HomeHealthHealth CareDoctor referrals can be a costly nightmare. This startup wants to help...

Doctor referrals can be a costly nightmare. This startup wants to help you avoid them

Good Morning Broadsheet Readers! House Democrats elect Nancy Pelosi’s successor, Apollo co-founder Leon Black is accused of rape and a women-founded health tech start-up is changing physician referrals.

– 26 days. That is how long it takes patients in major US cities to make an appointment with a specialist physician. In some rural states, the delay is even longer. In Vermont, the guard for a specialist this can take up to 61 days.

Kelsey Mellard, founder and CEO of the telehealth startup Sitkathinks he has a solution. The platform connects general practitioners (PCPs) with specialists. A patient experiencing a problem for which their GP is not equipped can be treated by a specialist within hours rather than having to wait weeks to see the same healthcare provider.

The child of a pediatric occupational therapist in rural Kansas, Mellard built an extensive track record in the healthcare industry before founding Sitka in 2018. She served on the founding team of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation before joining UnitedHealth group as vice president of health services policy. She eventually moved into the startup space, working on the executive teams of naviHealth, a post-acute care management company, and Honor, a home care technology company.

While advising a company at one point, Mellard received a peculiar request: “Kelsey, come fix our clinic.” Specialty physicians received unnecessary patient referrals from primary care physicians, leading to poor survey results and low Yelp reviews.

“Patient expectation is so high, and rightly so,” says Mellard. Nearly 20 million”clinically inappropriate“Physician referrals occur every year, wasting patient and specialist time and potentially leading to poorer health outcomes for the patient.

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Thus Sitka was born. The startup has raised more than $22 million from investors such as Venrock, First Round Capital and Optum Ventures.

Sitka’s services are especially crucial in rural areas, where access to specialists is limited, or where mobility issues prevent patients from seeking care. While telehealth is on the rise – over 76% of hospitals have implemented such services – patients in rural areas and tribal lands have limited access to broadband internet. In addition, rural communities account for the vast majority of primary care shortages in the US, despite comprising less than 20% of the US population.

Eighty-five percent of consultations on Sitka’s platform help GPs avoid having to refer at all, says Mellard, saving costs for low-income patients. “These providers are desperate for a way to access specialist knowledge without exposing the patient to a copay, a gas tank and the length of time it takes to get that insight.”

Sitka has built up a network of 20 doctors specialties, including cardiology, gynecology and rheumatology. It has also partnered with several nationwide groups of at-risk providers in the healthcare delivery system, including Medicare Advantage plans, Institutional Special Needs plans, senior-focused primary care providers ChenMed, and primary care provider Optum, owned by UnitedHealth. Today Sitka announced a new partnership with Elation Health, an electronic health record system used by more than 24,000 clinicians. The partnership allows practitioners of Elation’s system access to Sitka.

As Mellard looks to the next five years, she says she is excited to see the market grow and understand the value of specialist insights at the primary care level. Three years ago, the brand struggled to gain market traction, “but there’s been a shift,” says Mellard. “When you’re early stage, you don’t have data to support, and now we have incredible amounts of data to prove the value we’re producing every day on the front lines for primary care providers.”

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Paige McGlauflin
paige.mcglauflin@fortune.com
@paydion

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ALSO IN THE HEADLINES

– Pass the baton. House Democrats elected New York Representative Hakeem Jeffries to replace Nancy Pelosi as the party’s House leader next year. He will be the first black person to lead a major party in either chamber of Congress. CNN

– Early signs. Several early staffers at Alameda Research, the trading company of FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried, quit in 2018 over risk and compliance concerns. “In the end, we didn’t really know how much money we had,” says Naia Bouscal, who left Alameda with co-founder Tara Mac Aulay. Wall Street Journal

– Unroyal treatment. A Buckingham Palace staffer resigned after Ngozi Fulani, a black British woman and founder of an anti-violence support group, said the staffer repeatedly asked where she was from at a Tuesday reception hosted by Queen Consort Camilla. New York Times

– Bombshell lawsuit. A woman is suing Leon Black, co-founder of Apollo Global Management, and the estate of Jeffrey Epstein, alleging that the investment company’s former executive raped her at Epstein’s New York home. Attorneys for Black deny the allegations, calling them “categorically false” and “baseless.” Daily beast

MOVERS AND CHESS PLAYERS: Audible promoted Susan Jurevics as the first global brand leader. Corvus Insurance hired Angela Whiteford as head of marketing.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

– 51 cents. Wednesday was Native American Women’s Equal Pay Day, the last day of Native American Heritage Month. Native American women earned 51 cents for every dollar a non-Latino white man earned in 2021. 19th*

– Income record. The US women’s national team earned more from the male US soccer team’s participation in the World Cup than from winning its own World Cup in 2015 and 2019, thanks to an equal pay agreement reached this year. CNN

– First hearing date. An arraignment date has been set for Jackie Johnson, the former Brunswick justice circuit prosecutor accused of obstructing the police investigation into the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. Johnson will appear in court on December 29, 14 months after her indictment. Atlanta Journal Constitution

ON MY RADAR

‘Is it ideal? No’: LGBTQ people respond to Respect for Marriage Act Washington Post

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Christine McVie dies: Fleetwood Mac singer-songwriter turned 79 deadline

SEPARATE WORDS

I wonder if anyone ever asked Barack Obama and John Key if they met because they were the same age.”

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, react when asked by a reporter if she and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin met because of their similar age and gender.

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