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The company looks to fix the inequalities felt by the Latino population in the healthcare system
According to 2020 Census data, there are 62.1 million Latinos living in the United States, representing 18.9 percent of the total U.S. population. Not only that but they accounted for 51.1% of the country’s growth.
Despite this growth, the US healthcare system has failed to adapt its services to meet the cultural needs of this population, which has deleterious effects on their health: Latino adult immigrants with limited English proficiency are less likely to utilize health services, they’re less likely to receive preventive care, and they are almost twice as likely to have diabetes.
This affects their mental health too, as only 22% of Latino individuals with limited English proficiency have ever used a mental health service and only 33% of Hispanics with diagnosed mental health disorders get treatment.
These inequalities are why Erik Cardenas decided to found Zócalo Health, a company that looks to address, and correct, these gaps in care. On Monday, the company announced a $5 million seed funding round co-led by Animo, Virtue, and Vamos Ventures, along with Necessary Ventures, Able Partners, and angel investors Toyin Ajayi, Freada Kapor Klein, Nikhil Krishnan, and Erik Ibarra.
"At a macro level, problems with the U.S. healthcare system are well documented: unsustainable costs, poor outcomes, dissatisfied patients. However, these factors are disproportionately worse for underserved populations like Latinos," he explained.
"Latinos often experience disproportionately limited access to primary care, with a ratio of one primary care physician for every five to six thousand residents in predominantly Latino zip codes. Many Latinos live in urban areas, where they wait an average of 24 days to see a doctor."
Over time, he said, this contributes to a lack of established primary care relationships, but the challenges don't stop when they actually do go in to see a doctor; there are still language, and cultural differences, to overcome.
"Though physicians may translate materials from English to Spanish, treatment stops short of true cultural awareness, since physicians may not understand why they tried home remedies first or asked their families for support," said Cardenas.
Zócalo aims to fix this by being the “Family Doctor” for each of its members, staffing care teams with members from the community. The company offers a range of services that are typically addressed in primary care, including mental health conditions, preventative and lifestyle needs, chronic disease management and urgent care.
When patients sign up for a monthly or annual membership, they get access to a virtual care team that is led by a promotor de salud (community health worker); this person is available via chat seven days a week to provide health service navigation and health coaching. The rest of the care team includes physicians, nurses, and mental health therapists, and patients also get access to same day appointments and care coordination services focused on addressing social determinants of health.
The company also offers transparent pricing, removing headaches around high deductibles and intricate medical bills, as members pay a single membership fee for navigation services, virtual visits, and access to a care team who can help them understand costs for any associated labs and prescriptions.
"We deliver primary care that blends tradition with innovation and prioritizes trusting relationships between providers and patients, while removing common barriers to healthcare," Cardenas explained.
"The relentless grit, industry know-how, and deep cultural connection behind our technology can change the health experience and daily lives of our families."
The typical customer for Zócalo platform is any Latino adult who is making healthcare decisions for themselves and/or their families; for example, it supports customers who are in their 30s and 40s are are caring for both young children and aging parents. These users may have health insurance, Cardenas explained, but their plans often include high deductibles, and they may have to attend appointments with their parents, in order to translate and provide support.
"For caregivers like these, their days are full, so they appreciate the value and convenience that Zócalo offers. They also appreciate that Zócalo supports the way they approach health challenges as a family unit and how they can share health information easily with each other," he said.
It also does have some younger users as well, who have jobs that don't offer health insurance. These users may feel uncomfortable asking their doctors personal questions and avoid care due to both difficulty of access and high costs.
"These users appreciate that Zócalo Health offers a safe environment for health care support since it is based on relationships. They also value the relatively low price of the platform and accessible, flexible nature of appointments," Cardenas said.
Zócalo Health is currently treating patients from California, and the new funding will be used to help expand its team and help to expand geographically: it plans to begin offering services to Texas early next month, and in Washington state by the end of the year.
Ultimately, the goal for the company is to increase awareness, recognition, and understanding of the healthcare inequalities and outcomes across the Latino community, said Cardenas.
"We have a lot of work to do, but it starts with one patient at a time. With each member, we can start to create a new kind of healthcare system and – importantly – start the movement toward strengthening our voices in areas like health where there are clear systemic inequities and barriers to improvements," he explained.
"Together, with our community, we can change the narrative around Latino health. We can improve the outcomes, improve the experience for our patients and providers, while reducing costs."
Cardenas also believes that by raising this funding for Zócalo will help bolster the Latino community, as these founders receive less than 1% of funds from the 25 primary risk and venture capital firms, approximately 2% of the overall startup investment.
"Latino entrepreneurs receive a disproportionately small percentage of funding, so this milestone is monumental, not only for the Zócalo team, but for Latinos everywhere," he said.
(Image source: zocalo.health)
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