Every week, we shine a spotlight on a founder, designer, researcher, or leader in product who is building something that will shape our future. We share these stories to lend our support, spark interesting conversations, and create visibility among a global community of those who are building the future.
Dr. Madhavi Vemireddy is the Chief Operating Officer and Co-Founder of CareTribe Inc., an AI-powered digital health platform backed by a human support system that guides family caregivers and their care recipients through the caregiving journey. CareTribes aims to make the experience less stressful for everyone involved, and to support the overall well-being of families.
Before founding CareTribe, she was the Chief Medical Officer and Head of Product Management at ActiveHealth Management. Dr. Vemireddy completed her internal medicine training at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City (1997-2000). She received her medical training from Ramachandra Medical University in India and is board certified in Internal Medicine (2000, 2010).
There is one thing (among many) that we love about Madhavi’s story. After her son Xavi was born with a congenital heart defect, Madhavi found herself overwhelmed by the enormous financial and emotional responsibility of caring for a sick child and managing a full-time job. When she couldn’t find answers to her problems, she decided to solve it herself.
Read on to see how Madhavi, inspired by her personal experience and her son’s health, founded a company that’s changing the future of how people approach caregiving.
What are you really proud of over the course of your career, or what would you really love for people to know about you?
It’s interesting you ask that. After I finished my residency in internal medicine, I started my 18-year healthcare career at a startup called ActiveHealth Management. We were focused on making sure people got the right evidence-based care and, as a physician, obviously that was a very meaningful mission. It was aligned with my training and what I would’ve wanted to do if I had gone into practice: Make sure people are getting the right care, are staying healthy, and are adopting the right lifestyle behaviors. So for me, it was a great opportunity to do that at scale.
I never really considered myself a product innovator. But being surrounded by a great team thinking about how to marry evidence-based literature with technology was the starting point of building a population health program that was focused on looking at a broad population and making sure that they were getting the right care and also trying to drive behavior change and overall awareness of one’s health.
While I was at ActiveHealth and at Aetna, I became a mom, and I found myself thrown into a situation where my son was born premature, he had congenital heart disease, and my husband and I found ourselves seeing doctors on a weekly basis trying to figure out what was wrong with him.
Even though we were both physicians, and we were surrounded by a network of really smart people in the healthcare space, we still struggled and we still didn’t have the right answers. Luckily, we got the right group of experts together to decide the right treatment plan for our son, which was that he had to have open heart surgery at nine months. That was our first experience being caregivers. It’s not been an easy journey, because we’re still actively caregiving for him today. We still come across challenges on a daily basis about what we should be doing, what does the latest research say, or who are the best doctors to go to? On top of everyday childcare issues, like getting him to eat well or potty training him, where can I go to help me as a parent do the best I can for my son?
So, I think once we decided that it was time to make a career change, we knew we loved to spend our time solving problems that are very personal to us that we feel very passionate about. Caregiving was the natural answer to the question, ‘What are we going to do next?’ We thought, ‘We’ve got to solve some of these real problems that caregivers are facing, because we are facing them.’ I can’t imagine what people who don’t have that same medical background are facing. Doing something that you feel really passionate about and having that opportunity is a great gift.
How would you answer the question of why does CareTribe exist?
This is a hidden epidemic, if you ask us. It’s an emerging crisis. The population is aging, and the number of people that can actually support folks are over the age of 65 is decreasing. I think by 2030 there’s going to be three people that can support every individual that’s over the age of 65. That number in the 1900s was 15. That number is shrinking. People are having fewer children. People are moving further and further away from their parents. Now we’re dealing with a sandwich generation that’s struggling to take care of their children as well as their parents who are growing old.
There’s a great quote from Rosalynn Carter, who basically speaks to the fact that there are only four kinds of people in the world. There are people who have been caregivers, there are people who are currently caregiving, those who will be caregivers, and then there are people who will need caregivers. We’re talking about a universal experience, so shouldn’t it be the best experience possible if all of us are going to go through it?
People are trying to figure things out for themselves, which leads to caregivers being really stressed out, and that leads to burnout and leaving the workforce. Because a lot of the caregivers today already have a full-time job. Most of those three people that I talked about that are supporting every elderly person are employed either part-time or full-time. So when they start to burn out and feel that pressure, they have to choose: Work full-time or take care of my loved one? Most of the time you’re going to have to pick taking care of a loved one, because either you don’t have the financial means to hire someone to do it, and you’re the only one available to do it. It is definitely an emerging crisis.
What’s the story behind the name CareTribe?
I think caring for a loved one is so much about your community, right? It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a village to be a caregiver, and you have to be surrounded by a tribe of individuals that will support you, whether it’s family or friends, a trusted care team, professional resources, or therapists. We have to figure out what tribe is needed to best support people in this journey. Because most caregivers are isolated. They are so overwhelmed with their day-to-day responsibilities. They don’t even have time to raise their hand and ask for help. Or they may not be aware of what resources are out there that can be part of their support team or help create a support team for them,
It’s really about having a tribe of people to care for you as the caregiver, too. Because I think, in healthcare today, we spend so much time and energy with programs that support the care recipient and trying to engage the care recipient to help them with their diabetes or help them stop smoking. But we do very little about talking about the family as a functional unit. Our goal is not to just look at the care recipient, or just at the caregiver. You have to look at both of them together as a functional unit. What impacts one will impact the other. So it’s important for us to make sure we’re surrounding both the caregiver and the care recipient with the trusted tribe. To help them in this journey.
