Start-up seeks to simplify health care
Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of profiles of new businesses launching through the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies, a business incubator in Middlebury.
MIDDLEBURY — You know the drill. You feel sick or notice something might not be quite right and you go to the doctor. You receive your treatment, maybe a prescription, and then you may start to feel better, or you may not.
But what if your doctor was held accountable for your health outcomes?
Well, across the country, insurers are changing the way they pay doctors for delivering health services. Many are moving from a fee-for-service model, which emphasizes quantity of care, to a value-based model, which emphasizes quality of care with an increased focus on prevention and outcome monitoring.
Value-based care sounds exemplary (who wouldn’t want health care centered around quality?), but it often presents challenges for providers.
That’s where Nick Lovejoy and Chris Eberly, co-founders of Staple Health, come in.
“Providers are now taking on greater risk for their patients,” Lovejoy said of the value-based models. Providers’ pay and bonus-structure is, in part, determined by their patients’ health outcomes under a value-based model.
“We help them by combining clinical and social determinants of health data to create predictive models that determine their patients’ risk,” Lovejoy said.
Staple Health provides a software platform that medical services providers use to identify and predict patient outcomes and risk.
Lovejoy and Eberly, both of Weybridge, split their time between the Middlebury and Burlington Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies (VCET) offices. VCET is a co-working space and incubator with three locations — one on UVM’s campus, one in Burlington, and one in Middlebury.
Lovejoy, 31, and the CEO of Staple Health, calls himself a “converted medical school applicant.” He has worked in the health care industry for 10 years. He received a master’s in Health Care Management from Yale School of Public Health.
Throughout his career, including during a stint at Vermont Blueprint for Health, Lovejoy noticed the need for “wrap-around social services” in health care that go beyond just standard medical care.
Lovejoy started Staple Health in early 2017, before bringing on Eberly, who joined initially as a contractor.
Lovejoy and Eberly were set up by mutual friends who knew that Eberly had been working in information technologyfor years and that Lovejoy needed a tech arm for his business. They grabbed a few beers, and eventually Lovejoy thought, “Hey, this is cool. We could work together.”
Eberly, 36, now Staple Health’s Chief Technology Officer, grew up in a medical household — his father was a doctor. From his father, Eberly learned about the complexities of the health care system. He was also a Neuroscience major at Middlebury College, and completed most of his pre-med requirements.
But since he was young, Eberly said, his passion has always been technology.
“I grew up programming in elementary school and middle school and I went to high school during the first tech bubble,” Eberly said. He moved to San Francisco when he graduated from Middlebury in 2004 to grow his career as a software engineer.
With Lovejoy’s background in healthcare and Eberly’s in IT, the two are putting their talents together to increase the quality of care delivered to patients.
“In some ways, we’re playing matchmaker,” Lovejoy said. “We’re showing how health care providers can play an active role in getting their patients to the social services that they need.”
Social determinants, Lovejoy explained, include where people live, what they eat, and what they do all day for work and leisure. These details greatly affect people’s health, but providers are not always aware of them.
Staple Health’s web app analyzes the data on patients’ social determinants to produce a patient-specific risk assessment that appears on providers’ electronic health records.
Staple Health works with customers all over the country, from independent practices to large health networks.
As with many early stage startups, the company has changed since its inception.
“It’s a winding path and we’ve been learning and iterating along the way,” Lovejoy said.
Some early conversations with doctors were instrumental to their evolving approach.
“We were forced to ask, ‘What is the real issue at hand? How can we add value without adding extra work?’” Lovejoy said.
“The health care industry is a difficult industry for a number of reasons. There are data security issues, specific architectural requirements, and it is a slow business. But for those reasons, there is a ton of opportunity for improvements,” he added.
According to Lovejoy and Eberly, VCET’s Burlington office, where they spend half their time, is bustling; it typically has 40-60 people working there at a time, and there’s even a ping pong table. Comparably, they call the Middlebury office “The Library,” and it is easy to see why; on a recent visit and interviewer saw one other person in the office. The Staple Health guys say each environment has its own function for their workflow.
Lovejoy and Eberly noted that the VCET network has been instrumental to their business.
“I’m one degree of separation from anyone I want to talk to,” Lovejoy said.
There are a substantial number of health technology companies in Vermont, and Lovejoy says it’s easy to see why.
“With an open regulatory environment, influential academic institutions, and a large health network that is focused on innovation — UVM Health Connect — Vermont is an ecosystem ripe for health technology,” Lovejoy said.
In fact, with Gov. Phil Scott’s recent announcement of the “Remote Worker Grant Program,” more entrepreneurs may shortly be on their way to Vermont.
The program will pay people up to $10,000 to move to Vermont and work remotely in 2019. The funds could cover moving expenses and membership fees for co-working spaces like VCET, among other things.
Although they are not remote workers, Lovejoy and Eberly might as well be poster children for the state’s new initiative.
Both said they are hoping to bring a few people onto the team at Staple Health this summer, and are currently preparing for a new round of financing.
“We are always looking for local people to join Staple Health, whether they have experience in health care technology, software engineering, or marketing,” Lovejoy said.
If these two Green Mountain entrepreneurs have their way, you might find your healthcare needs more ably met in the future.
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