Tag Archives: vital plan

Public Health in Action – Vital Plan Strives for Impact, One Person at a Time

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There’s one lecture from graduate school that I constantly remember. In that particular Healthcare Delivery in the U.S. course lecture, my professor walked through a clinical visit with a recurring patient. Medical students and residents learn to obtain three important pieces of information from the patient: chief complaint (the reason for their visit), symptoms and a brief medical history. He then opened it up to us – was there anything else we would like to know? Coming from a public health perspective, our questions dove deeper into the social determinants of health -physical environment (housing), SES (access to health insurance, employment), etc. –  to clarify if there were any underlying issues causing the patient to return with similar health issues. That deeper dive, he said, was the distinction between the fields of medicine and public health.

An article published by WBUR last month illustrates a shift in medical school and residency programs to integrate public health principles, most notably the social determinants of health, into their learning objectives.

A holistic understanding of each patient is ideal when tailoring a plan not only to treat illness, but to achieve long-term well-being. The whole-person approach to treating chronic illness is what makes Vital Plan a unique part of the vast healthcare landscape.

My interview with CEO Braden Rawls catching up 2 years after our first interview, below.

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Me: I can’t believe it’s been almost 2 years since I published our first blog interview.  How’s Vital Plan?  What’s new that you can share with us?

Braden Rawls: It’s been a busy two years! Vital Plan has grown its customer base significantly, and this has allowed us to recruit ten new team members to continue improving our programs and expanding our reach. What really clicked for Vital Plan was selling our herbal supplement products in bundles alongside supportive health programs. Our signature program is the Restore Program, which includes four supplements plus health coaching support and a six month online course with education about restoring balance in the body through diet and lifestyle.  We’ve received very positive feedback on this program from customers and have expanded it to an international audience, with customers across Europe, Canada and Australia.

Me:  Why was it important for Vital Plan to become B Corporation Certified?

BR:  B Corp certification is important for Vital Plan to showcase third-party verification of our commitment to doing business with integrity. We are on a mission to restore and rebuild trust in the herbal supplement industry after its reputation was tarnished by deceitful players. Being able to showcase our commitment to doing business with integrity has already proven valuable in gaining new customers and recruiting talent. From the start, our goal has been to empower everyone that our organization teaches individuals to become more proactive about their health and to be mindful of the way they live. B Corp gives us a framework to support this mission and put best practices in place to grow our company in a smart, sustainable way.

Me:  One of the illnesses that Vital Plan focuses on is Lyme Disease.  Could you describe why it’s been a major focus for Vital Plan?  How does Vital Plan’s approach differ from traditional approaches?

BR:  Lyme disease is an illness that is personal for Vital Plan, as our founder, Dr. Bill Rawls, suffered with pain and insomnia for many years before ultimately testing positive for Lyme disease. However, Dr. Rawls’ personal struggle motivated him to research microbial illness from all angles, and he feels that Lyme disease is only one microbe of thousands behind chronic illnesses such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and rheumatoid arthritis. Dr. Rawls believes that the true problem is not the stealthy microbes, but rather suppression of our immune systems that is allowing these stealthy microbes to flourish. He feels that chronic immune dysfunction is the real driver of the increase in chronic disease in developed countries, as exposure to toxins, radiation, stress and processed foods has depressed our immune system and is allowing microbial disease to flourish.

Me:  Vital Plan’s belief in addressing the underlying causes of disease is non-traditional.  Could you speak why your team is so passionate about taking this route?

BR:  The approach of treating symptoms is valuable for helping an individual to live more comfortably short term, but it is generally not a long term solution for fostering wellness.  Our team believes that disease in the body is often the result of environmental and dietary factors that are under our control, such as inflammatory food, chronic stress, and exposure to toxins and microbes. Through awareness of these disease factors, we believe that better health is in reach for many individuals. We feel that herbal medicine and natural healing modalities are also effective tools for individuals to take advantage of to promote healing and restore balance in the body.

Me:  Based on the patients that Vital Plan serves, what would you say are the biggest challenges for them to get back to normal? “Normal” being before their respective diseases produced symptoms so severe that it affected their quality of life.

BR:  For many people, diet and lifestyle changes are very difficult. However, once a person realizes that the food they are eating (or busy schedules they are slaves to) is making them sick, the changes become much easier to adopt. When you begin to associate foods or lifestyle practices with feeling good, your body will begin to crave those foods and practices instead of the ones that make you feel bad. It is all about training your brain to make those connections. Accelerating those connections for people is a big part of the mission behind our programs at Vital Plan.

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Public Health in Action – Champions of Change

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The Looking Glass by Dave Meier

It’s been a full year since I created this blog and after reading each of my posts from the past year, I feel like it’s only the beginning.  Switch/Health has evolved so much more than I could have ever imagined.  Initially envisioned as a “one-stop shop” for all topics that directly or indirectly affect health outcomes, it has become a link to many great stories.  Stories of local leaders affecting real change in their communities.  Stories that describe how health and the healthcare system look from various lenses.  And most importantly, stories that describe their own evolution in finding purpose in their work.  I feel extremely humbled for the opportunity to share their stories with you.

The leaders listed below have been instrumental in empowering people in self-awareness and improvement.  I’m inspired to continue my search in finding the unsung heroes making an impact.  And I hope their stories offer you some insight and inspiration as well.

