At one point last year, nearly 90% of surveyed primary care providers reported limiting regular check-ups due to coronavirus concerns, according to the Primary Care Collaborative.
In light of those limitations, Americans had to rethink how they accessed their go-to doctors, with many turning to telemedicine and house calls for the very first time. That’s especially true for the chronically ill and other high-risk populations.
Los Angeles-based in-home primary care pioneer Heal felt the impact of that new way of thinking firsthand. Overall, demand for Heal’s services increased by a staggering 540% in 2020, with similarly high utilization across both its telemedicine and house call offerings.
“Look, primary care belongs in the home,” Heal co-founder and CEO Nick Desai told Home Health Care News. “Your family doctor should come to your family room. The COVID-19 virus certainly accelerated the understanding of that. Nobody wants to get exposed to other people’s germs when they go to a doctor.”
Desai and Heal now are riding the in-home primary care momentum into the rest of 2021.
On Tuesday, the company announced it is expanding into the new markets of Illinois, Louisiana, North Carolina and South Carolina. Combined with its existing footprint in California, New York, Washington and a handful of other key locations, Heal’s services will be available to 134 million health care consumers.
“We really have quite the far-flung operation now,” Desai said. “It used to be that I knew all the providers by name. Our company’s holiday parties were a bunch of people gathering for pizza. We now have a pretty national operation, reaching all the way from Spartanburg, South Carolina, to Seattle, Washington.”
As a company, Heal pairs in-person house calls with telemedicine tools to deliver timely and affordable primary, preventive and non-emergency urgent care to patients of all ages.
It wasn’t too long ago when Desai was driving around Los Angeles with co-founder Dr. Renee Dua, his wife, and Heal’s chief medical officer to care for their first patients on Feb. 10, 2015. Since then, Heal has delivered more than 250,000 patient visits while lowering their emergency room utilization by more than 70%.
“To hear the stories of the people we’re bringing health care to, it’s been very heartwarming,” Desai said. “Particularly when we’re talking about [places like] Lafayette, Louisiana, and Greenville, South Carolina.”
Currently, Heal is covered by most major insurers, including Aetna, Humana, WellCare, Anthem Blue Cross and United Healthcare. The company is increasingly working in alternative payment arrangements, too, such as the Primary Care First model from the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation (CMMI).
Heal is additionally exploring the new direct-contracting models from the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). It expects to participate in one of the options next year, Desai noted.
“We are live with Medicare, with Primary Care First,” he said. “And we are moving to direct contracting. We’ll probably do that in 2022. We want to understand the profile of the patients, but we’re absolutely looking at that.”
The news of Heal’s expansion comes just over six months after Humana Inc. (NYSE: HUM) announced a strategic partnership with the company, capped off by a $100 million investment to fast-track growth.
Broadly, Humana’s investment in Heal is part of the Louisville, Kentucky-based insurer’s quest to build a scalable, diversified home-centric suite of services to better care for its millions of members.
“As seen in other industries, we believe consumers will increasingly demand health care solutions that are more convenient and personalized and [that] better meet their needs,” Humana’s Susan Diamond told HHCN last July. “Deeper relationships with patients are needed, including a better understanding of the home environment, to deliver comprehensive and higher quality care.”
In addition to Humana, Heal investors include former Qualcomm CEO and Executive Chairman Paul Jacobs, who serves as chairman of Heal’s board of directors. IRA Capital, Fidelity ContraFund, Lionel Richie and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush are also among Heal’s many investors.
Desai described Humana’s backing as a strategic advantage, both in terms of capital and access to patients.
“Obviously, their capital and their support is important to our growth and success,” he said.