Digital health startup Sheen Health operates out of the University of Connecticut Technology Incubation Program (TIP). The company created a solution to reduce administrative expenses and increase patient revenue and satisfaction.
Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price spoke with Aneesh Kumar, Sheen Health Founder and CEO, and Samir Bhatt, Head of Business Development about their innovative solution and the startup’s experience at the TIP.
NAN PRICE: Give us a little background. How did Sheen Health come to be?
ANEESH KUMAR: We started the company in 2017 with the mission of creating a new patient payment economy—and we use that term deliberately. We believe the entire value proposition around paying for healthcare leaves much be desired.
First, patients don’t know what they’re going to pay. Second, they receive a sea of bills and explanation of benefits with surprise bills. Third, many times they cannot even pay what they owe. Our objective is to solve each one of these problems progressively.
NAN: How does your solution solve those problems?
ANEESH: Our approach is differentiated. With other solutions, consumers can visit a website and see a range of costs for health care services. What they can’t see is what they’ll pay for that service at a given the doctor, which—aside from solving their medical issue—is the only thing they really care about.
They want to know what their health insurance will cover—will the visit cost $0, $50 $500, or more? It’s difficult to answer that question. You have to be deeply integrated within the providers’ practice management systems and their workflow. You also have to be connected to all the insurance companies, because at any medical practice, a patient could belong to one of hundreds of insurance companies. Unless you’re connected to those insurance companies, you won’t know in detail what the benefit design is and how much of the deductible the patient has met. We use software to determine all of that.
We’re working directly in the doctor’s office and connected to all the insurance companies. We’re a cloud-based solution. We can quickly set up practices, and then the front desk can use our software to communicate estimates to patients, so they know their out of pocket expense at the time of their visit.
NAN: Is your market business-to-business or business-to-consumer?
SAMIR BHATT: It’s a B2B offering. The solution is for medical practices, and the practice administration makes it available or shares it with the customers.
NAN: Is the solution on the market already or is it still under development?
SAMIR: It’s in the market. We recently acquired a customer that’s a significant division of a large insurance company. We’re very excited. They’re a multi-state practice, and it’s a multi-year contract.
We’ve also done a few case studies, one of which is available on our website, and has been well received. It shows the measurable benefits for our customers. We hope to feature more.
NAN: How are you marketing?
ANEESH: Currently, it’s word-of-mouth and our network. We both have extensive experience in the healthcare industry, and the FinTech industry in some ways. So, we know many of the main players.
The medical practices that use our software are our best evangelists. They directly relate to the problem we’re solving, and they can vouch for the simplicity of our solution.
At this stage, we don’t really have a marketing budget or a dedicated marketing person. At some point, that will become necessary. But right now, we want to grow through word of mouth and through media opportunities, such as Innovation Destination Hartford, and then get into bigger campaigns.
NAN: How did Sheen Health become involved with the TIP?
ANEESH: We found out about the TIP online. Initially we weren’t sure what it was all about, because the current portfolio companies are in the genomics industry. When we spoke with TIP Director Paul Parker and Manager Nicole Baccaro, we saw that the TIP has a broad vision of all kinds of digital health companies. In fact, we’re the second digital health company currently in the TIP (after Diameter Health).
NAN: What are you gaining from participating in the TIP?
SAMIR: As part of the TIP community, we have access to professors, faculty, and entrepreneurs-in-residence. Because the TIP has worked with dozens of startups in the past, and continues to do so, they have a lot of relatable experience. They have become good mentors for us.
They make us aware of other programs, venture capital and investment opportunities, and funds or grants that may be available. As an example, UConn Health would be a wonderful partner—and the faculty here at the TIP can introduce us to them as well.
ANEESH: That connectivity is clearly the biggest benefit and we appreciate that a lot. Now we are a part of a community.
And, just as we benefit from it, we also want to give back through our experience. Samir and I have been involved with other startups before starting Sheen Health. We’re also well networked in the industry. So, for other companies those connections can be valuable.
Lastly, the TIP provides us with a professional office and physical space at a low cost, so that’s another benefit. The TIP was a great break for us. It brought us out of our home offices.
SAMIR: Just being able to mingle with other startup founders helps. You’re able to share tips, suggestions, and lessons learned, which is helpful for any entrepreneur.
