Founder Feature: Athletik Health
Recently, we caught up with serial founder Jean-Luc Neptune who is out to change the sports medicine landscape with his new business Athletik Health. With countless years of experience managing startups and a background in medicine, JL sees the opportunity for a reinvention of the sports medicine landscape.
Over the past few years we have all watched the rise of boutique fitness programs like Soul Cycle and a new class of ultra marathons and races. What has been missing however is a similar reinvention of the care provided for everyday individuals who are pushing their bodies to the extreme through these new exercise fads.
With Athletik Health, JL hopes to make receiving care easier and to reverse the trend of underconsumption in rehabilitation medicine and physical therapy services.
Interview with CEO Jean-Luc Neptune
How are you integrating health technology into the clinical experience for patients? Why do you believe this is important for great service?
Jean-Luc Neptune (JL): We think of Athletik Health as a tech-enabled services business and we are focusing on employing technology in two distinct functional areas: customer service and care delivery.
One of our core theses is that the customer service experience in healthcare is almost always HORRIBLE. Medical customers are forced to endure poor customer service every time they go to the hospital or doctor’s office; going to the DMV or the post office is a great experience by comparison. By providing good customer service, we can instantly be better than most of the providers in the market.
At NY SportsMed Adam delivered good customer service by focusing on having the right processes, using technology effectively, and providing good training. At Athletik Health we’re building on Adam’s experience, and focusing on utilizing technology to address key functions that define the customer service experience, including appointment scheduling and payment management. As we eliminate friction we know we can really increase the satisfaction and engagement of our clients. BTW, we intentionally use the term “client” instead of the word “patient” to describe our “users” because we always want to have a customer service mindset in whatever we do.
With regard to care delivery there are many opportunities to leverage technology to drive the delivery of care and to extend care outside of the four walls of the clinic. People who need physical therapy often require multiple visits to fully recover. Traditionally, care is not programmed and is delivered on an ad hoc basis. By providing customized treatment plans, driven by modern customer relationship management (CRM) technologies, we will significantly improve the patient experience and quality of care. Care should also be extended outside of the clinic, as this is critical to helping our clients recover from injury and stay healthy. In fact, most people want more flexibility to be able to interact with providers in different ways (in-person and virtual) depending on their needs. We’re using a range of telemedicine tools (sensors, email, and tele-visits) to provide support to clients when they’re not at one of our facilities.
Finally, Athletik Health will be a “living lab” for new technologies that help people recover from injury, avoid injury, and perform at a higher level. We know that building technology is time consuming and expensive, so our focus is on pulling together different existing technologies into our own custom stack to deliver a unique patient experience. We’ve been talking with founders in the Blueprint portfolio and expect to launch in partnership with a number of them.
Who are your main users? Are they professional athletes or everyday individuals?
JL: In many discussions we’ve had with investors and potential partners there’s typically been a lot of interest in working with professional athletes. We don’t blame most people for having that interest; professional sports is exciting, sexy and often very lucrative. The pros, however, are very well served when it comes to sports medicine services, and most teams generally employ a full staff of trainers, therapists, and doctors. More importantly, the market size for professional athletes is vanishingly small with at most a few thousand potential customers to serve across the country. NY SportsMed served a lot of professional athletes, but only a few per day which was far below the threshold needed to be profitable.
The big opportunity is in serving the many people dedicated to a sport or activity, whatever their level. Fitness has become a way of life for many people and often the SoulCycle session is a key part of one’s social activity for the day. There are more than 30 million people in the United States who run on a regular basis, and of that number more than half will experience an activity-limiting injury every year. In many ways, Adam and I both represent our target user - I like to run shorter races (5k/10k) and lift, whereas Adam is more Barry’s and marathons - and we both need high level care to support our aging bodies. Sports medicine helps us recover from injuries and prevent them in the first place.
