We had the good luck to break up the work day with David Whitesock, Founder of Commonly Well, a brand-new start-up focused on behavioral health. Prior to founding Commonly Well, David was Chief Innovation Officer at Face It TOGETHER, an organization that pairs people working through addiction with coaches in a wellness-focused approach. The two organizations remain tightly linked today.
So you’re getting ready to launch Commonly Well, which must be so exciting. Give us a peek into what you’re trying to do.
At Face It TOGETHER, we designed and developed the Recovery Capital Index (RCI), which is a reliable, objective measurement tool that looks at a person’s wellbeing across various criteria. At Commonly Well, we’re going to build it out for broader commercial use under an exclusive licensing arrangement with Face It TOGETHER. It’s exciting because the big behavioral health problems of our time – drug and alcohol addiction, obesity, diabetes – are always addressed at the end, when they’re full-blown and at a crisis point. In fact, we’ll solve these problems when we stop looking at the bottom of the waterfall and move up river to the problems’ source.
The RCI gives us a really holistic way to do that because we look at a person across the full spectrum of factors that can support – or impede – their success. That’s everything from social beliefs to family relationships to physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.
How did you even get the idea for the RCI?
When I was at Face It TOGETHER, we had the head of an integrated health system in our headquarters for a meeting with our co-founders. In that meeting, he challenged us to think of a way to bring data to truly measure addiction recovery. One of our co-founders left that meeting, walked straight to my desk, and gave me a month to get it done. It took longer than a month, but our team made it happen. That’s how the RCI was born.
Why is it important to measure recovery?
The RCI allows care providers to measure how a person is doing every 30 days across a much fuller spectrum. That’s really in stark contrast to the typical way of thinking about recovery, which is incredibly binary. You’re either sober or you’re not. It’s a very black-and-white way of thinking about addiction recovery and it kills people, frankly. A slip for some people makes them feel like the path to sobriety is insurmountable, and that’s not a healthy feeling.
Can you give an example?
Imagine, for example, you were working through alcohol addiction and being jobless. Then you got a job and it’s stressful. You have a slip and take a drink. Conventional wisdom says now you’re back to square one. But have you really failed? You still have the job. You coped by going back to the old ways. That’s not always a catastrophe; sometimes it’s just a reset moment.
What the RCI can tell us too is how you’re feeling about that job. If you feel it’s meaningful, that helps you stay focused and committed to sobriety, especially if that is a really important goal. If not, then the RCI gives your care providers the data to better help you stay on track. That might mean helping you make a change, like exploring the option of a new job that feels more meaningful with better support mechanisms in place.
And you have your own experiences that make this personal for you?
Yes. I lived a pretty terrible cycle of addiction for a long time that resulted in several DUIs. One judge was absolutely astounded that someone that looked like me, with all my family support, and all my advantages, was struggling so much. I was required to take a breathalyzer twice a day for five years – and it put me on the right track. I went to a sober home, finished my undergrad degree, went to law school, and found my way to this. So I know it’s possible for people to find the mechanisms – whatever they are – to see what they could do differently.
So what’s next for Commonly Well other than launching (which is a huge step!)?
Over time, Commonly Well will expand who the RCI is delivered to and help a broader set of organizations measure personal wellness and change.
Right now, we’re so excited to work on some very meaningful projects that will help us build out the tool. They range from work with providers to academic institutions to local governments.
And how did you end up working with Welkin?
Through Face It TOGETHER. When people are trying to overcome something dramatic, they need to concentrate on being in their lives versus making their lives solely about social work, provider appointments, etc. Welkin makes it possible for providers to help patients like these do the work they need to do by using technology. Now patients can keep in touch through asynchronous methods like texting. They don’t have to leave their jobs that they worked hard to get and drive 45 minutes to see a counselor; they can do it via video in their cars, in the office, or at home.
Welkin helps keep progress moving forward with tools to manage populations who need care at scale. And you do that really well.
Well, thank you!