HealthNow are on a mission for individuals in need of health services to take the upfront worry away. Creating a better relationship between the user and merchant by removing the stress often experienced with unexpected health costs.
What is HealthNow?
We’re on a mission to give all consumers instant access to healthcare. Shockingly, 24% of the New Zealand population are delaying or neglecting healthcare because of cost barriers. HealthNow solves this problem by allowing consumers to spread health expenses over a repayment period that suits their budget. We also offer a self-insurance product through a digital health wallet where consumers and employers set funds aside for both urgent health spend and proactive healthcare investment.
What would you like to achieve with the business?
We’re aiming to fundamentally transform the way people spend on health. When someone knows they need to see a healthcare professional, but won’t book because it’s a choice between the power bill or an appointment, as a country we have a huge problem. Patients suffer, families suffer, and total healthcare costs skyrocket when hospitals are filled with patients who were forced to put health on the back burner.
In a funded healthcare environment like New Zealand, cost barriers to treatment can be a surprise, but the numbers speak for themselves. One of the more heartbreaking statistics is that 18% of patients between 20-45 have deferred a $5 prescription spend because of cost. Imagine how much worse those figures are for more expensive but still important treatments. The key takeaway here is that we drastically underspend on proactive healthcare, which drives increases in preventable medical conditions – despite no shortage of experts on hand to assist in diagnosis and treatment. The worst affected groups are the most vulnerable, like sufferers of chronic conditions, the elderly, and low-income families.
We’re aiming to eliminate the cost barrier to help New Zealanders and, from next year, international populations access essential medical services at the time they need them.
How did you get interested in this problem?
I grew up wanting to be a doctor, but I was far too focused on P.E. over chemistry at high school to study medicine. My experience in high performance sport took me down the podiatry route, and I planned to pursue medicine later. My mentor, Regan, encouraged me to take a gap year and join Physio Connect as a podiatrist. The “gap year” quickly became a partnership in the business. I dreamed of building a national chain of multidisciplinary clinics where patients could see a comprehensive range of healthcare professionals to meet a broad spectrum of needs. I’m proud of the progress Physio Connect made in that direction, growing to over 100 staff across 15 sites with 6 disciplines represented.
Leaving healthcare aside for a minute – when any business gets to that size, there’s a ton of practical matters like leases and finance and staffing that make perpetual growth a real challenge. Battling those issues for years made it clear to me that I’d never have the impact on healthcare that I dreamed of by only growing our brick and mortar practice. What I was noticing more and more was our patients putting off or ignoring important treatment recommendations due to cost. I didn’t have the data to back me up at this point, but my gut said this was a problem worth sinking my teeth into.
Where did the idea for HealthNow come from?
I’d seen the cost problem first hand, but the importance of the issue crystallised for me while reading a vivid article about a young woman who delayed a skin check because she couldn’t afford the initial consultation. Much later she was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. If she’d had access to an assessment earlier, she would have had a great shot at getting healthy. That’s when it hit me: the cost barrier is a serious problem that needs solving.
As I went away and did my research, it occurred to me that we already have all of these fantastic healthcare providers out in the market. Lack of expertise is not the issue; it’s the lack of access. If we could spread the cost of treatment out, we could get more patients diagnosed and treated earlier. I didn’t need to go out and employ hundreds of health professionals to have an impact; I could just help all of these existing skilled professionals make it easier for patients to get in the doors and get treated. The exciting thing about a technology business is that if you get it right, you can have an impact at scale by enabling other businesses to succeed. Our vision is to help all of the fantastic clinicians already in-market to see more patients and drive great health outcomes, both in New Zealand and abroad.
At the same time, I was watching the buy now, pay later revolution in the retail space and how enthusiastically the millennial population in particular was making use of these services. After taking a closer look, I realised that with some modifications this model could drive similar increases in proactive healthcare spend, in a socially responsible way.
I’m a firm believer that of all the places you could be allocating your discretionary budget, it should be on healthcare because you’re going to reap massive rewards. We know from the data that early access to healthcare is the strongest determining factor for long-term health outcomes. I got really excited about driving that early investment by removing the initial discomfort of upfront costs by providing interest-free repayment options.
How do you look after sensitive client data?
As a healthcare business, we’re working with privileged patient information, so data security is immensely important. We’ve got robust security protocols in place to maintain our obligations under privacy legislation and to ensure security of information.
What is the importance of AML/CFT and KYC in the business?
HealthNow provides payment options for healthcare consumers and processes these funds on behalf of our healthcare merchants, so it’s essential we understand and meet our AML/CFT obligations to ensure those funds aren’t misused.
It was interesting to discover the depth and detail of KYC requirements that applied to us as a healthcare technology business. A key goal for any technology provider is to ensure a seamless onboarding experience for users. We’ve balanced that goal with the requirement to meet our regulatory responsibilities by staging the KYC process to collect the exact data required at each level of interaction with our platform.
What impact do you think your model could have on healthcare?
One of the things that gets me excited to work every day is the opportunity to have an impact at both the individual level and for society. For an individual, we can help drive early diagnosis and treatment, which leads to far better health outcomes and better quality of life. For example, we’ve got so many pre-diabetic and diabetic people who desperately need to follow a care programme from a nutritionist, but can’t make that investment because of the upfront cost. If we can make that care more accessible, we could drastically improve quality of life in the long term because we prevent a chronic condition from developing or worsening.
At the macroeconomic scale, the more we can encourage proactive, timely private healthcare spend, the more we can keep patients out of hospital and decrease our overall public health spend. The importance of timely diagnosis and treatment can’t be overstated. We’re lucky in New Zealand to have a funded public healthcare system, but I believe we shouldn’t be relying exclusively on the public system to get the best outcomes. For example, the wait lists for a colonoscopy in Canterbury in the public sector have doubled in the last 5 months. A colonoscopy isn’t something you can safely delay when New Zealand has one of the highest bowel cancer rates in the world. With our ageing population, employment shortages, and the growing costs of healthcare worldwide, these problems aren’t going away. HealthNow gives patients with critical issues the ability to go private, get instant access to care, and spread the cost of that assessment out over an interest-free repayment period.
Health insurance is one fantastic model that helps ease the burden on the public sector. One challenge with many insurance policies is that they won’t pay for diagnostic imaging until you’ve got a diagnosis. This means that even a patient with full health insurance might be blocked from getting an assessment because they need to pay out of pocket for the initial consult. I see HealthNow as a fantastic supplement to health insurance as we can make that initial assessment more accessible.
We’re also seeing a growing sentiment amongst employers to contribute towards healthcare as part of employee remuneration packages. Corporates want healthy staff which is commendable. One challenge employers have is making sure that funds they allocate towards healthcare as part of an employee package actually go towards health.
That’s where our HealthSaver wallet comes in, letting employees and employers earmark funds for healthcare investment with a range of approved providers on our marketplace.
We’re a young business, but I’m thrilled at the progress we’ve made and invigorated by the challenge ahead.