world’s largest hedge fund, after graduating from Princeton University with a B.S.E. in electrical engineering and a certificate in finance.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Interestingly enough, defining where my career started is even a bit of a challenge. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial mindset. In high school, my friends and I had a hobby of trying to scheme up business ideas — many of which failed tremendously. We tested out whimsical inventions like a human-powered smoothie machine that used a bike to start the blender, which ultimately was not fruitful (no pun intended!). My first glimpse of developing a successful product was selling programs for TI-83 Calculators that made solving the equations we used in math class a bit easier. From there, the entrepreneurial itch set in. After college and pursuing work at a hedge fund, I briefly tried to start my own company before going to work at AppNexus. While this first company did not work out, it further solidified for me the necessity of perseverance in the world of entrepreneurship.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My father is a business professor who teaches entrepreneurship based on his own personal experiences. He served as the ideal role model for me as I embarked on my career path. Given his background in academics, my father and I had a tendency to have long, thoughtful conversations about the world of business through which I learned a number of important lessons about both business and life in general — which dovetails nicely into your next question.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My father taught me that there are three fundamental ways that you can engage with others in nearly any situation. You can either:

Cooperate, and work towards a mutually beneficial outcome together;

Compete, and establish that if one person wins, it means the other loses, or;

Retreat, and choose to disengage entirely

That framework has been really valuable to me throughout my life, as it has helped me always look for ways to cooperate above all else. This has fostered a strong sense of collaboration that has served me well both in business and my personal life.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Always seeking out win-wins. As I mentioned above, cooperating with others and finding solutions that benefit everyone involved can be a great tactic for paving the pathway to success. This has been my main strategy of interpersonal engagement in the enterprise world, and it’s been instrumental in helping gain investor buy-in and in growing Cedar’s workforce.

Channeling a “hacker” mindset by not looking at a problem in the boundary of constraints, but rather questioning the constraints you have. For example, is there a way that you can change the game to give you some sort of advantage? You encounter this in business all the time, where you can miss out on potential solutions by thinking too inside the box.

Maintaining curious skepticism as you approach problems. I crave learning about new information, ideas, people and more — but a general stance that I take by default is to assume something is wrong until I understand how it works or why it is that way. I don’t accept the “that’s just the way it works” mindset, which helps me avoid complacency and consistently look for more effective processes.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive impact on our wellness. To begin, which particular problems are you aiming to solve?

Healthcare continues to mirror consumer experiences, moving patient communications and decisions further upstream. This impacts patient expectations around their administrative and financial experiences — in fact, 26% of consumers have left a negative review about a healthcare provider because of unexpected costs or a frustrating bill process. Concurrently, the financial burden for healthcare consumers has skyrocketed over the last decade. Since consumers are expected to shoulder more of the cost for their care, they now have higher expectations about the experience they have with their providers, and want to be able to understand and plan for their financial responsibilities. Nearly one-third of people (32%) want a better understanding of what they owe before a procedure or visit. Yet, of the patients who have tried to obtain out-of-pocket costs ahead of receiving care, 40% said that information was difficult to find or even inaccurate. Simply put, the demand for a more transparent, convenient and just plain better consumer financial experience is at an all-time high.

How do you think your technology can address this?

When we founded Cedar, we saw that providers were struggling to meet their patient collection and satisfaction goals because the billing process was broken, and we built our post-visit product, Cedar Pay, to personalize the post-visit financial experience, so patients could access, understand and resolve bills on their own, on their terms.

But to truly alleviate the pain associated with billing, there needs to be a cohesive experience for consumers that includes pre-visit — or, what happens before patients present for care (i.e., appointment confirmation, registration and intake, insurance verification, price estimates, etc.). The demand for these offerings is strong, but in general, the experience is fragmented and one-size-fits-all for patients and providers alike. That’s why my team and I built a solution that empowers consumers with their healthcare costs prior to care so they can make informed decisions, enhancing their experience and improving health outcomes.

