The use and application of AI will need to be regulated.” with Jillian Bridgette Cohen and Tyler Gallagher

The use and application of AI will need to be regulated. In all things technology, our government officials need to take the time to understand how these advancements work and what their possible positive and negative uses could be. I also think that similar to nuclear weapons, agreements need to be put into place at the global level and regulations need to be created at the more local levels for how AI can be used. If there are potential fines, jail time etc, for the misuse it will act as a deterrent and make people somewhat less likely to create things that are harmful.

As part of my series about the women leading the Artificial Intelligence industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jillian Bridgette Cohen ,CEO & Co-Founder of Virtual Health Partners, Inc. (VHP), a results-based virtual wellness platform that provides live one-on-one nutrition appointments, fitness classes, and lifestyle modification by a team of wellness specialists..In May 2015, Jillian launched VHP with the goal of creating an ecosphere of wellness support, available anywhere and anytime. She continues to develop both the brand and her team, working closely with partners and their clients to provide a VIP experience. With over 15 years of experience in the medical industry, Jillian was responsible for the multi-million-dollar growth of three start-up companies, with a strong focus in the non-invasive weight loss space.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the ‘backstory” of how you decided to pursue this career path?

When I first graduated college I went into corporate finance. I was in AT&T’s Financial Leadership Program. I quickly learned that corporate finance was not my passion and by luck ended up in the field of Medical Device Sales. My first medical sales job was with Johnson & Johnson as a Territory Assistant. Within 6 months, I was promoted to manage my own territory and then shortly thereafter, I was invited to join the Management Development Program. I tremendously enjoyed being in surgeries and seeing less-invasive surgical procedures in the OR start to take off. I spent a lot of time observing gastric bypass, open heart, spine, and orthopedic surgeries, along with the treatment of diabetic and pressure wounds. Many of the patients I saw were overweight or obese, and witnessing firsthand the link between obesity and these major health issues strongly influenced my career path.

From there, I began to further specialize in medical device sales that had a focus within GI and weight loss, going on to work for start-up Novare Surgical where I sold a device used in Lap-Band surgery, which at the time was the number one weight loss surgery in the world. I then gained great experience running sales and business development for Electrocore in Europe and Asia. After overseeing the successful launch of Gammacore for Electrocore, I realized that I missed being in surgery and decided to go back to the U.S. and work for Apollo Endosurgery. I helped launch a revolutionary device that used a non-invasive suture technique to help tighten up the stomach of patients who had regained weight after weight loss surgery. It was there that I began to notice the void in the market. Weight loss procedures required a lot of follow-up, and it dawned on me that you could give patients a tool, like a surgical procedure or a “tightening”, but they need a full toolbox to succeed. This toolbox needed to go beyond what patients experienced in the office and be accessible throughout their day-to-day lives. Patients needed a combination of nutrition, lifestyle modification, and fitness support all in one place, accessible on-the-go, at hours that fit their schedule.

I shared my idea with VHP’s co-founder and Virtual Health Partners (VHP) was born. What I didn’t realize at the start, was that this tool we had built would receive so much interest from people outside of the traditional weight loss industry. A few short but busy years later, VHP now has partnerships in eight different verticals including fitness, oncology, fertility, aesthetics, cosmetic surgery, GI, orthopedics, and weight loss.

What lessons can others learn from your story?

I think the first lesson is trust your gut instinct. Second, it is important to be knowledgeable and passionate in the space that you are targeting. Third, learn to embrace feedback if you do not already. Lastly, do not be scared to pivot.

Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?

We are fortunate to have so many diverse white labels and strategic partners that we are working with. However, a few touch a personal cord for me. We are launching a unique app with a partner in the Crohn’s disease market. I have personally watched how Crohn’s disease affects otherwise healthy individuals. Both the overall program and the UI/UX of the platform are truly ground breaking for people with this disease state. We also partnered with Nestle to create a revolutionary app called COPES (Cancer Oriented Personalized Eating & Emotional Support). The platform works with participating providers, to provide patients with live virtual support and nutrition symptom management. Last but not least, I absolutely love being able to workout when I travel and at home. I am very excited for some of our new partnerships in the fitness space that we will be announcing very soon.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I am truly lucky to have a spouse who is not only the love of my life, but also my best friend, biggest cheerleader and partner in all senses of the word. We met just when I had told VHP’s now Global Vice President of Sales & Business Development, Shelly Russell, about the idea for VHP. She encouraged me to move forward with VHP and I made her promise that when the time came, she would come lead the charge! Early into our relationship, I shared the vision for VHP with my now husband. He immediately began helping me to think outside the box and how to truly flesh out my business strategy. Not exactly the typical things one would do on early dates. I will never forget us sharing a bottle or two of rosé on a hot summer day, eating BBQ, while he helped me put together VHP’s first pitch deck. The questions he asked, the encouragement he supplied and the vision he helped build, makes me thankful for him every day. I did not only get the most amazing husband out of the deal, but I am also heading up a company that is on an awesome trajectory and get to work with an amazing team, including Shelly! Our marriage positively affects both our personal lives and our business lives every day.

