6 minute read
Startup Story

Bridging gaps: LingoHealth levels up care for immigrant seniors

Two ladies smiling and looking at the camera.

Born of frustration, a digital health startup supports seniors and family caregivers, especially those navigating language and cultural barriers

Talk to my kid. In the U.S., that’s a way of life for the some 45 million immigrant families who often rely on their English-fluent loved ones to intermediate the lingo of doctors, nurses, and pharmacists—a lifelong caregiving role shouldered from middle school to middle age that exists due to the lack of resources or support for these communities.

“Multilingual families are three times more likely to have the younger generation involved in care when compared to English-fluent households. Language and cultural barriers create additional anxiety and confusion in already stressful situations,” says Jessica Chao, founder of LingoHealth, a health tech startup that connects seniors and their families to a care concierge experience, with a focus on immigrant seniors.

“At LingoHealth, our founders have seen the biases our families face when they enter a clinical setting—how the front desk staff members brusquely dismiss questions about the forms, how doctors seem impatient or even condescending to patients who speak with accents. I remember how my dad—someone who has lived and worked in the U.S. for four decades—dealt with chest pains for almost a year before he found care back in Asia, where he thought he would have a better healthcare experience,” adds Chao.

That widespread urgency drives LingoHealth to support seniors and their family advocates with better peace of mind when it comes to care.

“We help patients, especially non-fluent English speakers, in addressing any care needs and finding the right resources,” adds Chao. “Our dedicated, knowledgeable, multilingual concierge team supports patients with everything ranging from implementing care plans at home, finding specialists, making appointments, to just making sure these seniors are doing well — all in one place and in the preferred communication method of the member.”

A digital health startup for a high-need, overlooked market: seniors, particularly those with language or cultural barriers, when navigating care

LingoHealth courts partners that share its values and mission to “redefine how aging patients engage and access care.” Against a U.S. healthcare system not designed for diverse patient needs, half of patients with limited English skills report poor health status and are twice as likely to skip check-ups or follow-up care.

“For better or worse, you often need to advocate for yourself in the U.S. healthcare system. Like many children in immigrant households, I was tasked with having to advocate for my family in this deeply broken system from a very young age,” says Chao. “This desire to support families and ensure they have an equitable experience, especially as our loved ones age, is the cornerstone of my passion for LingoHealth.”

Tech for a graying America: What the 65+ population will look like in the next decade

LingoHealth’s motto, “Care for families like ours” reflects the company’s roots. Chao was raised in Dallas by her Taiwanese immigrant parents, who relied on their daughter to translate and navigate the U.S. healthcare system from a young age. And from a startup company perspective, that means Chao has also conducted a lifetime’s worth of product research and investigation into user pain points.

“We built a digital platform using Google Cloud Platform that connects the dots for patients and family caregivers, usually younger family members, and their loved ones. As loved ones age, they have more healthcare needs, so this platform provides a better way for them to know what to do next, how to manage care, and just keep everyone healthy,” says the founder. “If we can relieve some logistical and day-to-day burdens of navigating care, families can give this aging generation the time and space they need to foster community and healing.”

LingoHealth also sits squarely at the intersection of two trends transforming the U.S. caregiver economy: the country’s graying population and its underserved multilingual healthcare needs. By 2034, American seniors over 65 will outnumber the young under 18—with drastic caregiving implications already underway. According to a study by AARP, in just a five-year span between 2015 to 2020, the number of unpaid family caregivers in the United States jumped up by over 10 million people.

“The way that the 65+ population looked ten years ago is not how it’s going to look in the next ten years,” adds Chao, who notes that over 67 million Americans speak a language other than English at home. “LingoHealth is at the forefront of building a scalable solution to meet these communities where they’re at and help make their lives easier.”

As a digital health company, LingoHealth is part of a wave of startups solving for the caregiving and healthcare navigation needs of the aging. Investors now back a wide array of age tech and caregiver services as the country’s base of family caregivers shrinks, driven by smaller family sizes and high burnout rates. According to an AARP study, in 2010, there were seven potential caregivers for every adult over 80; by 2030 the number of caregivers will fall to just four.

