Norwalk senior citizen Jacqueline Ruiz-Lara has had her share of health problems in recent years. A diabetic, Ruiz-Lara had open-heart surgery three years ago, has persistent problems with her knees and has suffered from a series of falls.
All of these difficulties forced her to make repeated trips to the hospital, not to mention the raft of prescription medications that she had to manage and doctor visits she had to arrange.
But a year ago, one of Ruiz-Lara’s doctors recommended she try out a new service designed to help seniors navigate the health system and manage their care – all with the goal of allowing her to age in place at her home.
That new service was provided by Santa Monica-based SixD Inc. – doing business as Renee. Founded by the husband-and-wife duo that had previously started doctor house call and virtual visit company Get Heal Inc. – dba Heal – Renee provides a personal health concierge service for its senior citizen customers.
This service includes reminders for customers to take their medications or schedule appointments, obtaining those medications and delivering them to the customer, arranging doctor appointments and transportation to and from those visits, and filling out the required paperwork, among other services.
“I feel so safe with Renee, and the best part is that I get to stay at home instead of waiting at the hospital for four or five hours every time I have a problem,” Ruiz-Lara said.
Renee went through a soft launch a year ago with more than $4 million in funding, secured another $4 million-plus in funding earlier this year and formally launched this month.
Simultaneously with its official launch, Renee joined the ranks of companies offering prescription drug-discount programs. But unlike most such programs that offer discounted rates for individual prescription drugs, Renee offers complete coverage for roughly 500 drugs at a fixed cost of $25 a month. A patient using the discount program pays just the $25 fee, regardless of how many prescription drugs they use each month.
“We offer whole person-care journey management with a low-cost prescription program,” said co-founder and Chief Executive Nick Desai. His wife, Dr. Renee Dua, besides lending her name to the company, is the firm’s chief strategy officer; she is also a practicing physician. It was Dua who came up with the inspiration for the company after having to take care of her aging father and experiencing first-hand the complexities of arranging health care services and medications.
The duo’s previous startup, Heal, is still providing doctor house call visits. According to website Crunchbase, Heal has raised a total of $162 million through four funding rounds.
The idea of a health care service concierge – or ombudsman – is nothing new: employer health plans and hospitals have long offered such services, especially when patients are discharged from the hospital. For those of limited financial means, local government health care agencies or social service nonprofits have maintained similar services. There are also high-end personal health care concierges who for a substantial fee help their customers navigate the complexities of modern health care.
But for many elderly patients, family members often step in to make sure they are taking all their medications regularly or transport them to and from doctor appointments.
However the concierge service has been delivered, it has always been human-capital intensive.
Renee, on the other hand, uses an artificial intelligence platform to essentially automate the simpler tasks of compiling medication orders, tracking medication use, lining up transportation options and the like. That reduces the time spent with each patient, allowing the firm’s eight concierges to handle as many as 150 patients apiece.
One of the main goals of the company is to smooth the patient’s day-to-day interactions with the health care system.
“With automation and our proactive approach, we are eliminating confusion around medications, eligibility verification and coverage,” Desai said. “By doing all of those things, we are minimizing the number of instances where time-consuming troubleshooting is required.”
The other major goal is to become the one-stop shop for patients – particularly seniors – who want to remain in their own homes and need all their health care managed.
And that’s where the prescription drug discount program comes in. Renee’s program simplifies the process immensely for seniors, particularly those on fixed incomes. The program includes 500 commonly prescribed medications. As long as all the prescriptions that a customer needs are on that list, the customer pays $25 per month. All the rest of the work – filling the prescriptions and delivering them – is overseen by Renee’s concierges.
If a prescription is not on the list of 500 included medications, the concierge works with the patient’s insurance plan to ensure that the medication is delivered at the insurance-coverage price.
This approach differs from most other discount programs. Santa Monica-based GoodRx Holdings Inc., for example, offers steep discounts on the prices its customers pay for prescriptions. It also offers a monthly subscription fee – $10 a month for individuals and $20 for families – but the difference is that the customer must still pay some amount for each individual prescription, even if it is more than 80% discounted from the manufacturer’s market price.
The combination of a health care concierge service and the flat-rate discount prescription plan makes Renee stand out in an increasingly crowded field of consumer-oriented health care companies.
“There are lots of companies and nonprofit community organizations that have become good at guiding the patient on one or another part of their health care journey,” said Jaja Liao, principal with 25 Madison, a New York-based early-stage venture capital firm. Liao is familiar with Renee’s program.
“Some companies focus on arranging transportation, others focus just on the medication,” Liao continued. “But as far as I’m aware, no company has put all this together in a consumer or senior-friendly way.”
But Liao said the real test of Renee’s package of health care management offerings will come over time.
“They have to show with this first consumer iteration that they are making a big enough impact on the patients’ lives: Tracking how much have they increased medication adherence; reduced missed doctor visits, etc …,” she said. “They have to show this to the health care payers, and they have to show it with enough consumer adoption.”
We offer whole person-care journey management with a low-cost prescription program.
Ultimately, the goal, she said, is to get health care payers – whether private insurance companies or government programs such as Medicare – on board with Renee’s health care concierge and management offerings.
If Renee customer Ruiz-Lara is an indication, that may not be as difficult as it seems at the outset.
“I’m assigned to one person with Renee and she handles everything,” Ruiz-Lara said. “What’s more, with Renee’s reminders, I now don’t forget to take my medications and they track all my vitals and send them directly to my doctors. All this has made things easier to remain at home. I definitely intend to keep using Renee.”