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The company has taken the time to get diagnosed with autism from 18 months to just one week
There are two big problems when it comes to getting autism care for children in the U.S.: access and cost. On the access side, there's an 18 month wait list from the point of first concern, when parents notice something might be wrong, to actually getting care. That's becase of all the different doctors that parents have to see before they can even get a diagnosis.
That amount of time can make a huge amount of difference in that child's development, Yury Yakubchyk, CEO and co-founder of Sprout, told me. Sprout, which launched on Tuesday, is a company that uses technology to provide quicker and cheaper in-home and online Applied Behavior Analysis Therapy.
"To wait 18 months, when the child's brain is developing, to start care, it could be literally the difference between actually getting the autism to go away and having it for the rest of your life, and basically living in a residential home as an adult, where someone took care of you," he said.
On the cost side, families have to pay as much as $3,000 just to see the child psychologist in order to first to get what's known as a complete diagnostic evaluation, which Yakubchyk labels the "VIP card basically to get autism care."
"You have to be from a certain level of means, or a certain socioeconomic background, to even get access to a child psychologist. They tend to not take insurance, and they certainly tend to avoid Medicaid, and they're relatively cash pay oriented. They bill by the hour, and you can imagine the bifurcation that happens," he told me.
"You're a Medicaid family and you can get access to a pediatrician, but then the pediatrician gives you a list of child psychologists and you call all them and you learn that, basically, virtually none of them take Medicaid, and the one guy that does has a six month wait list on his side."
That is why he founded Sprout, which is looking to solve these problems by using technology to match children with therapists, who then create individualized treatment plans unique to their needs and the environments most suited for them, both in-home and online.
How Sprout works
The entire Sprout experience happens in your home, which is really important for the child, "especially during coronavirus, where it's basically the only place where you can provide this care," Yakubchyk explained.
Parents start with an initial screener that they can do in their pediatrician’s office, or online on Sprout's website. They fill it out and they get a score for the likelihood of autism in their child; if that score is relatively high, Sprout will get them in front of a child psychologist who will diagnose. If the parents you can't afford it, Sprout will eat the cost of diagnosis for them. When the family gets the final results, and if the results indicate that the child is autistic, they then begin care.
"Every single step of the way there is a software experience that's involved, whether it's an online booking journey for the family to actually schedule that first appointment, accessing our Learning Studio on our website to learn more about autism, accessing our cost calculator to try to understand the costs a little bit better, checking online using some tools we have on the website and some experiences on the website to see whether your insurance actually covers autism care, it's all software based."
Families also get access to a designated Care Coordinator, who is responsible for helping them through the entire journey, from assessment all the way through treatment.
"We have an opportunity to decrease the amount of time that a caregiver spends in your home by empowering parents to use computer vision-assisted software tools, to provide some of the care themselves, and collect some of the data around their child's progress themselves. That's what drives the cost down and gets basically everyone around us excited, from the health insurers to the therapists to the families."
Right now Sprout, which operates in California, Oregon, Florida, Texas, Georgia, Illinois, Colorado, Indiana and Ohio, has over 50 families on the platform. It anticipates reaching about 1,000 families by the end of the year.
On the child psychologist's side, they get an iPad with Sprout's software that allows them to sync all of their notes, while Sprout uses computer vision tools to assess the child by looking at their physical movements. The app records all the notes, which are automatically submitted to the family's insurance company; even before that approval happens, though, Sprout will actually begin care.
"We don't even wait for the approval to hit us that the insurance companies will cover the cost of the therapy, because that takes three weeks. We want to get started right away because every minute counts for a child with autism every minute counts, their brain is forming and you have to start the therapy basically right away. So, we'll actually take the risk of the insurance not going through and start the care immediately," said Yakubchyk.
One of the ways that Sprout differentiates itself, he explained, is that the therapists on its platform are not contractors but actual employees of the company, with health and financial benefits; Sprout even provides them access to a financial advisor, for example, as well as continuing education experiences.