NAN: Have you utilized any other Connecticut startup resources?
ANEESH: A few of them, including the Connecticut Small Business Development Center (CT SBDC), were suggestions from the TIP. The TIP also has a good connection to the computer science program at UConn. We’re not necessarily using their team but, in the future, we can potentially work with their senior class, providing internship opportunities to UConn undergraduates, or even hiring them. All of that is part of the connectivity.
Through a connection with the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) we were introduced to a team at UConn School of Business that helped us with marketing and company strategies. We’re also connected to Upward Hartford and, as we grow, we’ll be able to take advantage of additional activities.
NAN: Aside from funding, what do you need most move the company forward?
ANEESH: We’re always looking for progressive medical practices that are unsatisfied with the status quo for patient payment experience and are willing to try out a new solution from a new company.
We’re new, and, while our solution has been proven in real production environments, it takes a broad-minded practice to recognize they can bring this pricing discussion to patient engagement, and it will help everybody.
We’ve been fortunate to have met some willing practices, but the more we meet the more we can serve—whether they’re at UConn Health, or some of their affiliate practices, or through connections we can make through Innovation Destination Hartford.
NAN: That was my next question—how are you finding these medical practices?
ANEESH: Mostly through our network. We generally look for practices with at least 10 physicians, so there’s enough IT maturity and enough potential benefit that a conversation about our solution makes sense.
SAMIR: We also serve ambulatory care practices. Not an inpatient, hospital type of facility, more outpatient services—any facility that currently is looking to reduce their administrative costs and their patient debt. These are the two issues we immediately tackle through our price transparency solution.
NAN: Tell us a little about how you work with your clients.
ANEESH: We think of ourselves as long-term partners for our customers. We don’t see our solution in a transactional sense where we sell our software, make some revenue, and then move on. That’s not our approach.
First, we have a subscription, so that means every month we have to earn our keep. The practice has to see value in what we bring to them for them to pay us. Our software is a platform for them and their patients to behave differently. So, by necessity, we have to thoroughly understand their business—the skills that they have, whether they can actually speak within financial terms.
NAN: Let’s talk about some startup challenges.
ANEESH: We have the same challenges as many other startups: We left relatively well-paying jobs at big companies. Now, we’re finally in the revenue side of the phase. But for months, we weren’t compensating for the type of money we had been making. Every startup has to go through that resource crunch—whether it’s product development, sales, marketing, or creating a business plan. You have to do all those things with zero resources. That’s always a challenge and we’re going through the same.
The other challenge is that what we’re doing is not simply a better way to do something, it’s also a new way of working, which, we believe in the long run, will be a huge advantage for us and our customers.
What that means is we have to educate practices. We have to educate patients. While the pain resonates almost immediately, there are many questions and concerns about how our solution works. Once a practice starts using our solution, they see the benefits. But, as a small startup, we have to encourage them to change their mindset. So that’s really the main challenge.
NAN: Is there competition in this industry?
ANEESH: There’s always competition, especially for a problem this big. At the same time, we believe our approach has a major competitive advantage.
There are 25 or 30 others in this space that call themselves “transparency companies.” If you look at that as a label, there is definitely competition. We have a unique position because we work directly within the doctor’s office and many of the other companies are direct-to-consumers or direct-to-employees, so they have a different approach and they cannot solve the problem the way we do.
We believe over time people will see value in our approach and will emulate it. Additionally, we have other solutions and services on our roadmap, which we believe will add more value.
SAMIR: And it’s been well received by the provider community. The doctors like to maintain a trusted relationship with patients. So, they’re much more welcoming of our solution versus direct-to-consumer solutions.
NAN: Where do you see the company in the next two or three years?
ANEESH: In the future, we expect to be able to say: Spending for healthcare is as easy, convenient, and transparent as shopping on Amazon! Today that sounds nonsensical. We envision several additional services around healthcare financing, installment payment, electronic statements, and bundled payments that we can add onto this foundation of transparency. There’s no shortage of things for us to do for years.
SAMIR: We have an exciting future ahead. Once we nail the transparency solution, we’ll add real-time payment collection along with financing. We want to crawl, walk and then run.
Find out more about activity at the University of Connecticut Technology Incubation Program (TIP)