Amber: Hi, welcome to The BusinessMakers USA. I’m Amber Ambrose, and today my guest is Jessica Harthcock, of utilizehealth.co. .co. Remember that part, ok guys? So, Jessica, welcome to the show.
Amber: It’s really good to have you here.
Jessica: Yeah, you too.
Amber: So, our first question usually is, tell me about Utilize Health.
Jessica: Well, Utilize Health is a specialty care coordination solution designed for health plans and large provider groups. Today, we specialize in neurological conditions, and caring for those patients with conditions like stroke, brain injury, spinal cord injury, and then the solution is also focused around bundled payment initiatives.
Amber: And so when you say solutions, what exactly do you mean by that?
Jessica: So, that’s a good question. Our solution is designed of both digital tools that we’ve created, but then also a concierge program. We call it the Patient Advocate Program, and it’s essentially clinicians with specialty experience in that program vertical, and they become a concierge, socially, environmentally, and medically for those patients in the program.
Amber: A t what stage in, sort of, I guess the disease process do people come to you for help to find solutions and therapies?
Jessica: We have patients across the spectrum. Ideally, in an ideal world, we like to get with patients within 48 hours of injury or diagnosis. However, (Amber: Oh wow.), yeah, so really, really fast. However, we have patients that are post 22 years of paralysis, and we’ve been able to help them too. We actually had a guy that was 22 years post injury, and he learned to walk again in our program. He was in our pilot program. I love that story.
Amber: So, it helped that you had all these providers already in your network to point him to whichever way he thought was the best therapy?
Jessica: Yes, So we basically for 9 years spent time gathering different resources. We take such a deep dive, and that’s kind of what we have in the database when we match different patients, is we say, this therapy facility, based on your injury, has X, Y, and Z equipment, and it’s going to be much more suited for someone like you to go to this facility versus one that is maybe 20 minutes closer to your house. Big difference there.
Amber: Ok, that makes sense. So, just having the wealth of knowledge and then almost creating a map for someone to get there (Jessica: yeah.). Ok, I like that. So, for you, you mentioned that you have a very personal story on how you got into this business.
Jessica: Yes. So, kind of the story of Utilize Health begins about 12 years ago. I was in high school, I was 17, and I was doing gymnastics. So, I was a springboard diver, but did gymnastics to cross train. And I went up in the air one night to do a trick; it was a front double tuck with a layout twist, came down and landed right here on my head, and it felt my neck snap back. I pretty much knew at that point that it was bad, but that injury left me paralyzed from my chest down, and I spent years doing physical therapy. Most patients, after they get hurt, they’ll do about 2-3 hours a week in outpatient, after they’re through acute, and then inpatient, and then they’ll do outpatient. And I spent 5, 6, sometimes 7 hours a day doing therapy, 5 or 6 days a week, for years. I went to facilities all across the United States, and it took me about 6 years to learn to walk unassisted.
Amber: Ok, so you went from being paralyzed to walking in this door for the interview. What do you think was the key to your success in learning to walk again?
Jessica: So, I don’t really credit one source. There were so many different things along the way. So, I went a year and eight months and had nothing; no progress, no sensation, no movements, and then one day I had a muscle twitch. And that muscle twitch turned into a controlled muscle twitch. I mean, if you blink do you literally miss it? I thought it was the coolest trick in the world though. And then it became a controlled leg movement, and then I worked on hip flexors. And so it’s isolating different muscles in the body and trying to work one at a time. And it wasn’t, you know the movies, I feel like, make it look like, oh they just got up and took a step one day. No, that is not how it happened. I mean, the first time I actually took, I’m going to call it the scoot of the foot, because it really wasn’t a step.
I had leg braces on, I had electrical stimulation on my thighs, which actually sends pulses through your muscles to make them contract, which helps you advance that leg forward. I scooted my foot maybe this much, and people were like, “It’s a step, it’s a step!” And I was like, “No it’s not.” It’s not a step. It is a scoot of a foot, but we’re going to work with that scoot. And so, you know, it took so long to progress, it really isn’t just one thing. It’s trying new things, trying new techniques, trying new modalities. And I did that at multiple facilities, too. We’re lucky today though because a lot of the resources that I sought out, a lot of it was activity based and weight bearing therapies. Those are becoming, have become much more popular across the facilities around the United States. Which is why it’s a good time for our company to kind of peak and start trying to help these patients get the care that they need.
Amber: Right time, right place, right everything. I would imagine that your situation also gives you empathy for the people that you’re helping.
Jessica: Oh, absolutely. I mean, that’s kind of why the company was started. So, after my injury, when I was doing all this traveling around the United States, and doing all these different types of therapies that were still in research, and a lot still are today, but people would reach out and say, “Hey, you don’t know me, but can you help me?” And I’d say, “Absolutely. Let’s get you the help that you need.” So, it really kind of started out more as this consultative approach, just to kind of pay it forward to people. And by about the 100th or so patient that I had helped, I was a grad student at Vanderbilt studying Organizational Leadership, and my professor said, “I think you’ve got to turn this into something bigger than yourself at this point to help more people.” And that’s what we did.
