SaRA Health is Empowering Patients and Transforming Physical TherapyJake Slobe
Digital health startup SaRA Health was born out of a simple yet profound idea – improving patient experiences in physical therapy.
The company’s co-founder and CEO Steven Coen, who himself was a frustrated patient, had received exceptional care from his physical therapists but felt a lack of continuity between visits. This led him to envision a solution that would empower patients and enhance their engagement with the therapy process.
During his time pursuing an MBA at UCLA Anderson School of Management in California, Steven met his two co-founders: Valeed Mailk, who was obtaining his master’s degree in computer science, and Paul Yerhot, a doctor of physical therapy with experience at the Mayo Clinic. Together, they formed the perfect trio for health tech: clinical expertise, business acumen and technological know-how.
When they initially set out to address the issue of patient engagement, they faced a challenge: the insurance industry’s reluctance to adapt to a new patient engagement model. Insurance providers paid physical therapists only for in-person visits, creating a roadblock for innovation.
“We went out to solve this problem and found that, in the insurance world, physical therapists only got paid for in-person visits,” Steven says. “And so, our solution to this problem of patient engagement was not looked at very favorably at the time.”
To overcome this, SaRA Health found its niche, targeting physical therapists working at high-risk employers under value-based contracts. This shift allowed them to focus on empowering patients and improving outcomes, while also ensuring physical therapists were fairly compensated.
Tapping into KC’s Resources for Tech Entrepreneurs
Since launching in 2017, SaRA Health has taken advantage of many of the resources that Kansas City offers to tech startups, including applying for Digital Sandbox KC.
“We actually pitched to Digital Sandbox KC around five years ago and got a ‘no.’ And looking back at that now, it was absolutely the correct decision,” Steven says. “We had not found product market fit, we were missing a lot of pieces of our business, and we just weren’t quite there yet.”
In 2018, SaRA Health was accepted into the Techstars Kansas City accelerator program. “Techstars played a significant role in helping us understand how to operate a real business,” Steven says. “It wasn’t just about solving a problem but also figuring out how to get someone to pay for it, understanding the intricacies of business operations, and more—areas where we were initially lacking.”
After pitching to Digital Sandbox KC again, the company was accepted and received project funding from the Sandbox in Q2 of 2021. This marked a pivotal moment for the company, enabling the trio to explore insurance integration and allowing them to capitalize on a major development the following year.
“Getting that ‘yes’ from the Sandbox was massive for us because it allowed us to start exploring going down an insurance path and gave us a really good running start to fully take advantage of a policy change that took place in 2022,” Steven says.
Pivoting for Progress
In January 2022, Medicare released a new set of reimbursement codes for remote therapeutic monitoring, that proved to be a new opportunity and catalyst of growth for SaRA Health.
These codes allowed SaRA Health to switch their focus from injury prevention to helping physical and occupational therapists engage with their patients outside the clinic setting during their recovery period.
Luckily for SaRA Health, the team had used the project funding they had received from Digital Sandbox KC to experiment with insurance integration. Thanks to this experience, they were prepared when this significant policy change occurred allowing their core product to facilitate billing for physical therapy practices
With the insurance door now open, they decided to burn their bridges and go all-in on their new path.
Fast Growth and the Future of SaRA Health
“We’ve grown quite quickly since then,” Steven says. “We had our first practice that we piloted with in May 2022. Since then, we’ve grown quickly and are now in physical and occupational therapist practices across 40 states.”
In August 2023, SaRA Health was one of eight companies to receive an equity investment from the Missouri Technology Corporation.
With practices all across the country and growing, SaRA Health’s growth has been nothing short of impressive. Over the next six to 12 months, the team aims to double or even triple their numbers, targeting 100 practices. Their goal isn’t limited to practice growth; they also plan to increase the number of patients on their platform significantly, Steven says.
SaRA Health’s remarkable journey is a testament to the power of innovation, determination and the support of the local Kansas City ecosystem. From a frustrated patient experience to a thriving digital health startup, SaRA Health is poised to revolutionize patient care, benefit clinicians and drive positive change in the industry.