"We found therapists spend about a third of their time on non-clinical activity. And our goal is to make that number be zero percent, and just get them to do the clinical stuff because that's what they're excellent at and that's what they want to do. They don't want to do the business stuff. So, our goal is to automate a lot of those things out and that's where our software team comes in and we built that for them," Yakubchyk explained.
"Our competitors, they treat them basically as numbers, as just disposable people, like they can just hire a new one. Our general thesis is, ‘Let's have them on our platform forever, rather than have them cycling around from from platform to platform.’ So, they are full time and, today, we actually have 40 on our platform. We got those in the last few months, we went from zero to 40 in just a few months time, and we actually have a waitlist of over 100 to start working."
In terms of benefit to patients and their families, it comes down to how much faster they can get a diagnosis and begin treatment on the Sprout platform; instead of a year and a half, it takes families under a week, and that, in turn, affects the clinical outcomes as well.
"We are seeing, versus the industry average, we are seeing about a 10 percent higher increase of new skills acquisition, which is the main measure of clinical outcomes in the space. So, the learning velocity of the child around new skills, whether it's using a fork, using a spoon, being able to say their name. We're noticing that, right out of the gate, with our experience that's about 10 percent faster. In theory, that translates to a 10 percent lower cost for the therapy, if your skill acquisition is 10 percent faster. So, a lot of health insurance companies are pretty excited about that," said Yakubchyk.
Sprout's $10 million funding round
Along with its launch, Sprout also announced that it raised a $10 million seed funding round, led by General Catalyst, along with Felicis Ventures, headed by Aydin Senkut, and Bling Capital, founded by Ben Ling, as well as "a slew of international family offices, who really care about the cause of that are also involved."
"The partner that working with at General Catalyst is a guy named Hemant Taneja. He incubated and IPOed a company called Livongo. I would urge you to look at the stock price of Livongo, it's basically doubled over the last two or three months. It's a $10 billion company on the NASDAQ, he started it out of his office," said Yakubchyk.
"Livongo basically provides a similar in-home experience for diabetes care, so there’s a lot of parallels between what we're doing and what Hemant did at Livongo. That's why we started working with him, transparently, because there's just clear learnings to be had and a clear, exciting partnership with a General Catalyst."
The majority of funding will be going toward product development and "to build a full stack experience for all the stakeholders that are involved in autism care today." The funding will also go toward building out the team, which already consists of 60 people across three continents; the company expects to have a couple of hundred people on the team by the beginning of next year, along with 400 to 500 therapists. It will be staffing up its engineering teams, data science teams, and its computer vision team.
"We want to continue investing in a really differentiated product and building out these computer vision tools that increase the outcomes of the therapy, while decreasing the cost, care coordination tools, the onboarding tools. We're solving for the access problem and the cost of care problem, which is really high in the United States. And the way you do that is through computer vision, software workflows, and the like," Yakubchyk explained.
Changing the way autism care is delivered
Sprout's goal is to take the cost of getting autism care in the United States and cut it by at least half, and to decrease the wait list nationally to get care to be, at the very most, a couple months for all Americans. It also wants to end the disparity between rich people and poor people in terms of getting access to care.
"The way we do that is by digitizing and virtualizing a lot of the experiences that come with autism care, and using AI, using computer vision and getting the parents involved with computer-assisted technologies, that are computer vision-based, to basically provide more of the care of themselves. That’s the main driver in lowering the cost," said Yakubchyk.
"You want to empower the families to provide the care and, by the way, nothing drives clinical outcomes in the space like getting the parents more engaged. We want to empower them with the right tools to continue doing that."
In terms of the company's longer-term vision, the idea is to expand its platform beyond just autism, and into other cognitive areas where its platform can also be of help, such as Down syndrome, Crohn's disease, various chronic conditions and Alzheimer's.
"We don't want to focus on light conditions, we want to focus on the chronic health care conditions, especially chronic mental health conditions, that cost society a bunch of money. And, by the way, we're paying our taxes for all this," Yakubchyk said.
"So, for us, in the big big scheme of things, autism is just the beginning of providing in-home care across a bunch of different verticals and building a new health system for America."
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