Frontiers Health Steering Committee spotlight: Eugene Borukhovich

With Frontiers Health 2022 mere weeks away, we continue to interview members of the steering committee, gaining insight into what to expect from Milan. In this latest coverage, pharmaphorum speaks with Eugene Borukhovich.

Formerly global head of digital health at Bayer, these days Borukhovich is travelling the entrepreneurial path, co-founder and COO of YourCoach.Health, together with his wife, Marina, who is also herself a health coach.

Borukhovich has been on such a journey before. Now on his third venture, in fact, he was involved in a start-up doctor rating platform over a decade ago. Borukhovich’s entrepreneurial spirit, it seems, is indeed strong.

“I kind of always joke around that I’m either a recovering executive or a recovering entrepreneur, but I’m always recovering,” he says.

After starting off in the entertainment and finance industries, Borukhovich entered pharmacy benefit management at a time wherein it quickly became clear to him that his skills could be applied to helping people get better – or even reverse disease. Two decades later, “never say never”, but he doesn’t see himself leaving the health industry:

“Notice, I don’t say ‘health care’ because, ultimately, I think we are striving for health, whatever version that is for each of us,” he says. “We really are saying the ‘health industry’ and that is what gets us up in the morning.”

A system for change, humanly

YourCoach.Health styles itself as an operating system for behaviour change, but is not itself classed as a digital therapeutics service. Health and wellness coaches can use the tool to manage their customers, programs, and payments. YourCoach.Health then leverages that technology to identify coaches and convert them to its contractors. Then, there’s the other side:

“On the revenue stream side, our customers are actually digital therapeutic companies, digital healthcare companies; broadly, virtual care companies that want to surround or embed their products into services with health coaching services,” Borukhovich explains. “In one sentence, we’re a tech-enabled health coaching service that is powered by this practice management solution of gig economy coaches.”

An important focus for Borukhovich is not losing sight of the direct impact on individuals that can be made not just by using technology, but also by interacting with the human being behind the technology.

“One of the things we say is that ‘human eye is still better than AI for foreseeable future’,” Borukhovich said. “Now, there’re certain things that can be automated, for sure, but that level of empathy and let’s call it a human touch, whether it’s virtual or physical, does not go away today.”

An agenda of absolute relevance

Borukhovich is hesitant to compare this year’s conference with the 2021 event.

“I don’t know if you ever watch Bachelor or Bachelorette,” he jokes. “My girls watch it, and it’s like, ‘This is the best season yet!’’

But he does admit a considerable excitement about Frontiers Health 2022.

“I think all the topics on the agenda are absolutely relevant,” he says. “We’re expecting many more people than last year, so I think first and foremost is to reconnect with individuals and connect with new ones. From the investment flows and M&A perspective, to the overall digital therapies and tools and how that’s been proceeding beyond the last two or three years – as the FDA got their hands a little bit around the digital therapies and digital therapeutics market – many more are coming to the scene.”

He expects to see many new faces presenting, speaking in panel discussions, and much more:

“That’s where you get the real deal information, right? These events are great on stage, but also in understanding what’s coming next.”

Steering a passion for digital health

Even though YourCoach.Health is US-centred, Borukhovich has been a fan of Frontiers Health from its early days, even when he was a sponsor with Bayer. What ignites his interest is the drive of the individuals to show up at the event.

“You can tell the passion. Honestly, for us it’s just to reconnect. We will be having a session on health coaching on day two of the agenda, to educate the digital health community on the benefits, the science behind it, and kind of generally what health coaching is,” he says. “Our focus is very much on the US market and here we’re just planting seeds and getting to know about the people.”

Addressing key issues in digital health

In the early days of Frontiers Health, discussion often centred on the importance of evidence. From prescribing digital therapies to doctors’ adoption of digital health tools – the key response was always a request for more evidence. And now there’s evidence in ample supply.

“A lot of the protocols, a lot of the procedures, a lot even of the reimbursements and codes have now been established,” Borukhovich says. “It’s really the commercialisation component of this and adoption, and the adoption is trying to figure out for a lot of these digital health companies: what are the right channels?”

Another aspect to consider is scaling.

“Technology can only go so far. Once again, human beings are a key component of our health and care system. It’s not going away any time soon. We all still need the human touch,” he says.

Pandemic legacy

A choice between the two was taken away, however, when COVID-19 struck, and the impacts of the pandemic have been even more far reaching.

“All of a sudden, deals were getting done because there was literally no choice […] If you look at health systems, that had to be done online or even ‘hospital at home’. If we look at insurers, during the kind of peak of the pandemic, insurers were not paying out, so, there was in theory lots of cash saved up for further investments. The impacts of this, as we’ve seen, are insurers are on an acquisition spree at the moment,” Borukhovich says.

“[However], if we look at digital therapeutics companies, with the FDA guidance, many companies released into the wild […] their tools prior to FDA approval, so, there’s a lot of real-world data that was gathered during that time. Now, from a regulatory perspective, people are trying to figure out, does this stay, does it go, how do we advance this, how do we not snap back fully to physical presence?”

Gazing into the crystal ball

While ‘hospital at home’ investments are continuing, Borukhovich has considered even further into the future and thinks it will be a case of blending different mediums.

“If I had a crystal ball, it’s going to be a spectrum,” he says. “I think people are absolutely frustrated about finding the right care, so, a lot of the self-care tools and digital therapies and digital health tools are here to stay.”

“At some point, we need help from others and, honestly, this is where we see health coaching as a kind of preventative service, as the next level from self-paced tools, then going into clinical services, as needed, beyond that. Augmented by technology, but not replaced by technology throughout that process.”

Although YourCoach.Health has done trend predictions in the past, this year the crystal ball has yet to be angled towards 2023:

“Running a business, with your head down: we haven’t gotten there yet,” Borukhovich says. “It’s only September. Happy to come back to that one post-Thanksgiving.”

Or perhaps at Frontiers Health 2022…

Frontiers Health 2022 is to be held on 20th and 21st October at the Palazzo del Ghiaccio in Milan Italy, as well as online. Click here to register.

And check out Eugene’s fireside chat from last year’s event below.