Brave and Obsessed, my visit to @Elizacorp, Beverly, Mass

I have been a huge fan of Alex Drane – and hugely curious. Everything from how she has a sense of humor in health care to what she’s learned about what inspires and motivates people. So when I had the chance to spend some time with her and team at Eliza Corporation, I took it!

Eliza’s name doesn’t come from the (in)famous artificial intelligence program from the 1980’s (or before?), it comes from Eliza Doolittle – you can tell from my photographs of the office that Audrey and Eliza are everywhere. What Eliza does in health care is to have conversations with people about things of importance using advanced speech recognition technology. That’s the generic version. The specifics are very interesting here.

First of all the “things of importance” are more likely to be the things that people think are important in their health, which is often not the same thing that health care organizations think is important in their health. It could be having a satisfying job more than having a satisfying hemoglobin a1c level. Not being in debt versus not being overweight.

Second, the conversations are not “voice-talent” issued conversations about facts, and costs, and benefits, they are real people voices engaging creatively with language and tone, talking about how statin drugs miss their users and how a high cholesterol is like a headache that affects your whole body.

Eliza has a 400 million call database, and they learn from the scars caused by the responses of people caught in frustration, off guard, or through the irrelevance of poorly written voice scripts. Alex played a few example recorded calls. No question that these will help an organization learn. quickly.

In my tweetstream (which I affectionately hashtag’d #NXNE with respect to my SXSW-attending friends), I referred to Eliza as the repo-men (persons) of health care – they are not typically asked to engage the engaged, they work with the least engaged, working to bring them back into care. This may mean using advanced techniques to reach the most disengaged via privacy-appropriate messages left on family voice mail.

This is an interesting corner of our health system, a place where people understand:

  • attitude is everything, and that the mentionables that we are trained to ask about in health care come with a lot of unmentionables, that may be far more engaging to the people we serve
  • amazing technology exists to solve every health problem, yet health problems are not solved
  • working with the disengaged is a great place to learn

Think about this one – what if a health system realized that consumer debt was tied to weight gain, so instead of setting up a weight management program, it set up a debt management program (or partnered with an organization that services debt) and generated weight loss through debt loss? This is not as farfetched as it might sound, especially if you watch Suze Orman, who has noted a 2 pound weight gain for every $1,000 of hidden debt in her work.

There’s a lot of people working in the field of engagement who can show success from new technologies, maybe in the short term, maybe with a subset of people who are ready to be successful. Eliza seems different, they’ve been doing this for a really long time, have been adjusting their approach, and haven’t been going to the people who would otherwise come to them. Maybe one day Eliza will create an engagement bootcamp, to teach others about the science and the art of of being inspiring. It seems to me this requires strong leadership AND a willingness to learn and grow, or in Alex’s words, to be brave and obsessed….

Photos below, click to enlarge, and don’t be fooled by the spartan surroundings, they walked me through the server room – 400 million calls worth of engaging computers…..


Awesome. Without a doubt, the best quickest clearest description I've ever heard of what Eliza does and who Alex is, and why it all rocks. Terrific!

And how, being such a fan of theirs, did I not know all this?? Maybe they need more publicity about how to have your life rock – more chatter on social media??

It’s been 2 years since this article was written. I have found myself in the unfortunate position of having to deescalate those (of the thousands who are contacted daily) by Eliza. Whether it is the misconception of how to speak to people regarding their wellness (not necessarily health), or perhaps the technology still is not yet there for this software to live to its potential. This remains a cheap way for healthcare companies to harrass thousands of people daily, and consume their precious personal time with misleading messages that mask the real reason for the call. It could just be the way “my company” uses the software, but I have been under the impression that Eliza creates the dialect for the calls. If so, I am dissapointed that anyone forward thinking would believe this is “the best” way to truely help people control their own health. What it is, certainly, is the cheapest way to reach the most people.

Hi Don,

Thanks for your comment – it is not that I think this is the “best” way to help people control their health, it is more that I was/am fascinated by the passion of the people who created the technology and want to make the alternative, a non-appealing “directive” kind of message, more personal and engaging.

I’d say we agree that the best way to reach people is in the way they want to be reached, at the intersection between their life goals and the health that enables them to achieve them, the way they define it.

If it’s okay with you, I’m going to pass this comment on to the team and ask them to respond with their experience – from my time with them, I think they’ve encountered many different reactions to the work (that’s the “brave” part of doing something different). Thanks for stopping by and offering your experience,


My name is Alexandra Drane. I’m one of the co-founders at Eliza, and would love to connect with you directly to hear more of your feedback. Please feel free to email [email protected] to my attention, call us at 1-800-701-7864, or reach out to Ted and he can share my contact information with you. We care a lot about making a positive difference in people’s lives – and while we’re not always perfect at it out of the gate, we certainly put enormous amounts of energy into making sure we’re doing the exact opposite of harassing, and that we’re learning every step of the way. Please accept my apologies if your experience has been different, and let’s work quickly to better understand where the outreach appears to not be working well for you so we can make it better. Technology is absolutely not the answer to solving all that ails our industry, it’s just a way to better connect with and help individuals in need. Technology without empathy, technology without soul – no matter how ‘efficient’ – might work in the short term, but falls short over time. We think about all of this a lot – sounds like you do too – let’s connect.

Ted, thank you for the shout-out! One of our favorite things in the world to do is put our heads together with innovators like you about how we can change what it means to be happy and healthy.

Like you, we’re intrigued and amped up about all the opportunities that the Unmentionables project is bringing to light…and look forward to continuing the conversation and sharing our findings with the world as we learn them for ourselves. An engagement bootcamp? As we say… bring it!

And e-patient Dave… thank you for bringing up a great point that we are all over.

Let's keep fighting the good fight!

-Your Eliza fan club

I like it. Instead of having a real health care system, let's outsource the failures to voicemail. Very American. We can all make money on failure if we're really creative enough.

Hey Games – are you serious? Have you ever talked to an Eliza user? This system works…

You'd be more credible, btw, if you dared identify yourself. Too many anonymous trolls peeing on blogs these days… not helpful.

Hey Dave and Games,

Thanks for the interesting exchange, in the spirit of discussion I'm leaving it online (although I pulled one of your other comments down on another post, Games, as unprofessional).

I think the answer to the thread is one comment up, where Leigh tells us what Eliza is actually doing – "put(ing) our heads together with innovators ….about how we can change what it means to be happy and healthy."

This a quest independent of the financing and current challenge of our health care system, and Eliza works with the most functional and the not-so-functional parts of it. I think we can learn a lot,


Ted Eytan, MD