What are the 5 things that most excite you about the AI industry? Why?

The AI industry has grown rapidly and continues to evolve every day. There are so many things that can now be done that were not fathomable even a year ago. I love that it enables the following things to be done.

1. Give end-users a more personalized experience — which makes for a better overall experience and enhances engagement.

2. The ability to expedite the creative development process. For example, a recipe generating algorithms that can be used for specific needs.

3. Advanced analytics — big data and the ability to apply the data.

4. Localization and translation — being able to make content more applicable and meaningful to an end-user.

5. Solve for complex scenarios — the ability to take an end-user who has complicated needs and utilize AI to match those needs.

What are the 5 things that concern you about the AI industry? Why?

1. The concept of Big Brother is always watching- anonymity and the ability to not feel tracked all of the time is important to most people.

2. Data — what is being done with my data? Is Siri always listening? The invasion of privacy is definitely a potential issue and factor.

3. Misleading content — the ability to influence people with “fake news” in a massively scalable and fast manner has grave potential concerns and outcomes for our world.

4. Need for human touch — the 5 languages of love are key to what most of us need. AI is not able replace the human aspect of a situation.

5. Group think — creativity and the ability to have our own thoughts is key to how we got to the development of AI. AI stands to be able to push individuals to not think for themselves and can be used as a crutch.

As you know, there is an ongoing debate between prominent scientists, (personified as a debate between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg,) about whether advanced AI has the future potential to pose a danger to humanity. What is your position about this?

My general overview of life has always been “anything in moderation can be and is okay.” Example — I love ice cream sundaes at Wolfgang’s Steakhouse. I do not eat them every day, I make it a special treat. You may ask how do I come to comparing ice-cream to AI and the potential “dangers”. If I were to eat the sundae every day, multiple times per day, it would greatly affect my health in a “dangerous” way. Advanced AI has the ability to greatly help in the treatment of complex diseases, the creation of products that can truly fit the need of individuals, and that can be much more environmentally friendly. However, I also feel that it can become dangerous because there is a human aspect that gets missed. The person’s body language, facial expressions and internal trepidations are one key component that gets missed nor can it be predicted accurately 100% of the time, which in turn means the machine learning will never be 100% accurate. There are many recent social media examples that exemplify how humans can use good technology for bad means.

What can be done to prevent such concerns from materializing? And what can be done to assure the public that there is nothing to be concerned about?

The use and application of AI will need to be regulated. In all things technology, our government officials need to take the time to understand how these advancements work and what their possible positive and negative uses could be. I also think that similar to nuclear weapons, agreements need to be put into place at the global level and regulations need to be created at the more local levels for how AI can be used. If there are potential fines, jail time etc, for the misuse it will act as a deterrent and make people somewhat less likely to create things that are harmful.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?

I believe in giving back. I have always taken a very active stance in doing charity work. This year we will be launching a program for people who cannot afford nutrition related support with a few of our partners and offering subscriptions free of charge to those with specific needs who cannot afford the care.

As you know, there are not that many women in your industry. Can you share 3 things that you would you advise to other women in the AI space to thrive?

1. Know that you belong at the table and do not worry about the sex of the other people that are sitting around you.

2. When you present, be engaging and be yourself. Utilize examples that are relevant to the entire audience, not just one segment or sex.

3. Women tend to apologize. I know I do. Do not feel the need to apologize and consciously work on it.

Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the AI industry?

I think women need to utilize apps like LinkedIn and reach out to others in the space to discuss their reservations and concerns.

What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?

An interim VP at JNJ who I admired was in the field on a sales call with me. We were working with a trauma surgeon and it was a tough day all around with the new products that were being trialed and the severity of the wounds. He said to me, “Jillian, always control your control-ables in life, because you cannot control the uncontrol-ables.” Every time a new feature has bugs, an employee unexpectedly leaves, you are waiting tirelessly for a big contract to close, I think of his words and spend thirty minutes replaying all of the pieces that comprise the puzzle. I reflect, I figure out what I could have controlled or done better, and what steps can be taken to make things better. I then determine everything that is “uncontrollable” which helps lead to a clearer and more effective path forward.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Recycling awareness. I am an environmentalist at heart and our excessive use of packaging and plastic worry me. I recently learned that plastic water bottles do not get recycled if the cap is left on. I know it may seem like a small thing but if each person removed their cap prior to throwing their bottle out, it would greatly impact the amount of recyclable materials. I would love there to be a campaign informing people about this, because if people knew this small little fact, I believe they would do it!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can reach me at @VirtualHealthPartners on Instagram and Facebook, and at @VHPGO on Twitter.

Thank you so much for joining us!