That’s why LingoHealth’s solution extends beyond seniors to include the entire care circle—family members, health providers, payers, and other service providers who need streamlined digital tools to ensure patients are getting the care they need. By building a differentiated edge with their focus on language and cultural inclusivity, the company is positioned to not only serve the growing needs of America’s aging population, but also engage these needs in a way that no other company in this space can.

Founding, scaling, and accelerating entirely during a pandemic

As a startup, LingoHealth launched, fundraised, and scaled entirely during the pandemic. Founded in 2021 in the San Francisco Bay Area, the startup is backed by investors including Precursor Ventures, January Ventures, Hyphen Capital, and Ulu Ventures. Along with the newfound interest in digital health startups, pandemic conditions emboldened LingoHealth to rapidly test and build its product.

“As LingoHealth launched in 2021, the pressing care coordination question we heard from the doctors and patient family members was ‘how do I get my loved ones vaccinated?’ We realized that much of the information on vaccines were primarily in English and buried in text-heavy websites,” says Chao. “Many immigrant families communicate exclusively on WeChat or WhatsApp—why wasn't there more information that was multilingual and easily digestible in these channels? We launched a site with downloadable information in five different languages regarding Covid-19 vaccinations. We had over 1,000 site visitors in the first three weeks, and 83% of downloads were in a language other than English.”

“During this pandemic, we have seen the importance of ensuring our healthcare system can serve all of its patients. We have taken the insights from our earlier product testing, like the Covid-19 vaccine site, to what we are building today at LingoHealth,” says Chao. “Healthcare, including digital health, should not be ‘one-size-fits-all.’ Digital solutions that incorporate family and culture into the care of aging Americans are critical.”

Chao, and other LingoHealth team members and advisors, share stories about their family experiences and community learnings on the startup’s blog, Bilingualish, that narrate the challenges of immigrant families defying odds to find responsive healthcare. The content is a way of fostering a community around LingoHealth and the needs of its family users.

LingoHealth was selected to join the inaugural cohort of Visible Hands, a VC-fund backed accelerator that propels tech startups through customized assistance in design, brand, recruitment and strategy. “The fellowship allowed us to launch a very early iteration of our product and onboard our first users. The level of community support and the overlap between everyone’s ideas was really motivating,” adds Chao.

In addition, LingoHealth was also chosen for the 2021 cohort of Google for Startups Founders Academy, a four-month, equity-free virtual program that helps founders grow their revenues and gain access to capital through customized hands-on support and workshops in team strategy and startup leadership. “In our startup, having empathy for our users and the communities we serve is crucial to our success,” says Chao. “Actively listening, asking questions, and having a curiosity about the experience of others—from users to team members—is key to the leadership style I practice.”

Care for families like ours

The location of LingoHealth’s San Francisco headquarters isn’t incidental. California has the largest concentration of immigrant families in the United States. As market fundamentals reveal, the need for culturally sensitive digital healthcare tools will continue to rise through this decade and next. And immigrant family anxieties over finding appropriate elder healthcare will only deepen.

“We have watched loved ones delay necessary care and, in certain extreme instances, leave the U.S. to seek care. These fears and anxiety coupled with these cultural barriers can create a reactive, rather than proactive, approach to health,” said Chao. “The U.S. healthcare system is not well-equipped to handle a rapidly aging and diversifying population.”

As LingoHealth continues to grow, the startup is motivated more than ever by a mission undergirded by market demand and the unmet needs of America’s aging population.

“I embarked on this journey to become an entrepreneur because I wanted to solve this problem. We need better solutions to care for our seniors. Many caregivers, including those from families like mine, will spend their adult lives helping elders, but there are limited existing digital tools to support these families,” says Chao. “We are very much motivated by the idea that if we are able to solve this and make life easier and seniors healthier, it will have a significant impact on millions of folks within this country.”

Learn more about LingoHealth