Vanessa McLaughlin, CEO at Welcome Home Health, Inc.
Back in the 1990s, as a graduate student, Vanessa McLaughlin did a GHAT Fellowship at the Veterans Administration (VA) in the Pacific Northwest. The VA asked her to put together a telemedicine program. Even back then, McLaughlin could see the potential of telemedicine to make healthcare more accessible and affordable. If patients didn’t need a procedure, there was no need for them to go to a healthcare facility.
Telemedicine can reduce healthcare costs, as well as improve outcomes and patient satisfaction, according to Dialing Up Telemedicine by Pioneer Institute. Other research finds telemedicine reduces hospital admissions and readmissions, and shortens stays. Even before the COVID-19 crisis, Grandview Research projected that the telemedicine market would rise to $113.5 billion by 2025. Now, it is very likely the industry will zoom past that number.
By 2013, when President Obama was working on the Affordable Care Act, it was clear telemedicine would be integral to its success. McLaughlin wanted to develop a plug-and-play model, using video conferencing and healthcare advocates to support post-discharge patients. She named the company Welcome Home Health, Inc. (WHH).
“The initial model was for seniors because that’s the group with the highest cost of care,” said McLaughlin. “They often have comorbidities [two chronic diseases or conditions in a patient] and need additional support for new disease states or as they transition from inpatient care to outpatient care.” Since then, WHH has broadened its model. In San Diego, it’s working with people with a mental health diagnosis. “It is very likely they don’t have a mental health or primary care provider.” she continued. WHH connects them to both, supporting their full health condition. “Many physical health issues are connected to mental health.”
“One of the notable things that I observed when I worked at the VA was treating the whole person, not just the individual conditions,” said McLaughlin. In this approach, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. You cannot understand people’s overall health without knowing how the individual conditions contribute to overall health. One of her goals is to shift how we treat people in the post-discharge phase — no more silos. Just one point of contact to ask questions and connect to healthcare services. To prove the effectiveness of this model, McLaughlin wants to develop five use cases: connecting behavioral health patients to physical health, chronic heart failure, rural health, Medicaid/Medicare patient populations, and cancer support.
McLaughlin has the background to succeed. Her undergraduate degree is in business and finance and graduate degree is in health policy. In addition to a nearly 30-year career in telemedicine, she’s held several leadership positions in telemedicine industry organizations, such as the American Telemedicine Association and Interstate Telehealth.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak in Washington, McLaughlin was already speaking with the Washington State Department of Commerce. After the outbreak, they asked her to submit a proposal. WHH is finalizing a contract to do a pilot program starting with supporting 100 patients then ramping up to a rolling 5,000 in five weeks.
One of the unique aspects of WHH’s model is that it takes advantage of existing infrastructure then layers in its secret sauce. It uses Vivify Health’s Pathway Remote Care Platform in combination with a large national call center specializing in health. WHH trains the call center’s customer service team using its proprietary protocols. “This is a great opportunity for service workers who are losing their jobs to find employment pretty quickly,” said McLaughlin.
The way WHH works: Within the framework of hospitals and health systems battling COVID, the moment a person thinks they have COVID-19, a WHH Patient Health Advocate sends him or her an assessment tool via text, then is tested. Once patients have tested positive, Patient Health Advocates (PHA) will support them over the next 14 days. PHAs assess their health condition daily, help them through the anxiety. If patients become ill, PHAs bring in clinicians to triage their condition and evaluate whether they need to go into the hospital. This support prevents overwhelmed healthcare providers from taking time away from the highly acute patients that need to be seen in the emergency department or brought into inpatient care. “We use a consistent high-touch model.” McLaughlin said.
One of the reasons WHH will be able to ramp up is that, in January, it hired a key operations person who, in just two months, was able to build a replicable and scalable workflow process. She was able to do this so quickly because she had done this for a large healthcare system. WHH was able to afford to hire the executive because the company had won an interest-free loan from SheEO. Once a year, SheEO raises a fund of about $500,000 from what it calls activators. Activators, such as myself, make a tax-deductible donation. SheEO distributes the money to five female social entrepreneurs who are chosen by the Activators.
SheEO doesn’t just provide money. It provides training, emotional support, and connections to follow-on capital. McLaughlin needed a bridge loan until additional financing came through. Vicki Saunders, the founder of SheEO, connected McLaughlin to a SheEO Activator at Daintree Capital, who was able to provide a bridge loan. WHH will be raising a $1.5 million equity round. Some of the financing will likely come from SheEO activators.
While many companies are hurting badly during the coronavirus pandemic, some entrepreneurs are thriving because they are uniquely positioned to help during these challenging times. What changes do you need to make so your company thrives?