Suzanne Hoye said Pack Health understood what few others could: Overcoming cancer is only half the battle.
After Hoye was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in April 2014, she underwent surgery to remove the tumor, followed by months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. The regimen destroyed the cancer but took a toll on her body.
“I was fortunate that my cancer was found and treated so quickly,” said Hoye, of Birmingham. “I had chemo and then 36 radiation treatments, so I was around doctors and people with cancer every day. I had so much support up until the last day of treatments. But when I was released, people thought, ‘You’re well now.’ No one realizes the fatigue you suffer after the treatments.”
While at a support group meeting last year, Hoye learned about Pack Health, a Birmingham-based company that helps people develop the skills needed to manage chronic conditions. The company pairs each person with a health adviser who works with them to set goals that will improve their well-being.
Hoye said her adviser gave helpful guidance on everything from diet and exercise to managing medicines and unraveling insurance issues.
“Pack Health is so awesome and so helpful,” Hoye said. “They help you take baby steps in getting your life back, and hold you accountable. They helped me realize that what I was going through was normal.”
Pack Health is the brainchild of Will Wright and Dr. Mazi Rasulnia, two friends who share a background in public health. They founded the company in 2013, realizing that people need more than an occasional visit to the doctor.
For Wright, the idea of providing a support system for people with ongoing conditions stems from personal experience.
Wright’s leg was broken and foot severely injured in a car accident seven years ago. Although Wright was rushed to surgery to repair his injuries, he still had a long road ahead. As a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley, Wright was far from home and found it difficult to get help, especially when he needed transportation to doctor appointments.
Wright and Rasulnia, who have both worked as consultants at public healthcare companies, saw firsthand the flaws in the system.
“Patients see doctors and nurses for seven or eight minutes, and then they don’t see them again for three months,” Wright said. “There’s also this problem of stigma. People become mildly depressed and won’t take their medicines correctly, eat right or exercise. It’s a hard place to be in.
“We said if we could create a solution that we could scale to address these issues, it would potentially be an incredible benefit for society,” he said. “It would save money and make a better healthcare system for the problems we’re dealing with today.”
Rasulnia said the focus in today’s healthcare system has changed. Under the Affordable Healthcare Act, doctors, as well as pharmaceutical and insurance companies, are rewarded for producing good results rather than treating as many patients as possible. But to improve results, patients often need more one-on-one care than the doctors can give.
Wright and Rasulnia created Pack Health to fill that gap.
“In the United States, 150 million people, or half the population, have a chronic condition, and we’re spending $2 trillion on those conditions,” Rasulnia said. “If our company could just help a million people, it could create a huge cost savings for the nation.”
The two modeled their business on similar companies that provide one-stop-shop service. Their idea: Provide people with all the tools they need to improve their health, including a personal adviser who is trained to provide guidance.
“We are 100 percent focused on improving the health outcomes of people who are suffering from chronic conditions,” Wright said. “I don’t think people want to be sick, but they need help, and they want someone who is more empathetic to their needs.”
This is how the program works: Members are paired with a health adviser who keeps in contact through weekly phone conversations, emails and text messages. The adviser helps set quarterly health goals, depending on the member’s condition.
The members receive a pedometer, an exercise journal and refrigerator magnets with helpful diet and nutrition tips.
“We break their goals into small pieces, or tiny steps. These tiny steps lead to bigger steps, which ultimately lead to behavior change,” Rasulnia said.
Hope Peterson, of Kalamazoo, Michigan, said Pack Health provided the impetus she needed to reach her goal of losing weight. While searching for assistance on the Internet earlier this year, Peterson saw a Pack Health ad and was attracted to the concept of having a personal health adviser.
“I was spinning my wheels, but I wasn’t making any progress,” said Peterson, who lost 15 pounds during her first three months as a Pack Health member. “But when I signed up for the program, it brought all the pieces together. It helped to have someone to whom I was accountable. My adviser never made me feel bad when I didn’t meet my goal but helped me to see that it happens to everyone, and there are things you can do to sidestep the obstacles and still be successful. She had empathy for my struggle.”
Peterson was so pleased with her results that she completed the program again – this time for help with colitis. She referred her sister and two friends to Pack Health.
Today, Pack Health has members in all 50 states, Canada and Australia. It provides support for 14 chronic conditions, including Type 2 diabetes, asthma, heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hepatitis C, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer.
Pack Health partners with insurance and pharmaceutical companies, doctors and employers to help provide funding. For those who cannot obtain funding through any source, the company has made the program affordable, with a $99 startup fee and $29.99 per month. Anyone interested in learning more about the program can visit www.packhealth.com or email the company at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“If we can keep people from going into the hospital or having complications from medications, we can save the insurance company money,” Wright said. “It also saves companies money because employees are healthier, happier and generally feeling better.”
“We want everyone to be healthy,” Rasulnia said. “Some patients will change immediately when they get a diagnosis from a doctor. But there are 30 to 40 percent of people who would like to change, but they need help. That’s where we come in. We can help those people so when they go back to the doctor in three months, they’ll be a better patient.”