By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
“We do right for the patient so we can do right by the plan,” Jessica Harthcock says in describing the motto of Utilize Health.
The Founder and Chief Executive Officer of this Nashville-based start-up is, like many entrepreneurs, driven by her passion for the company’s mission. In Harthcock’s case, however, one might say it is deeply personal, a passion that is shared by her Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer – Adam Harthcock.
Yes, since you are no doubt wondering, he is her husband. Before their marriage, however, he was her Personal Trainer, helping Jessica recover from an accident that occurred while she was practicing gymnastics. The fall left the then 17-year old paralyzed from the chest down.
“The doctors said I would never walk again,” she tells people. When she saw a story of someone who learned to walk again without a medical reason to do so, Jessica knew she had to try. Because of her persistence, she navigates very well with the only sign of her injury being a boot that she says will be with her the rest of her life.
Her personal journey in finding the right care in a post-acute setting is the foundation on which Utilize Health is built. Those who followed the most recent “The TENN” cohort of Launch Tennessee heard Jessica describe the challenges and the solution her start-up is offering.
“We fight for what the patient needs,” Jessica says of the Patient Advocates that are the hallmark of Utilize Health’s focus. Simply stated, Utilize Health is dedicated to making the entire treatment process easier for patients. The results are improved patient outcomes, decreased costs, and improved patient lives.
The company’s current focus is on individuals suffering from strokes, spinal cord injuries and disorders, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis, and muscular dystrophy.
Utilize Health does not use a cookie cutter approach. “We treat each patient individually,” Jessica says. “No one size fits everyone. We meet them where they are.”
Ironically, the small family at Utilize Health includes Austin Stuck, a Marketing and Sales Associate who has experienced first-hand the impact the company can have. He had just joined the team full-time when Stuck became the victim of a home invasion.
“I had a severed carotid artery that resulted in a stroke due to the loss of blood,” Stuck said. When finding specialized care became a challenge, the Harthcocks stepped-in, ignoring traditional caregivers who said Stuck would have to wait his turn to be admitted to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. Their persistence turned a several week wait into just 24 hours.
“He suddenly became one of the people we serve,” Jessica said.
Stuck returned to Utilize Health on a part-time basis in February and wrote this inspiring post, titled “Dying Made Me a Better Marketer,” earlier this year.
To better understand the approach that Utilize Health takes, Jessica took us through a typical patient scenario. The individual had suffered a brain injury several years ago, and the cost of medical care was already close to $1 million as he resided in a skilled nursing facility.
A family member noticed some eye tracking from her brother and decided to inquire. Working with a Utilize Health Patient Advocate, they were able to use the Rancho Los Amigos Scale to document that the man was at a stage where he could and should be moved to a rehabilitation facility. Not only was that move better for the patient and his family, but it reduced care costs significantly.
The company, founded in 2013, has individual clients in all 50 states through its initial concept of marketing directly to consumers. Utilize Health has now shifted to a focus on health plans and recently signed-up its first client in the western U.S., focused primarily on Alaska, Idaho and Washington.
“We went live in June,” Jessica says.
Utilize Health has raised $750,000 in seed funding and another $1.4 million in convertible debt. To expand, the company is focused on a Series A round of between $2 and $3 million.
Knowing first-hand how important knowledge is to a patient, Jessica has a simple way to describe Utilize Health’s approach. “We’re not performing a miracle, we’re just being their advocate at the right time and place.”