There is significant underconsumption of rehabilitation medicine and physical therapy services – which is always the conservative approach and often the only way to stave off a surgery. Underconsumption is primarily driven by the difficulty of accessing health resources. Many people who have chronic injuries will avoid or defer care because booking an appointment with a provider in a timely manner is a hassle. If we can make care easier to access, such as by providing easy appointment scheduling, we can pick up many customers who would otherwise never receive care.
There is also underconsumption because of the high cost of care, particularly for people with high deductible health plans (HDHPs). For those with HDHPs, insurers may require spending $2,000 to $5,000 before insurance starts covering some of the cost of medical visits. At $150 per visit the costs can add up quickly, creating disincentives to pursue care. By offering product innovations like group PT visits and virtual consults we can reduce the cost of care by 50% or more in many cases, making it much more economical for anyone who’s exposed to the full cost of care.
How have your experiences shaped how you are developing athletik?
You have brought a great deal of experience with you to athletik health with your past background of working as the executive director of blueprint health and previously managing health 2.0’s developer challenge, along with being a licensed physician and having a MBA from Wharton.
JL: My experiences combine to give me a more holistic view of what’s going on in healthcare and a better understanding of the current opportunities and how to take advantage of them. Being an MD provides me with an in-depth understanding of provider and patient psychology, which helps me understand, for example, what changes providers are willing to make and what patients are willing to pay for out of pocket. My experience at Blueprint and in my own startups has really helped me understand the startup fundraising process and the challenges of building a company from scratch in the digital health space. Finally, my time at Health 2.0, in which we worked extensively with the federal government and the folks at CMS after the passage of the ACA, has helped me understand the high level legislative and regulatory issues that impact what’s possible from an innovation standpoint in healthcare.
While investment in the digital health space has skyrocketed in the last few years, revenue generation by digital health companies has lagged far behind. The majority of healthcare spending (roughly ⅔) still flows through providers (doctors and hospitals) and only a small percentage of those dollars trickle into the pockets of digital health companies. I’ve seen hundreds of great ideas that can improve healthcare, but getting providers to pay for something that’s not absolutely mission critical is very difficult. Starting Athletik Health is my way of saying that in the near-term, at least, we can make more money by being care providers than being producers of a novel digital health solution. Essentially, I’ve flipped the table: going from being a digital health startup guy selling to providers, to being a provider guy buying the right digital solutions to deliver better care.
When are you expecting to open your first physical location and what are some key milestones once you launch?
JL: Our goal is to be live by the end of this year. We’ve been negotiating with landlords regarding spaces that we’re looking at in NoMad, Chelsea, and Union Square. Our goal is to get our first unit perfected with 6 to 12 months of launch and then to expand in New York City and then further into the New York metropolitan area.
Do you have any advice for others who are trying to break into the health tech scene?
JL: Healthcare is a huge industry ($3 trillion plus in the US alone) that badly needs innovation to help us deliver higher-value care more efficiently. While the opportunity is large, change in healthcare, like in any heavily regulated business, comes slowly. The U.S. healthcare “system” is also not a coherently designed system at all, so there are a lot of weird inefficiencies and quirks that don’t make sense unless you understand some complicated industry history.
I hear almost every day, “I don’t have a healthcare background, so I can look at it differently”, which is often a strong clue that a founder has no idea what he/she is getting him/herself into. People coming into the digital health space, especially those from the tech world should be careful about trying to “disrupt healthcare”. Saying you want to “disrupt healthcare” is really like saying you want to “disrupt gravity” or “disrupt the Himalayas”. The healthcare system has massive inertia, is 10 to 20 years behind other industries in the use of technology, and actively resists change from outsiders.
My recommendation for anyone new to the space is to invest in understanding the industry, the players, and the history. Taking a top down, analytical approach can help you identify opportunities that might be amenable to a new approach. Remember that in a $3T industry there’s (roughly) 3,000 $1B opportunities and many of those opportunities are DEEP in the enterprise and require some digging to find. Put a lot of energy into picking the right opportunity, and avoid jumping into the first thing that you discover.