Amber: So, you went straight from grad school to being an entrepreneur (Jessica: Yeah.). What are some of the challenges that presented to you?
Jessica: It was tough. I mean, we sacrificed. My husband, who was actually one of the trainers who helped me learn to walk again, amazing human being, it was one of those moments where I had some job offers, and I just, my heartstrings said you have to follow this dream of starting this company. And so I gave him, I pulled a beer out of the fridge one night, and I said, “No, we’re going to need whiskey.” And so I poured him a big ol’ glass of whiskey, this is a true story, and said “Adam, I know you believe in it, because you’ve seen me go through this experience from the provider perspective, and now as my husband and family member. I really feel like I need to do this.” And he just kept sipping. And I said, “If you don’t say anything, I’m not going to take those jobs tomorrow. I am going to start this company; work for free.” And he said, he just kind of nodded, and I said, “Ok.” It was never actually the plan for us to work together. Fast forward a couple years into it, he did the same thing to me. He poured me a big ol’ glass of whiskey and said, “What do you think if I join Utilize Health too? Let’s put all of our eggs in one basket and let’s do this together.” So, we work side by side today, full time. Our desks literally face each other.
Amber: And you’re still married.
Jessica: We’re still married, that’s great.
Amber: That’s great. There you go.
Jessica: No, we are great business partners, surprisingly enough. Who knew? We met working together, and now we work together again. It’s great. I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Amber: So, in addition to your in-house team, I know you had some help from the outside through business accelerators, and I’m really interested in hearing about that experience and how they’ve helped you get to where you are now.
Jessica: And so the first year was just kind of a failure. I learned a lot though. And then, kind of the second year, in 2013, in May, a mentor reached out, because I kind of wanted to quit. And he said, “Apply to this program called Jumpstart Foundry.” It’s a great program here in Nashville, they have a lot of healthcare connections. And I said, “I applied last year and didn’t even get an interview.” And he said, “Apply this year. There’s two days left.” And I said, well, what do I have to lose at this point; applied, got in, and that was kind of really where we started to get a lot of traction with the model itself, and getting the help we needed from different mentors and things like that. So, that was the first accelerator we participated in.
We also started competing in different competitions after that, which, you know, when you’re a part of an accelerator you kind of get put in a different limelight, and people pay attention to that more. So, I think accelerators are great for companies. And then last year, we did an accelerator called Village Capital. Awesome accelerator. Kind of more of a post-accelerator; less structured in that it took place in San Francisco, DC, and then back in San Fran, and it focused more on customers and early traction. And then we’re actually participating this year in another accelerator, though I don’t think of it as a true accelerator, but it’s called The TENN, by Launch Tennessee. And it’s a statewide roadshow, and it takes eight different companies from around Tennessee and puts them in front of investors, and it’s very, very customized. So, there’s definitely a different accelerator for different stages of business.
Amber: So, that brings me to, you know this is a business show in addition to accelerators. What are your, how do you make money? To put it bluntly. (Jessica: You gotta have that.) How do you put food on your table?
Jessica: We built the product and launched it with consumers. So, consumers paid a subscription fee as low as $49 a month for that year to have access to this concierge service that we offered. We ran about 750 patients through that program, and then we packaged and sold the program itself into a specialty care coordination solution to both health plans and provider groups.
Amber: So you have multiple different payers.
Jessica: Yes (Amber: Ok, gotcha.). So the payers and the providers is truly how we scale as a business. That model is not new to Nashville. It’s very established, however what makes us different is the group of patients we’re doing it with. So, right now, that model is priced as a per eligible member, per month. We call it PEPM. Or it’s priced around bundled payment initiative. So, we’re eventually going to bundle those neuro programs and take risk on those patient populations. That’s another big feature on how we scale.
Amber: Ok, so what does your future look like in the next five years, speaking of futures and expanding.
Jessica: So, our goal is to collect enough outcomes data in the next five years to completely change the standard of care for neuro. Standard of care does not exist today. That is what gets me up in the morning, is to hopefully get more patients to a higher quality of life, better outcomes. That’s what I think is going to change, not just in the US, but even across the world. How we get there is by collecting all of these outcomes on the patients that go through our program. Thousands and thousands of patients go through the program. And so we’re hoping to have enough data at the end of five years to not have already bundled neuro programs for those initiatives, but to also change the way that standard is today.
Amber: Thank you, Jessica, so much for joining us.
Jessica: You’re welcome.
Amber: And this is BusinessMakers USA. And that wraps up our conversation with Jessica Harthcock of utilizehealth.co.
brought to you by