Papa pairs aging seniors with companions, or what the company calls "grandkids on demand." (Papa)

Papa is a winner of FierceHealthcare's Fierce 15 awards. See our other honorees here

Healthcare providers and payers are finally recognizing loneliness as a big health problem—and a big opportunity.

While some companies are exploring the use of technology to combat loneliness, such as voice-enabled devices like Amazon and Alexa, Andrew Parker wanted to foster face-to-face connections.

profile photo of Andrew Parker
Andrew Parker (Papa)
Parker launched Papa in 2018 to pair aging seniors with companions, or what the company calls "grandkids on demand."

The idea was born out of a personal need in Parker's own family. Papa was initially built to support Parker's aging grandfather, who needed extra support around the home. Parker's family connected him with a local college student to help him manage his daily life and provide companionship.

He realized he'd tapped into a big gap. Growing research on the "loneliness epidemic" points to a correlation between social isolation and mortality. Lonely people are 50% more likely to die prematurely than those with healthy social relationships, according to a 2010 study.

Health insurers, particularly Medicare Advantage plans, see the value in what Papa is doing. Since launching in South Florida, the company has expanded to 16 states, and most major health plans, including Humana and Aetna, now cover the company's services.

In January, the company will have “several hundred thousand” members on its platform, Parker said. 

"What we're doing aligns with what’s going on with healthcare and the social determinants of health movement," Parker said. "There are 11,000 people turning 65 every day, and the rules are changing in the healthcare space, with many of these services now paid for through Medicare Advantage plans."

The company is also exploring new business lines to offer its services through Medicaid and as an employee benefit to help family caregivers. And employee benefits provider New Benefits is working with Papa to make its services available to employees. 

Fierce insights from Andrew Parker, Papa's CEO and co-founder

What is your best piece of advice for launching a healthcare company that challenges the status quo?

Healthcare requires tech and the right people. Without one the other doesn't work. You can't just slap a piece of technology on a complex problem like healthcare and expect it to work.

What is the failure you’ve learned the best lesson from?

Early on, we didn't have enough Pals to support our member growth. I had to do the visits. This taught us what it takes to provide the best experience to our older adults. Our inability to fill the visit at the time forced me to go myself. You really learn a lot when you do that. 

What is one change you predict in healthcare that people wouldn’t expect?

That human connection is like medicine and improves healthcare outcomes and costs.