Bryce Williams, Vice President of Lifestyle Medicine, on small changes for a big difference

Lifestyle medicine inspired Bryce Williams to help “not just 400 research subjects, but 4 million members.” Below, he reflects on what’s kept him at Blue Shield of California for more than a decade and the philosophies guiding his team.
Bryce Williams standing in front of a grey wall wearing a blue suit.

What do you do at Blue Shield of California? 

I lead the Lifestyle Medicine Team. Our work is about self- empowerment. We want people to understand that diet and lifestyle are medical choices and ones you can self-prescribe. The evidence clearly shows for many patients that diet and lifestyle are the most cost-effective, clinically effective, and least-invasive treatment alternatives, whether you’re looking to prevent, treat, or even reverse chronic diseases. It might be something as simple as supporting someone’s goal to get to the gym more often or suggesting evidence-based interventions that could prevent bypass surgery for someone with heart disease.

Our team is made up of clinicians – including exercise physiologists and dietitians – who think about what programs to offer and how to improve them, evangelists for those programs, and a third group focused on operations and compliance. We truly are a cross-functional team focused on helping members live healthier lives.

What brought you to the company, and why have you stayed?

I started in corporate finance and strategic planning before I moved into health care. I came to this field for the same reason many of us do: I wanted to make it better. I’ve had people in my life who suffered needlessly, in part because they were never really presented with the idea of diet and lifestyle as medical options. They might have been told to eat healthier or be more active, but they didn’t have any real support to make those changes.

From my experience in academic research, nonprofit work, and startups, I’ve seen what’s possible when we consider diet and lifestyle first. We really can reverse early-stage prostate cancer and heart disease or even change the structure of the human genome. But at some point, I started wondering why that information wasn’t creating much change, and that’s what led me to work with health plans. I wanted to be somewhere that had the fiscal and human capital to take what we’ve learned and scale it.

I also chose Blue Shield in part because we’re a nonprofit. Making decisions about members’ health based on earnings targets never seemed quite right to me. That’s part of the reason I’ve stayed for so long. But I’ve also stayed because I’m continually given opportunities to innovate and push the envelope on what we can achieve in this space.

Tell us about the culture of the Lifestyle Medicine Team.

There’s a lot of passion for the work we do because we believe the evidence: lifestyle interventions work. The simplest changes can often be the most powerful in terms of health – in longevity and quality of life – and with virtually none of the side effects you might get with surgery or medication. Sometimes that medical model is best, but we believe we can’t be locked into it if we’re really going to make a difference. So our team is here to say, “There might be a better way.” 

In that way, our people have an “intrapreneurial” mindset. We’re part of a larger organization, but we aren’t afraid to do things differently. Blue Shield has given me a lot of room to stretch myself and go out and solve problems, and I give the same opportunity to my team.

What kinds of challenges do you and your team face?

I think our biggest challenge we face is fighting the misconception that diet and lifestyle are only preventive. We’re always looking for ways to help people understand that it’s also about treatment – or even reversal – and the benefits accrue immediately. You can feel better. You can be more active with your kids. Conveying this information is a challenge, but it’s also why we get out of bed every day. It’s about meeting people where they are, not saying, “You eat too much” or “You’re addicted to nicotine.” That’s not our approach. We’re all human and we all want health and happiness for ourselves and our families. That’s what we’re here for.

What are you excited to work on next?

I’m excited to launch the next iteration of Wellvolution, Blue Shield’s comprehensive suite of digital and in-person, clinically validated lifestyle medicine programs. We’ve realized that if we really want to help people, the interventions we offer have to be convenient and robust. 

For example, if we know there are 20 good digital therapeutic options for people with diabetes, why not offer them all to our members? Maybe some are focused on medication adherence and a few others are focused on diet. Within the dietary options, maybe one is plant-based and another is built on caloric restriction. We recognize that every person is different and people need options. We want people to be able to try a program out and, if it doesn’t work for them, seamlessly switch to something else that does work. 

Our goal as a team is to analyze the data to see whether members are using a program and seeing positive results, whether those results are clinical, emotional, or spiritual. Everyone’s key metric for change is unique and, as I mentioned earlier, our objective on the lifestyle medicine team is to always be asking, “Is there a better way?”

That’s what drives me and why our work is so exciting.