Service Lab: Healthcare Innovation

Healthcare Innovation

For people with neurological injuries or disorders, there’s often no such thing as full recovery—most will live with the condition for the rest of their life. Because of this, the assistance needed extends far beyond outpatient care and the occasional doctor’s visit. Most neuro patients are left to navigate complex treatment paths alone, along with a slew of unanswered questions—from finding a support group to applying for a service dog.

After a spinal cord injury in 2004, Jessica Harthcock found herself asking hundreds of questions. At age 17, she was practicing gymnastic maneuvers for the springboard diving team. Despite every trick having gone smoothly that evening, on her final attempt, Harthcock landed on her head and heard a crunch in her neck.

Doctors diagnosed her with complete paralysis at the T3-4 level, meaning that Harthcock lost all sensation and motor ability from her chest down. As a diver and dancer, she knew what it meant to work hard and push her body. Despite doctors’ diagnoses that she’d never walk again, she immersed herself in rehabilitation and activity-based, weight-bearing therapies as though learning a new athletic feat. She was determined to regain the use of her legs.

While therapy was physically exhausting, the greater deterrent was finding the right rehabilitation centers, care professionals and resources. Driving or flying all over the United States, Harthcock and her family sought specialized treatments. Though persistent at her therapy, the lack of support from some physicians was draining. Months into her journey to regain motor control, one doctor told her she basically needed to accept her lot in life and move on.

As Harthcock shuttled between facilities, the seeds of an idea took root. There had to be a better, more streamlined path to recovery.

First Steps

Twenty-two months after her injury, Harthcock saw the first sign of recovery. A twitch in her right thigh progressed into a controlled twitch and, eventually, voluntary muscle movement. Three years post-injury, she took her first step as a paraplegic.

Harthcock had accomplished the very thing doctors told her she couldn’t do, and it propelled her even further. She thought about all the other patients with neurological conditions who were struggling toward recovery alone—or worse, who never had an opportunity to start. With the same persistence that pushed Harthcock through thousands of hours of physical and occupational therapy, she and her trainer-turned-husband Adam Harthcock launched Utilize Health.

Through both personal advocates and digital tools assisting with medical, social and environmental needs, Utilize Health is pioneering neurological care coordination to help its members make sense of treatment options. The company also tracks outcomes, aiding members in maximizing their potential for recovery and helping to lower hospital readmission rates and the overall cost of care.

“No one walks alone” is more than the motto of Utilize Health. It is also a promise the company makes to walk beside its members through the entirety of their recovery, or throughout the path of learning to make the best out of life living with a condition. With support from digital tools and a personal concierge service, the company simplifies care coordination.

As the Harthcocks built Utilize Health, they started with the why. Advocating for patients with neurological conditions and improving the quality of their lives has always informed the how and the what.

With the same persistence that pushed Jessica Harthcock through thousands of hours of physical and occupational therapy, she and her trainer-turned-husband launched Utilize Health.

For Jessica Harthcock, the near impossibility of navigating a complex healthcare and neuro-rehab system pushed her to innovate—just as a traumatic, unforeseen injury forced her to give everything she had to the recovery process. “Eventually, I found a really good team who delivered exceptional care, but they were all in different places,” she says. Utilize Health aggregates data and offers a “facilities finder” so patients can locate essential information in one place.

Filling in the Gaps With Patient Advocates

In the early years after her injury, Harthcock discovered that every neuro patient she met was missing a point person, someone to do the essential work of coordination. Harthcock was fortunate because her mom had a flexible work schedule that enabled her to sit on hold for an hour with an insurance company or to arrange the multitude of necessary appointments and evaluations. “Without her, I’d still be sitting in a wheelchair,” Harthcock adds.

Utilize Health’s specialty neuro-rehab clinicians offer one-on-one assistance to members with anything they might need—from finding accessible housing to applying for a service animal.

A concierge service, which Harthcock calls the heartbeat of Utilize Health, was born because most patients don’t have someone who can drop everything to arrange fragmented logistics. These specialty neuro-rehab clinicians are employed by Utilize Health and have at least eight years of field experience at two or more care settings. They offer one-on-one assistance to members with anything they might need—from finding accessible housing to applying for a service animal.

“Our advocates know exactly what to expect when working with these patients,” says Carrie Redmon, director of care coordination. “They’re ready to face any challenge to help maximize the potential for recovery.”

Patients’ experience with Utilize Health is often life-changing in terms of better outcomes. And, health plans appreciate the significant cost savings of coordinated care. While Utilize Health has to date partnered primarily with health plans, it is now investigating how the program can impact the bottom line for hospitals, including HealthTrust member facilities.


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