Startup tackling loneliness among seniors expands into virtual primary care

Papa got its start offering assistance and socialization for older adults and is now expanding into virtual clinical care services for its members.

Now the three-year-old startup is expanding into virtual primary care, urgent care, and chronic care management with its new health management platform Papa Health.

The new service connects members with a Papa Doc virtually, while their companion, called a Papa Pal, is alongside the member and can help them navigate the appointment and provide transportation and care facilitation, said Andrew Parker, founder and CEO of Papa.

The aim is to improve health outcomes of older adults and families. 

RELATED: How a new wave of technology startups is tackling social determinants of health challenges

Papa Pals, who are typically college students, also serve as “boots-on-the-ground” making sure that beyond doctors’ appointments, members are eating the right foods, exercising, and are taking their medications, Parker said.

"Engaging in a healthy lifestyle is imperative to leading a long, fulfilling life and our Papa Pals represent the missing link in delivering high-quality and effective healthcare to older adults,” said Joel Rabasco, head of Papa Health. "Whether it's helping coordinate a successful virtual primary care visit, or providing a trusted companion to assist in chronic care management, their guidance and advocacy will lead to dramatically better health outcomes for our members." 

Since launching in Miami in 2018, Papa has seen dramatic growth, with plans to be in all 50 states by January 2021. The startup has raised $31 million in venture capital from investors Comcast Ventures and Pivotal Ventures, an investment and incubation company created by Melinda Gates, as well as Initialized Capital, Y Combinator and Sound Ventures.

Company growth has accelerated due to the COVID-19 pandemic and membership has increased by 500% year over year, the company said.

RELATED: Tech startups tackling loneliness among aging seniors

“Never before has it been more important to support older adults and families throughout the aging journey,” Parker said. “With companionship at our core, we have a unique opportunity to encourage and facilitate medical care into the home, where our members prefer to be for routine consultations and healthcare planning.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, companies like Papa have had to take an increasingly digital approach to help socially isolated people connect. The company quickly ramped up virtual companion visits.

Expanding into virtual clinical care services has long been a part of Papa's road map, Parker told Fierce Healthcare.

Parker's father, Randy Parker, founded the telehealth company MDLive. Working at MDLive as vice president of health systems, Parker said he recognized the benefit of both in-person and virtual health services, he said.

"We're excited to support our members in more ways beyond companionship to include board-certified providers, specialists, and care managers," he said.

RELATED: Why Papa, Humana think it's crucial to 'make noise' about the impacts of loneliness amid COVID-19 

Parker said Papa Health is not a standalone service but is part of the Papa Pal experience. "Whether the member needs to drop off a script, or they need a lab test or they need help with a virtual visit through video, the Papa Pal is able to facilitate that. The clinical services we offer are all virtual through the technology that we built," he said.

Papa also scored major partnerships with multiple large health insurance plans, including Aetna, AvMed, Florida Blue Medicare, Humana, Priority Health and Regence Blue Shield, among others. Papa works through insurance carriers such as Medicare, Medicaid and employer benefits.

"Health plans love Papa. They found a way to support a large number of members in a nuanced way. Some people need help using a computer, some need to go to dialysis every week and they trust us a partner," Parker said. "We’re launching some programs early this year and then will build upon the solution to build out a robust, complete virtual care platform."