Point of View: The Health Insurer of the Future


Harken Health Co-founder & CEO Tom Vanderheyden offers a vision of future health where it's all about relationships - with the consumer, the patient, the member, and the medical team.

Tom Vanderheyden

5 min read

As the co-founder of Harken Health, a new company that connects healthcare and insurance, Tom Vanderheyden says he is often approached with questions regarding the future of both industries. From how will technology solve our healthcare woes to how health data can help us uncover population health trends that will result in reduced costs. But Vanderheyden, who will be speaking at this year's AHIP Institute on how disruptive innovators are reimagining healthcare, has noticed he doesn't get asked often enough about the role primary care and relationships should play in bringing real disruption to healthcare. Here he offers a perspective on this key dynamic:

Fundamentally, the modern healthcare system is broken; with the United States currently sitting in first place with the highest per capita spend on healthcare, but in last place with the worst health outcomes of any modern country.

Consumerism and technology have brought along wonderful benefits that can be translated to almost every facet of our lives. And, data and technology hold the potential to yield insights that, in the hands of care professionals, can be transformational. But when it comes to healthcare, we must approach these with a different lens – one that brings primary care and relationships back into focus. At Harken, we are committed to putting relationships and access to care first and we are using technology as the support structure. Technology enables us to build relationships and facilitate communication, not replace it.

The future of healthcare is building relationships through human interaction, not just a computer screen. It is using technology to support, not replace that same human interaction.  The future of healthcare and health insurance is about the relationship with the consumer, the patient, the member and with the doctors, nurses and medical support staff.

Furthermore, with our country’s focus on consumerism and the trend towards a more transaction based society, we’ve built a healthcare system catered to that mentality. We as a country moved to an urgent care, emergency room mentality. But, in reality, urgent care and emergency rooms are not structured to emphasize care, and without that, trust and relationships aren’t built.

At Harken, we are committed to putting relationships and access to care first and we are using technology as the support structure.

It is well documented that people who have a relationship with their primary care physician visit more, listen more, follow directions more and have better health. PCPs in the right environment can do much more than the annual exam. They can attend to the whole person, their lifestyle, track progress and more broadly coordinate care across multiple specialists and conditions. In short, they can be the quarterback in a leaderless healthcare environment. With care, trust and relationships combined, come increased health outcomes and reduced health costs. 

We can bring about change by bringing relationships and trust back into healthcare. By integrating insurance with access to relationship-based primary care, we are working to change the paradigm on health cost vs. health outcomes in the industry. At Harken, we believe that all people deserve to feel cared for and heard. They want to be treated like humans again. Furthermore, we believe that most people who get into healthcare (Drs, Nurses, etc.) want to care for people, but that caring and the ability to give care has been systematically removed from the healthcare system over time in the interest of efficiency and technology.

With that in mind, we started from scratch and built a new model. One that is focused on offering people access to a relationship-based healthcare experience, supported by insurance but focused on access to local, personalized care delivered by teams that are less burdened by administrative tasks and enabled to focus more on delivering care to our members. 

We built a new healthcare company; one that unites healthcare and insurance in three ways: We offer our members access to a Place, the Harken Health Centers, for convenient access to care; access to a Personal team of healthcare professionals (doctors, health coaches and behavioral health specialists); and an Insurance Plan with access to a robust network.

With unfettered, no additional cost access to a personal care team at the Harken Health Centers, one that can and will be the quarterback in our member’s healthcare journey, we are displacing the high cost of care delivery with the loser being the current “emergency room” mindset that so many Americans have adopted. With Harken, the insurance is simplified and sits in the background, as it should and healthcare is made human again.  

  • Tom Vanderheyden