What was that initial journey of arriving at this concept of considering both the caregiver and the care recipient? Talk me through some of those iterations of how the company came to be.
I spent the first 18 years of my career on population health. It was a lot of effort developing analytics to really understand the needs of the population, who’s at the highest risk, identify at any point in time who needed support, so that you could identify them quickly, wrap them around the right resources and support them. Whether it was an acute crisis or it was just in their day-to-day care to make sure you achieve the best outcomes. Now, that’s standard. If you think about a population health program, that’s considered standard practice. You need to have advanced analytics.
Your program needs to have a breadth of coverage, everything from lifestyle risk factors to end of life. You need to have expert coaches that are trained in driving behavioral change, and you need to have the right sort of integration with the healthcare system to make sure that you’re really helping to create that connection. We thought about all these best practices that are there in population health programs and thought about how so much of that is applicable to the caregiving space and should be in the caregiving space, but it doesn’t exist. Today, some of the programs for caregivers are very much focused on having the health advocate or the expert navigator supporting a family caregiver over the phone or through a digital interface, similar to what they would do in person or you would encounter in the hospital or in a community health center.
We just thought it needed to revolve so much more around the caregiver and the care recipient. The human expert is a critical component. But without having analytics that understands current needs and predicts future needs, you’re always going to be in reactive mode. You need to be able to curate an experience for that individual that’s specific to what they’re going through at any point in time, because the challenge is a caregiving experience is constantly evolving. Whether you’re dealing with an existing condition and it evolves, or you’re dealing with complications that may occur, or you’re dealing with multiple loved ones that you’re supporting, all of these caregiving scenarios have different needs.
It’s really important to not just provide general information, but to be as specific as possible to what is going on with you today. What life path are you on and how can we help create a holistic plan that’s not just looking at your clinical needs, but thinking about it from the perspective of what support you need at home? Let’s look at safety concerns, let’s think about legal planning, financial planning, and let’s look at your quality of life. So, it’s important to bring all of that together in a holistic plan as we’re thinking about the caregiver. It was really taking a lot of our learnings from building population health programs, but then building upon that our own personal experiences and pulling those combined experiences together to come up with the CareTribe support model.
Who do you think has been, either a group of people or a specific person, the biggest champion for you this year?
That’s a great question. I have to say it’s probably fellow caregivers. I mean, it’s so amazing that it doesn’t matter who we’re talking to. We could be talking to former colleagues or to people we’ve brought on board to CareTribe to help us with our initial beta launch and help build the product. Everyone has experienced caregiving at some level. So, they’re all bringing their personal experiences and their perspectives to the table to say, ‘I wish I had this kind of help,’ or, ‘I felt like there’s a gap in this particular area that I wish I knew about earlier.’ All of those learnings? It’s almost like the secret sauce. It’s all those learnings coming together to say, ‘Well, okay, how would we address that? How can we identify those needs earlier on?’
I think about the Alpha platform and us being able to reach out to hundreds of caregivers of both children with special needs as well as of adults with complex needs and learning from them, what their challenges are, what kind of support they need. All of that has been a significant contributor to what we are planning on building for CareTribe.
How is CareTribe building a better future?
Today, we have a hidden epidemic with the aging population and the limited number of family and professional caregivers that can support them. This problem will only get worse in the years to come. As a family caregiver for our eldest son, my husband Jeff and I have witnessed first-hand the challenges that exist for families. Caregivers carry an enormous responsibility — making sure that their loved one is getting the best clinical and personal care possible — with their doctors, therapists, in the hospital, and at home. The amount of information that needs to be consumed, the endless investigation of resources, the degree of care coordination that has to occur because of the silos is just simply overwhelming even if caregiving was your only job.
The reality is that most caregivers already have a full or part-time job and are trying to manage it all on their own. It’s a significant emotional and financial burden to the family caregivers. At CareTribe, our mission is to support family caregivers and their loved ones as they experience important moments in the caregiving journey, so that they are not alone. Our goal is to provide caregivers with an expert driven personalized life plan that will guide them on important things to consider at any point in time, as well as anticipate future needs to avoid a crisis.
Supporting caregivers isn’t just a social issue, it’s a medical one. By supporting caregivers we can ensure better clinical outcomes for both the caregiver and their loved one, and at the same time promote the overall well-being of the family. Caregiving is a universal human experience, we will all experience it in some way in our lifetime, so don’t we all deserve to have the support we need so we can spend quality time with our loved one and have the confidence that we are providing them the best care possible?
What do you believe is something our future needs more of and what is something you think our future needs less of?
The future needs better support of our special needs and aging population and their caregivers, so they are not socially isolated and can be better prepared to meet future needs — like community support programs, respite care, or training programs.
We need less stigma associated with being a family caregiver. Most caregivers don’t ask for help and don’t tell their employers or managers that they are actively caregiving, afraid that their employers will think they are less committed at work if they ask for a flexible work schedule to accommodate their caregiving duties. This adds further isolation and stress to family caregivers.
If you feel we can lend our support the work you’re doing, please reach out to Aaron Davis, Alpha’s Head of Community, at firstname.lastname@example.org.