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Inequity in health care is a growing problem in the United States, with factors such as income, race, and geography playing an outsize role in patient health outcomes.

Nathan Pelzer, ’15, got a firsthand look at some of those disparities as Senior Director of Corporate Strategy for VillageMD, a Chicago-based health-care organization that focuses on primary care in communities with inadequate health-care resources.

Nate Pelzer
Nathan Pelzer, ’15

“In underserved communities, many of the patients who go to primary-care practices are on Medicaid, which doesn’t have robust benefits,” Pelzer said. “That population typically has the most complex medical needs, and we spend the least amount per patient on them. I saw an opportunity to improve that area of health care while also making a social impact and creating a sustainable economic model for providers that work with these patients.”

Pelzer drew on his experience at VillageMD, where he brought together the organization’s strategic goals with its technology and operational expertise, to launch Clinify Health, a Chicago-based digital health company that improves the financial sustainability of healthcare organizations that provide care to underserved communities.

"We look not only at clinical quality data for each patient, but at data that impacts patient care outside of the traditional clinical setting—where they live, what they eat, their income, and other social determinants of health."

— Nathan Pelzer

Combining individual patient clinical data with geographic-based demographic data on income, housing, food insecurity, and other socioeconomic factors, Clinify’s cloud-based platform gives physicians the information they need to succeed in new value-based healthcare reimbursement models while improving patient outcomes and lowering the overall cost of care.

“Our approach is unique in that we look not only at clinical quality data for each patient, but at data that impacts patient care outside of the traditional clinical setting—where they live, what they eat, their income, and other social determinants of health,” he said. “That allows us to provide the physician with crafted, detailed recommendations as to how to treat that patient in a manner that achieves the practices cost and quality objectives while meeting the patient’s unique healthcare needs.”

Clinify got its start as part of the Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program run by the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Chicago. Supported by funding from the National Science Foundation, I-Corp empowers UChicago students and researchers to test the commercial potential of their ideas.

“With the National Science Foundation grant, we were able to validate our thesis and get market feedback,” Pelzer said. “After that, we partnered with a safety-net hospital on the West Side of Chicago to run a pilot that showed measurable improvement in health metrics for a number of the patients that we were working with.”

Officially launched in January 2019, Clinify currently works with more than 100 physicians and 100,000 patients across the country, with almost 85,000 of those located in the Chicago area, primarily on the chronically underserved South Side. Providers in Clinify’s network gain a better understanding of the services each patient needs, resulting in a decrease in patient no-shows and emergency department readmissions.

Pelzer said his connections with Chicago Booth and the Polsky Center were instrumental to Clinify’s early success.

“First and foremost, it’s the network,” he said. “There are a lot of Booth grads in decision-making positions in the health care and venture capital industries, and the ability to connect with them and get their feedback has been invaluable.”

Through the Polsky Center, Pelzer met Eugene Khazin, ’10, a Polsky mentor and serial entrepreneur. “Eugene ended up becoming a close friend and was one of my very first technology advisors for Clinify,” Pelzer said. “He also introduced me to another Booth grad who ended up being our first angel investor.”

In November 2020 Clinify won an award for the company most likely to impact health inequity from Johnson & Johnson Impact Ventures, an investment initiative of the health-care giant’s foundation that invests in innovative early-stage companies. In early 2021 the company raised an undisclosed seed round to support further growth.

“Our biggest goal is to expand our footprint to additional markets, recruit key talent to build out our brand, and make a difference in the predominantly minority communities we’re trying to target,” he said. “For me personally, my goal is to continue grow as a leader, create a strong company culture, and to explore where we can partner and make a difference—whether it’s with organizations like Polsky and Booth or directly with our clients or partners in the industry.”

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