Stories of Technology, Innovation, & Entrepreneurship in the Southeast

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December 06, 2022 | Tom Ballard

NinePatch has pilots underway in Knoxville, two other communities

NinePatch’s solution offers tools to identify gaps in needed services, then enables cross-community referrals and care coordination for medical, behavioral, and social services.

To say that Leigh Sterling is passionate about tools that facilitate the holistic coordination of care for individuals would be an understatement.

Initially spurred by her first husband’s unsuccessful battle with cancer where she learned the challenges of coordinating care, and later as Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director of the East Tennessee Health Information Network (etHIN), the Regional East Tennessee Health Information Exchange, Sterling saw ways that technology could be used to overcome some of those challenges.

In a recent interview, she told us that etHIN, which started curating and aggregating patient medical information in 2011 for use by authorized healthcare providers to improve patient care, began working in 2017 with the Knoxville Area Project Access (KAPA) on a project to provide technology to support and expand KAPA’s offerings to include social service referrals in a pilot called KAPA Connects. Those referrals included housing, transportation, food, drug and alcohol dependency, and health literacy.

“I wanted to expand etHIN’s data set and integrated referral and care coordination offerings, so I started looking for a platform to address those areas but couldn’t find a tool with a strong visual interpretation of the disparate data,” Sterling explained. In so doing she turned to a previous software developer who was working with a similar organization in Colorado seeking to have a more integrated and holistic offering. Now, several years later, the former banker and leader of etHIN has taken on an even larger challenge as President and Chief Executive Officer of the Delaware-incorporated start-up named NinePatch Inc. that has its C-level leadership, accounting team, and corporate counsel living and working in Knoxville.

The focus of the new venture, which Sterling joined in August 2021, involves “those things that expand beyond traditional medical care,” but impact individuals, their families, and the larger community. “Improved health outcomes are derived from connecting and coordinating medical and social and behavioral care,” she says, including items like those on which KAPA and etHIN were focused during their initial project together.

“The pandemic undoubtedly helped government, states, and communities to recognize that medical care impacts only about 20 percent of a person’s well-being and health,” Sterling says. The other 80 percent is derived from the conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, and age.

NinePatch’s solution offers tools for providers, payers, health systems,  government, communities, health information networks, and tribal communities to first identify gaps in care/needed services, then enables cross-community referrals and care coordination to close those gaps across all three domains of medical, behavioral and social services.

To underscore its multi-dimensional focus, the company’s name was carefully chosen. NinePatch is derived from a quilting pattern that conveys the concept of many different elements coming together to form a greater whole.

“We feel this is a good description of our ‘Care Team’ model, as well as the coming together of the healthcare, behavioral, and social service organizations in the community,” NinePatch writes on its website. “On a more tactile level, we feel NinePatch also evokes warmth, comfort, and home, reflecting the importance of family and household in feelings of security and safety. That said, the piecemeal quality of quilts also reflects the truth of life being ‘messy’ – an ongoing work in progress. Lastly, from a historical point of view, quilting has a long tradition in many North American and World cultures of being used as a means of familial and communal storytelling, creating bonds across generations.”

Today, the company has pilots underway in Knoxville, Northern California, and Western Colorado. All are using a white-labeled instance of its award-winning, inaugural product named the NinePatch “Whole Person Care” platform. It is a patent-pending, Social Determinants of Health (SDoH) technology solution designed to facilitate cross-community and cross-platform referral information sharing to facilitate integrated and coordinated community-wide ecosystems.

The local project, which was announced in July and went live last week, is with the Knoxville Academy of Medicine Foundation (KAMF) and its Tennessee Community Resource Network (TCRN). In making the announcement, Danielle Sims, KAMF’s Executive Director, said the organization, in partnership with etHIN, “sought a solution to the coordinated information sharing and closed-loop referral process within and between medical, behavioral and social health domains, allowing collaborative organizations to address gaps in needed services, care coordination, and wellness from a whole person perspective. Our organization has deep experience with community collaboration and governance. We leveraged that experience and understanding of our community’s needs to find a tool to help us meet our collective goals. NinePatch Whole Person Care exceeded all of our expectations.”

Today, Sterling says, “I’m now on the vendor side, and the key to success is, let’s prove it works.”