Healthcare has awoken to the importance of paying attention to patients' non-medical needs, whether that's car rides to the clinic, healthy food options or even stable housing with clean carpets and working air conditioners.
Research shows access to these things can have a more significant effect on a person's health than what goes on in the doctor's office. But often the startups that could provide services to address those needs have no experience navigating the very complicated environment that is the American healthcare system. That tends to get in the way of their success.
That's where Dr. Trent Haywood's new venture comes in. The former chief medical officer for the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association created Knowality to help startups align with the healthcare system, link up with health plans and hospitals, and speed up the adoption of their services.
"It takes so long for those (startups) that are coming into healthcare to be able to get adopted into healthcare, and for traditional healthcare payers to be able to accept them coming into healthcare. The goal is to be able to accelerate all that adoption and make it simple and easy so that we can improve population health," Haywood explained.
Knowality is a venture services firm. While venture capital firms provide funds that a startup needs to grow, venture services firms provide the guidance and know-how to scale that startup and ensure its services can be easily adopted by health plans or providers, he said. Knowality is providing product strategy and contract and advisory services to that end.
Haywood is prioritizing startups that address the social determinants of health, provide home and community-based services and cater to Medicare Advantage seniors—a population that is expanding rapidly as Baby Boomers age into the program. Those are focus areas that reflect the need to move outside the hospital or doctor's office to lower costs and improve health, he said.
The idea for Knowality sprung from Haywood's experience with the Blues Association, where he worked for seven years until the end of August 2019, and before that, with the CMS. While with the Blues, he headed up the Blue Cross Blue Shield Institute, which launched in 2018 to test how companies could improve health by investing in patients' social needs in a sustainable way.
He spearheaded the Institute's contract with ride sharing service Lyft to help patients get to the primary care doctor in hopes of reducing trips to the emergency department. The Institute also partnered with local Blues plans to deliver nutritious meals to food deserts.
Haywood found that he spent a lot of time educating non-healthcare companies on how they would need to modify their products to meet the requirements of healthcare companies and government agencies. For example, a company that typically sells directly to consumers would need to restructure its product or service so that health insurers could pay for it on a per-member, per-month basis. Startups also need to know how to work with health plans to become part of their network, Haywood said.
One of Knowality's startups is San Francisco-based Mon Ami, which connects college students with elderly folks in the community to relieve their loneliness and improve their quality of life.
Mon Ami was first a service that families paid for privately and out of pocket, but its founders saw opportunity in aligning with the healthcare system. Knowality is helping the startup connect with the right people and convey its return-on-investment to insurance companies, said Joy Zhang, Mon Ami co-founder and CEO.
"Loneliness has huge impact on health outcomes," Zhang said, adding that addressing it early can help insurers reduce future healthcare spending. Mon Ami, which was connected to Knowality through one of its investors, is now in early conversations with payers.
Other startups Knowality is working with include Tomorrow Health, which makes it easier for seniors to access durable medical equipment and lowers transaction costs for health plans, and HomeThrive, a technology platform that helps seniors live independently.
Want to learn more about tools available to best address social determinants of health? Attend Modern Healthcare's Social Determinants of Health Symposium in Salt Lake City, Ut. on June 2. Register here.