This product, Cedar Pre delivers a seamless and comprehensive experience to consumers preparing for care. By leveraging this solution, healthcare providers can deliver a “concierge-like” experience for patients along the entire healthcare journey, providing unprecedented access and affordability from pre-registration and intake through final payment. Like with all of our products, we’ve combined consumer-centric design and personalized experiences, so Cedar Pre can deliver the necessary information patients and providers need to take the right actions before care and to avoid surprises.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

My passion for the work I do at Cedar undoubtedly grew over time. It began when my Cedar co-founder, Florian Otto, reached out to me identifying a problem he wanted to solve — medical billing in the U.S. While I was not previously involved with the healthcare industry and was truthfully a bit unsure about pursuing this opportunity, I realized it was a great way to incorporate my inherent interest in solving complex system problems into my career path. There are very few large population-level problems left to solve (think as high-level as global warming), and while medical billing is not the “sexiest” consumer pain point to improve, recent trends at the time showed growing consumer out-of-pocket healthcare costs, and I realized that we could help improve health equity and reduce the likelihood of bad medical debt by developing a technology solution that brought the medical billing space into the 21st century. I ultimately decided to start Cedar with Florian because it allowed us to have a massive social impact by addressing a consumer problem that affects the entire U.S. population. Entrepreneurs are hard-pressed to develop businesses that are both viable and have a social impact, so knowing that we were truly helping people and that I could wake up and feel good about my work eventually led me to pursue this endeavor. As I’ve spent more time in the space and experienced success that’s lent to Cedar expanding its offerings, the fulfillment I feel from doing this work only continues to grow and I look forward to identifying more problems we can tackle as our company grows, as well.

How do you think this might change the world?

On top of evolving consumer expectations, legislative measures such as the 2021 Hospital Price Transparency Rule and the No Surprises Act (NSA) have placed further urgency on the pre-visit experience. However, minimum compliance with the NSA does not deliver a great patient experience. This leads to ineffective patient engagement with cost estimates, and can harm patient-provider relationships.

We strongly align with the spirit of the No Surprises Act and believe that consumers shouldn’t be caught off guard with a staggering bill that makes them question whether they made the right care decisions. By approaching medical billing in a patient-first manner, we believe that providers can achieve the same goal of empowering consumers with personalized, accurate and timely cost estimates that can improve their overall care experience.

Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)

Embrace “unsexy” problems that affect the majority of the population — Chances are, many entrepreneurs are focused on finding the next big problem to solve and are likely looking for flashy solutions to problems that immediately strike listeners as interesting. If you can identify something that isn’t on others’ radar, you can be a first mover and pioneer in the space.

Stay focused on the task at hand — I know this sounds simple, but it can be easy to lose track of what you’re working on in the tech space. There are so many problems that you need to solve as an entrepreneur that it’s easy to get distracted and forget the problem you set out to solve. For instance, I leave a stack of medical bills on my desk at all times so I have a palpable reminder of our mission.

Consider all key stakeholders’ viewpoints during product development — While our customers are health systems, we also interact directly with patients, and can have a massive impact on their lives. Meaning, to have a successful solution, we have to serve our customers and their customers well. Prioritizing things like best-in-class data science and UX design practices — all enhanced by a deep empathy for patients — have allowed us to develop products that improve collections and satisfaction, serving both patients and providers.

Develop a solution that masterfully solves one element before expanding into other areas — I like to say that some medical records systems are like diner menus. They’re too long and have a check-the-box mentality. While offering many features may lead to an increase in your customer base, if you don’t flawlessly execute your main value proposition, then there’s no use in expanding into other, less thought-out features.

Create a result-based offering and keep KPIs at the forefront — While you may think you’ve developed the perfect tech solution, the truth is in the results. At Cedar, we centered ourselves around ensuring our flagship offering, Cedar Pay, was creating considerable ROI for our customers. Our product has evolved over the years to best serve our customers and with this approach we’ve been able to offer massive success for their patient satisfaction scores, digital engagement and collection rates, and from there we felt confident it was time to expand into Cedar Pre.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

People often mistakenly view making a social impact as something that is mutually exclusive from building a business — but it’s quite the opposite. There is ample opportunity to have an extremely positive impact while actually building a successful business. I would encourage people to look for true win-wins — looking for opportunities to build businesses that are centered around creating social impact. While it may be challenging to figure out how to bring these elements together, once they fall into place your work is immensely fulfilling. This is also an effective way to recruit other cause-driven individuals to join your efforts. Our team at Cedar is so strong and effective largely because our mission resonates with everyone.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I’m a huge believer in surrounding yourself with people that are the best in the world at what they do, as well as those who approach problems in an entirely different way than you do. One person who thinks in a completely different way than I do is Kanye West. After watching his documentary on Netflix, I’m totally fascinated by him, the way his brain works and how he approaches things, and would love to sit down with him and pick his brain.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn to stay in the loop on Cedar updates. And for more on what our Makers team is up to, you can check out our Design and Data Science blog and our Engineering blog.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.

Health Tech: Arel Lidow On How Cedar’s Technology Can Make An Important Impact On Our Overall… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.