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As everyone probably knows by now, telemedicine took off like a rocketship in 2020, to the point where it's no longer a question of if remote care will be part of the ecosystem, but just how big it will be. And most will agree that that's absolutely a good thing, especially for low income, elderly, and chronically ill patients who have trouble getting themselves to a doctor's office.
The question is, though, are those people actually being helped? In reality, it's the people with the most means who seem to be taking advantage of these new technologies: a report from Rock Health found that people with incomes of at least $150,000 were the most likely to use telemedicine, with 85% of respondents in this group saying they had. That's compared to 65% of those with incomes between $35,000 and $75,000 and 63% of those making less than $35,000.
That is why Nick Desai and Dr. Renee Dua, the married couple who previously co-founded at-home health service Heal together, decided to start a new company, one that would actually give those most in need the help they require. Called HeyRenee, it acts as what Desai calls "a digital best friend," or "a personal care concierge," one that's specifically designed for lower income, underserved, and polychronic patients to have the help they need in coordinating all aspects of their health care.
"When you look at the entire digital health ecosystem, the most successful companies, those with market caps of $3 or $5 or $10 or $15 billion, they're taking care of 50,000 to 150,000 total patients. There are 100 million Americans with chronic disease, there are 55 million people on Medicare, there are 30 million people on Medicaid. Why aren’t apps and technologies scaling to serve that magnitude of people?" he said.
The stats from the Rock Health report, he told me, "means that a majority of lower income, underserved, older, less tech savvy, disadvantaged Americans did not use telehealth in the middle of a pandemic. And that's despite $15 billion of investment just in the last six months."
As Desai just left his job at Heal in March, HeyRenee is still at the idea stage, but it has already raised funding, announcing a $3.8 million oversubscribed seed round on Thursday led by Quiet Capital with Mucker Capital, Fika Ventures, Tau Ventures, Global Founders Capital and SaaS Venture Capital also participating.
The name of the company comes from when Dua's father went through a surgery and had complications. After he came home from the hospital and needed help, he kept calling his daughter, who is a nephrologist, and saying, “Hey, Renee, what do I do about this? Hey, Renee, what do I do about that?"
"Everyone needs a Renee, but not everyone's the father of a caring, loving doctor. So, we thought, 'Why don't we build that in software?'" said Desai.
"We really started thinking about what we need to do to build an app, or a tech based service, that scales to serve tens of millions of people by solving the real problems of the everyday American patient? The older, chronic disease patients with low health and tech literacy that dominate our healthcare spend, and the patients can truly use the help of technology to achieve better health. And we came up with the idea for HeyRenee."
The app, which is expected to launch in Jaunary 2022, will work by taking everything a doctor says to a patient and matrixing it against their insurance coverage, thereby giving them a daily plan that will be available via text, voice interface, text message, and by a touch interface that can be used by the patient or their caretaker.
For example, if a patient has 12 daily medications they need to take, they don't have to sit around and wonder which ones to take and how to take them. Instead, HeyRenee will send them a text with a picture of the pill saying, "Take this pill at 9am with milk." The patient then just has to say, "Hey, Alexa, tell HeyRenee I took my blood pressure medication," and that information will be recorded and sent to the doctor. The patients vitals will also be monitored, so when their blood pressure is high, HeyRenee will let their doctor know that either they're not taking their medications, or this particular medication isn't working for them.
HeyRenee also plans to offer its software on commercially available Android devices and tablets, which will be provided by the patient's insurance company. In addition, the company will be providing an on-ramp, connecting patients, especially seniors, to a human who can help them learn now to use the service.
Finally, the company will make its service as easy as possible through single sign on, so that the patient doesn't have to create accounts and remember passwords for multiple telehealth systems, for example. HeyRenee will sign them into all necessary apps and services without them really having to do anything.
The company plans to use its new funding to build out its platform and its team, and to get some early customers, which will be anyone who bears risk in healthcare, including insurance companies, hospital systems, health systems, managed peer groups, and direct contracting entities.
They are the entities that have interest in seeing that patients care is coordinated, as it eventually lowers the cost, said Desai.
"If you make sure that a person has easy access to their provider, gets help for their mental health, takes their medications, track their vitals, they will achieve better health and better health costs less. There's a financial imperative to do this. The only real way to lower healthcare costs is to improve people's health and outcomes. And this is a way to do that. So, any risk bearing entity wants this kind of thing to happen," he explained.
In the end, the goal for HeyRenee is to have a meaningful, measurable, large-scale impact in transforming and improving the health care of millions of everyday Americans, he said, including older, polychronic, and underserved patients, so they can live healthier lives.
"We want to deliver incredible financial returns to our investors, to ourselves, to all of our shareholders, to our employees, but that can co exist with the number one priority, which is to be a force for good in American healthcare, and to make change that is not measured in market cap, but is measured in millions of lives positively affected."
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