“We built RubiconMD to support underserved communities and people who’ve been marginalized. We built it this way despite this false idea in the health industry that if you build something for people living on lower incomes, or who are on Medicaid, or for people of color, you won’t be able to also generate an incredible return for investors,” says Gil Addo, CEO of RubiconMD.
RubiconMD is a California Health Care Foundation Innovation Fund portfolio company. Its model connects primary care providers with specialist consultation through eConsults, reducing the amount of time it takes for patients to get specialty care compared with the traditional specialist referral process.
Today, RubiconMD supports over 7,000 clinicians in 37 states around the country. And, importantly, Gil says it’s living out its original mission. “We’ve proven that we can provide people in marginalized communities with access to world-class health care.”
The idea for RubiconMD grew over time, including from experiences Gil had while growing up. “My mother’s family is from Barbados. Unfortunately, when I was a child, my grandmother developed a brain tumor. I remember when my grandmother traveled all the way from Barbados to Boston for surgery at one of the major academic medical centers. A lot of my childhood was marked by her going back and forth on the management of the tumor. I got to see very closely that while people around the world need health care, much of the actual expertise is sitting in small pockets. These resources are geographically located in just a few areas.”
Gil says that while his family had enough resources to help his grandmother make the long trips for care, many people living in underserved communities just don’t have this option.
“When I started RubiconMD, I spent hours and hours driving through central and northern California to clinics that are supporting the most underserved patients and communities in the country. The work done by health care providers is incredible — they’re passionate, and they care about having impact. Yet geographically they are so distributed, and that leads to its own challenges around access to care. I saw exactly how challenging it is for the people in those areas to get access to the right specialists.”
Gil says that for these patients, the traditional referral process can take weeks or months. “It can require patients to figure out the right specialist, and to travel to the specialist with the information, sometimes hours. It can require patients to take time off from work, which, if you’re working hourly, means losing wages.”
He contrasts this traditional process with RubiconMD’s model. “RubiconMD empowers health care providers with the right information they need from over 140 specialties and subspecialties. Instead of taking weeks or months, those specialists will provide their input in a couple hours to a primary care clinician.”
For patients with cancer or other unfortunate diagnoses, being able to get great expertise in a couple hours is the difference between starting treatment immediately, versus starting it weeks and months later. That can save lives.
For many patients, reducing the time seeking out specialists isn’t just about accessing care more efficiently, it’s also about saving lives. “For patients with cancer or other unfortunate diagnoses, being able to get great expertise in a couple hours is the difference between starting treatment immediately, versus starting it weeks and months later. That can save lives,” says Gil.
He adds that reducing the specialist referral wait time is especially important from a health equity perspective. “All of the major chronic conditions that people access specialists for disproportionately impact Black people and people of color. And so there’s real equity at stake here in combating systemic racism in health care.”
While Gil and his cofounder, Carlos Reines, could have chosen to build RubiconMD by catering to primary care providers who work with commercial insurance, it has been important to them to stay true to their mission to democratize health care. Their focus on underserved communities has also helped to fast-track RubiconMD’s model in surprising ways.
“Today our services are being used by people who work at Fortune 500 companies, but they also help those in places where there is otherwise very limited access to specialty expertise.”
Despite this high need for health innovation in underserved communities, Gil says that as an entrepreneur he has also had to balance where investors want to focus. “Access to capital is what separates people with just a cool idea from people who can execute and grow a business. It’s harder for people without connections and people from underrepresented backgrounds. The data suggest that entrepreneurs from underrepresented backgrounds get funded at much lower rates. Of all the capital that goes into early-stage ventures, a very small percentage goes to women and underrepresented minorities.”
He adds that he talks to first-time founders regularly about these struggles. “I tell them you need to be focused on this because only you can do it, and it’s necessary to enable the business.”
Gil says RubiconMD’s partnership with the California Health Care Foundation’s Innovation Fund has been critical to overcome some of these challenges. “They invested in us, but they also helped us prove our impact and build credibility for what we can do. We’ve now done so much to meet unmet needs in communities across California, and we’ve done that with the support of the California Health Care Foundation’s Innovation Fund.”
If we’re successful with what we’re on pace to do, we hope to save millions of lives. And we also hope we can prove to the health industry, to investors, and to the next generation of entrepreneurs that you can truly do well when you focus on doing good.
Ultimately, Gil emphasizes that RubiconMD is just getting started. “What we’ve built is changing the course of treatment for hundreds of thousands of people. And we still have a long way to go. If we’re successful with what we’re on pace to do, we hope to save millions of lives. And we also hope we can prove to the health industry, to investors, and to the next generation of entrepreneurs that you can truly do well when you focus on doing good.”