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June 24, 2020 in COVID-19

Startups Helping Frontline Health Workers Beat the Odds

When health centers and free clinics needed help to reach their underserved patients who are most impacted by emergencies like Covid-19, CareMessage decided to provide free access to its text messaging platform to improve awareness and access for patients in underserved communities. Since then, CareMessage has facilitated critical Covid-19 communication between health workers and patients, with over 15 million messages sent across 38 states.

This is just one example of how the best innovations are created out of need and necessity. The current public health crisis has shown that startups and social enterprises are continuing to innovate to address crucial challenges that both frontline health workers and healthcare facilities currently face. Many have shifted their short-term priorities to provide frontline health workers with access to free resources, certifications, and job placement tools needed to improve productivity, mental health, and patient care.

However, there is more to be done. COVID-19 has exposed the fragility of public health infrastructure that has become even more stretched beyond its capacity to adequately meet the demand of incoming patients, and the shortage of healthcare workers nationwide is accelerating as more frontline workers fall ill. Communities of color and medically underserved areas, usually low-income or rural, are particularly vulnerable.

To address this, Village Capital is partnering with Johnson & Johnson Impact Ventures (JJIV) on an initiative to highlight startup innovations in the U.S. that support health workers and relieve the burden on overstretched public health systems – from telehealth tools that provide rural frontline workers with consultations to platforms that enable them to offload administrative tasks, such as scheduling rides for patients so they can focus on patient engagement and care.

Part of the Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation, JJIV was launched in 2019 to invest in social enterprises. Recognizing the severe shortage of health workers in many communities around the world, its investments target innovations—including digital health platforms and AI-enabled technologies—that support the access and delivery of quality and affordable care, particularly in low-income populations, medically-underserved areas, and communities of color.

Village Capital has conducted firsthand research on the U.S market of solutions currently available for frontline health workers, identifying and interviewing impact driven founders seeking to make a dent in this problem.

The startups highlighted below have built tools in four areas where our research identified a need for more innovative solutions for frontline health workers in underserved communities:

  1. Clinician training
  2. Patient communication
  3. Care team collaboration
  4. Support services

Consistent with Village Capital’s investment philosophy, the majority of the founders of the startups below are diverse and located outside of major tech hubs.

Clinician Training

According to the National Nurses United union, only 19% of nurses say that their employer has a policy in place that addresses employees with known or suspected exposure to Covid-19. Technology tools are being implemented rapidly to address this, as well as more general procedural training to reduce error rates and increase patient satisfaction.

How Startups Are Addressing This:

  • CrewMinders: frontline employee engagement platform that trains employees on safety and compliance practices
  • Embodied Labs: virtual reality content to train and engage frontline health workers in behavioral health, person-centered care, and cultural competency
  • Tine Health: just in time training for nurses to reduce error rates, improve consistency of care, and increase patient satisfaction

Patient Communication

On average, 70% of nurse communication still happens by voice, which isn’t always the most effective way to relay critical information quickly. Technology tools are helping to facilitate communication between nurses and patients, freeing up nurse time to focus more on patient care.

How Startups Are Addressing This:

  • CareMessage: population health text messaging software that provides critical health information to underserved populations
  • Phraze: transforming point-of-care by removing the screen between patients and clinicians to improve patient outcomes and patient-provider interactions
  • Yosi: pre-arrival patient intake and registration system that eliminates wait times, improves the patient experience, and optimizes the waiting room

Care Team Collaboration

In 2010, the Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare reported that 80% of serious medical errors involve miscommunication between caregivers. Technology can help reduce this risk by providing integrated data solutions, improving handoffs between caregivers, and allowing administrators to intervene when necessary.

How Startups Are Addressing This:

  • Athree: cost-effective, licensed physician and hospitalist consultation telehealth platform for care teams in medically underserved areas to increase access to specialized care
  • Certintell: telehealth transitional care management platform to connect patients with external care coaches and behavioral health specialists
  • CityBlock: integrated primary care, behavioral health, and social services platform that partners with community health providers to connect patients with the support they need

Support Services

24-51% of low-income patients have reported missing or rescheduling an outpatient appointment because of unreliable transportation. This is just one of many challenges they face in getting appropriate and timely care, as well as adhering to their plan of care.

How Startups Are Addressing This:

  • Advocatia: health insurance coverage screening and enrollment platform to assist uninsured and underinsured patients while increasing reimbursement for providers
  • Kaizen Health: non-emergency patient transportation logistics network to improve access to the health system and reduce administrative burden on staff
  • SynsorMed: remote patient monitoring and chronic care management for healthcare organizations that reduces preventable hospital readmissions

To stay informed about Johnson & Johnson’s partnership with Village Capital, sign up for Village Capital’s mailing list and select Future of Work as the area of interest.

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