A Maria Hester – Dr. Hester Empowers Her Patients
Bri Isaacs – YogiBriii in the OC
Betty Jung – Web Master and Lecturer Betty Jung
Elizabeth Greenberg – Non-Scents Makes A Lot Of Sense
Rachel Safeek – Rachel Safeek Fights the Status Quo with “Fight Stigma”
Heather Freeman – Heather Freeman Believes We All Have Capes
Braden Rawls – Health Doesn’t Have to Cost an Arm and a Leg
Jonathan Bonnet – Walking the Walk
Elizabeth Poindexter – Mobilizing for Collective Impact
Ryan Shaw – Leveraging Health IT to Improve Outcomes
Patricia Carcaise-Edinboro – Hearing the Unheard
Michael Allen – Mind the Gap
Prathima Kannan – Communities Creating a Culture of Health

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” — Mahatma Ghandi

Public Health in Action – Health Doesn’t Have to Cost an Arm and a Leg

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Braden Rawls
CEO, Vital Plan

I met Braden at a startup event coordinated by the Triangle Startup Weekend crew.  I was there as a volunteer, but I met some interesting people and they insisted that I talk with Braden.  The “theme” or scope of that weekend was to drive more women into entrepreneurship since other events consisted of a majority male audience.  From what I heard, the turnout was 70/30 in favor of women and they had some great ideas.  Braden embodies the mentality and determination it takes to succeed and I hope she inspires more women to jump into the entrepreneurship world.

Now let’s get to the interview!

Me: Tell us about Vital Plan and how you got involved.  Start from high school or college and describe your evolution into your current role.

Braden: My major at UNC-Chapel Hill was Public Relations in the Journalism school; I really enjoyed the classes, but wasn’t sure where I wanted to take the degree. Most PR graduates work for an advertising firm after college, but I didn’t feel called to go that route. Towards the end of my sophomore year, I heard about a new “entrepreneurship” minor in the works. I thought that sounded like a good complement to my major and a chance to learn something new.

One class in and I was hooked. We went through case studies of great entrepreneurs over the past century and it was fascinating to me how they were able to turn “problems” into opportunities. I felt a connection immediately to the students and professors in this entrepreneurship community who were also energized by “problem solving.” I decided that I wanted to be an entrepreneur; I just needed an idea! This was before the startup boom in Raleigh/Durham, so there were not a lot of resources for someone who wanted to start a company or work for a startup.

After I graduated, I took a job in Raleigh with a successful entrepreneur as his “right hand” assistant. I learned a ton, but really wanted to pursue my own startup company. Knowing this, my dad presented me with the idea of helping him to turn his passions and expertise around herbal therapy into a scalable business model.  I started working on this nights and weekends, and it quickly became a passion. It took several years of nights and weekends to develop a profitable business where I could go full time and hire staff, but it was worth it. I love what I do, and Vital Plan is well positioned for growth. It’s an exciting time!

Me: What inspires you on a daily basis, especially when things get hard?

Braden: My team at Vital Plan. Everyone has put so much hard work into building this company and it saddens me when I realize there is a possibility that it could all cave in. My father is so passionate and sincere about helping people to improve their health and I think it would be a shame if we cannot succeed in connecting him with the right audience to hear this message. Also our angel investors took a leap to invest in a “non-tech” company and have extended much more of their time than the average investor. I am motivated to make this a success for them in appreciation for their tremendous support and encouragement.

Also, the realization that I need to pay my bills and won’t have a graduate degree or savings to fall back on if Vital Plan doesn’t grow. Ha! That is of course a huge motivating factor once you choose the startup route over grad school or a corporate job.

Me: What do you think it will take for our society to view health more seriously?  As in, why is health lower in priority to careers and education and relationships?

Braden: I think the realization that 95% of health symptoms are being fueled by our own actions is the key. When it sets in for people that their diet or stressful lifestyle makes them feel sick and uncomfortable, they are much likely to step up and take accountability for their actions. It is easy to avoid accountability when you have a mindset that your digestive issues, pain, and fatigue fell out of the sky and made you a victim. When you finally accept that those symptoms are a direct result of your daily actions, such as overindulging in sugar, drinking, or adrenaline, there is no one else to blame and it becomes easier to halt destructive behaviors.

Me: What are some things/concepts/ideas you’ve seen either here in the U.S. or abroad that, if disseminated in an effective way, would change how people think about their own health?

Braden: Stress is a big contributing factor to illness. The good news is, the most effective stress management techniques are free! Learning simple breathing exercises and short meditations to incorporate into your day can make a huge difference. Meditations can be effective before stress hits, because they prepare you to handle difficult situations when they come your way.

And of course I have to plug herbal therapy. America left herbal therapy in the dust years ago for the promise that pharmaceutical treatments offered. While drug therapy can be very powerful in acute situations, there is a lot of power in herbal medicine for managing stress and encouraging wellness. I am so happy to see a movement building in America to embrace natural therapies.

Me: What are the current needs in your city as they relate to social determinants of health (ie SES, poverty, access to care, transportation, safety, etc.)?  Social determinants of health are any factors that directly or indirectly affect health.  For example, being homeless could cause stress and malnutrition which could drastically affect one’s health.

Braden: The 9 to 5 sedentary workday is a huge health threat that is flying under the radar. Sitting at a computer screen all day is terrible for your digestion, cardiovascular health, blood flow, etc. and a contributing factor to obesity. Not to mention that these environments encourage consumption of sugar and processed foods. I think that companies who encourage their employees to take short breaks throughout the day and give them space to accommodate this will go a long way. Offering healthful snacks and limiting sugary temptations like doughnuts and cupcakes is also a huge step in the right direction.