When Alan Blaustein, a New York media executive and attorney, was diagnosed with thymic cancer seven years ago, he was thrown into a confusing world of disagreeing doctors who didn’t talk to one another and insurance companies that had never heard of his type of cancer.
Blaustein recovered, but not without realizing that inefficiencies in the healthcare system needed an antidote of their own.
“When you’re in the patient or care-planner mode, you’re drinking from a firehose of information — some of it complete, some of it incomplete; some of it right, some of it wrong,” he said. “I don’t think any of us, particularly in the throes of a health problem, are able to distill, coordinate and take action against it.”
For Blaustein, who has founded or led several media and tech companies, including e-commerce startup OpenSky and About.com, the experience ultimately became fodder for his latest entrepreneurial venture, CarePlanners.
One-stop shop for a range of healthcare situations
Cofounded last year with Dr. Nancy Snyderman, a surgeon and the chief medical editor for NBC News, CarePlanners connects patients and caregivers with a network of nurses, social workers, insurance specialists, Medicare experts and other healthcare advocates who can help navigate often confounding healthcare terrain to find the best health resources and coordinate the most effective care.
So far, the company has raised a round of angel funding and built up a team of seven New York employees and 25 trained “careplanners” nationwide (although most are East Coast-based for now). Since launching the platform in June, CarePlanners has attracted hundreds of patients, and Blaustein said the company is in talks with employer partners that could put their user number in the thousands.
For patients and caregivers suddenly dropped into life-changing healthcare situations, CarePlanners provides personalized expert guidance and care coordination — from creating an action plan for someone newly diagnosed with an illness to arranging senior care for an elderly parent to resolving billing issues. The cost ranges from $200 to $900, depending on the situation.
Other companies provide (mostly online) services and resources around specific situations (such as billing problems or caregiver support, for example Care.com, CareLinx and CareZone), but CarePlanners is a one-stop shop for a broad spectrum of challenges. The company’s costs are not covered by insurance, but it aims to bring a kind of concierge service and personalized patient advocacy to a new class of consumers.
Human element is key
“They focus on affordability; other companies focus on affluent consumers,” said Unity Stokes, co-founder and president of Startup Health, a New York academy and community for health tech startups. “This opens up a whole new type of care for everyday people.”
Pairing patients and caregivers with actual people — instead of just a website of information — means that it might take the company a while to scale. But Blaustein said the human element is crucial given the complexity and dynamic nature of the industry CarePlanners is taking on. There’s no “algorithm for the healthcare system,” he said.
By creating a marketplace of care planners, the company is also creating a new professional opportunity for people in a range of healthcare and caregiving fields. In a year, Blaustein said, the company could double or triple its number of care planners, and it plans to ramp up training to further professionalize the role.
While CarePlanners targets both patients and caregivers, the latter group is a particularly valuable cohort for health tech startups. As a recent study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project found, the so-called “alpha geeks” of health tech are more likely to take advantage of social and online tools.
For healthcare guidance, who do you call?
Beyond the personalized, over-the-phone services, the company is building out an online tool for storing and organizing health-related information – from test results and medical histories to basic contact information for the family doctor.
On that front, the company will face a greater range of competitors. But Blaustein’s broader vision for CarePlanners is as a “AAA for healthcare” – a membership-based service (wallet card and all) that manages the family’s medical information on an ongoing basis and provides discounted access to care planners, for emergencies and even less dire situations.
“If I had a legal issue, I’d call a lawyer. If I had a tax issue, I’d call an accountant. When I have a healthcare issue, I can’t call anybody,” Blaustein said. “That’s really what we’re trying to help.”
(Image by Ilin Sergey via Shutterstock.)