HealthTech Accelerator #1: Canopy focused on enhancing patient-healthcare professional communication

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first article in a series spotlighting the companies that are participating in the inaugural “HealthTech Accelerator” sponsored by CO.LAB, Erlanger Health System and Unum.)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Imagine if you were a patient in a hospital, and English was not your native language. In fact, maybe you were not conversant in the language at all.

“Patients who don’t speak English are among the most vulnerable,” Bill Tan, Founder of Canopy Innovations Inc., explained to us during a recent interview. “The hospital scrambles to find someone to help with communications, particularly if there is not an English-speaker accompanying the individual. Not only is the patient’s care experience being compromised, there are adverse financial and compliance implications for the facility.”

For Tan, there’s also a personal connection to the communications barrier.

“I experienced firsthand the frustrations on both sides when I accompanied my family members on their hospital visits,” he explained.

If the two-time serial entrepreneur has his way, the language barriers that exist today between patients who don’t speak English and their providers will be eradicated in the next decade through Canopy360, a portfolio of workflow management and analytics products that Tan describes as a “game changer.”

The first offerings already in the marketplace are:

  • Canopy Learn, a web-based platform for healthcare providers and clinicians-in-training to learn Medical Spanish, so that they can communicate more effectively with their Latino patients who are limited in their English proficiency. Tan says it is the top offering in this sector, and a Medical English version is being released for foreign-born healthcare professionals.
  • Canopy Speak, a mobile app that that features the largest corpus of pre-translated medical phases in 15 languages, and a one-touch button that routes calls to in-house interpreters or outsourced interpretive services when the clinical conversation goes beyond routine instructions. The mobile device-based solution is available in both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.

Other components of the Canopy360 suite includes Canopy Connect, Canopy Language Bank, and Canopy Reimburse. Together, Canopy360 is positioned to be a language service delivery and analytics platform that centralizes otherwise disparate language resources into a single, unified tool to simplify access for providers, improve deployment of existing hospital resources, collect comprehensive usage data, and integrate into core systems for reimbursement capture and compliance.

“We will be rolling out the full toolkit later this year,” Tan added. “We are bringing a 21st century tool to a 21st century challenge that is currently being addressed by a 20th century solution.”

The New York City-based company is one of the eight participants in the inaugural “HealthTech Accelerator” operated by Chattanooga’s CO.LAB with support from Erlanger Health System and Unum. Remarkably, it’s the second Tennessee-based start-up program in which Tan has participated. Last year, Canopy was selected for the Nashville Entrepreneur Center’s “Project Healthcare.”

For Canopy’s Founder, both experiences have been great.

“We’ve fallen in love with Tennessee,” Tan says. “We would be open to setting up operations in either Nashville or Chattanooga.”

As he has worked to develop Canopy, Tan has drawn on his experience with a previous company – Starling Health – that he founded and sold. It was a digital health start-up that reinvented the patient call bell, using tablets to improve communications between nurses and non-English speakers in the inpatients settings.

“A patient could click on an icon to say, for example, ‘I am in pain,’ and receive a response in his preferred language (including English) from the healthcare provider,” Tan explained. “And the workflow that’s involved in the patient requests, from initiation to being handed-off to another nurse to final completion, is captured and made available to the nursing team and nurse executives.”

Much of the early development of the Canopy products has been supported by a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Institutes of Health. “Through that process, we have gotten our solutions vetted and received very helpful feedback,” Tan said.

Canopy’s Founder believes that the products that have or will soon be rolled-out will be very attractive to hospitals. With a number of state Medicaid programs now covering the cost for interpreters, Tan says Canopy360 provides “the tools to help with reimbursement.” There’s also a module that enables a hospital to implement a more coordinated and tiered access to the most appropriate interpreters for a situation.

“The current business model calls for a company to sell interpreter services by the minute . . . a very costly option,” Tan explains.

As far as the challenge Canopy is addressing, he says simply, “It’s massive and pervasive. It’s both a moral imperative and an unmet market need. Our mission is just as sweeping. We want to completely eliminate the language barrier from healthcare by 2030.”

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