Navigating Cancer Care
By MELANIE KILGORE-HILL
Thyme Care Creating Resources, Connections for Oncology Patients, Providers
Thyme Care is revolutionizing the cancer experience. The Nashville startup is transforming cancer navigation by connecting patients, caregivers, providers and payers with scalable, intuitive technology that generates actionable insights to help identify cancer patients earlier.
Bobby Green, MD, Thyme Care's co-founder and chief medical officer, said the company was born from a desire to level the cancer navigation playing field.
"Anyone in oncology gets a lot of questions from people they know who've recently been diagnosed with cancer - friends or acquaintances looking for connections and advice," said Green, a board certified oncologist with 20-plus years of practice experience. "It's a limbo period, and patients feel vulnerable. I get these calls all the time, and I'm able to answer questions and usually help point them in the right direction or expedite an appointment, all of which can have a big impact ... but it didn't seem fair that unless you know an insider, you're just stuck out there."
He and colleague Robin Shah, founding member of Nashville-based OneOncology and Thyme Care founder and CEO, began brainstorming solutions to provide resources throughout the patient's journey. "In general, there was a lack of comprehensive cancer navigation that broadly covered the needs of patients on a bigger scale," said Green.
Previously chief medical officer at Flatiron Health, Green helped develop a data-rich, cancer-specific EHR platform for better patient experiences while offering smarter research for clinical staff and cancer researchers. His new task: redesign cancer navigation.
"It's obvious that a cancer diagnosis is a really bad experience, so what does the business of improving that look like?" he asked. "Across the cancer continuum there's not enough navigation, which leads to bad patient experiences and poor outcomes at a higher cost, so how do you create a company that can broadly and consistently provide high-touch services in a way that's scalable?"
For Shah and Green, the mission was to enable integrated cancer care leading to better results, higher value and aligned incentives - while also optimizing the patient experience and empowering clinicians. Achieving that meant addressing social determinants like transportation to appointments, food insecurity and financial assistance: critical aspects that clinics don't always have the time or resources to address.
In October 2020 Thyme Care was born, named for the herb that represents friendship and devotion. It was made possible by a $22 million funding round (led by Andreessen Horowitz, AlleyCorp, and Frist Cressey Ventures with participation from Casdin Capital, Bessemer). Green said Nashville was a natural choice for a home base. "It's unbelievable what a healthcare tech hub Nashville has become," he said. "There are so many great companies, and we've received advice and collaboration from clinicians and non-clinicians alike. Everyone's been very welcoming. It's a great place to found a company."
Green and Shah set out to hire tech experts and partner with health plans, placing a special emphasis on a glaringly absent component of most navigation platforms: clinician relationships.
"Outside of a clinic, it's hard to effectively build relationships without collaborating partnerships and buy-in from a clinical team," Green noted. While technology is an integral component of their model, Green said it's not sufficient to accomplish their mission. "Our high-tech approach isn't possible without high touch points, or people engaging with patients," he explained. "Our technology enables that personal connection and allows us to solve the problems we were seeing."
The model also was designed to complement existing case management services offered by practices, many of which provide only short-term navigation during the diagnosis phase. "We don't want to step on toes, so we collaborate nicely and fill in gaps to help clinicians address barriers of care that clinics may not have the time or resources to address," Green said. "Practice navigators can give us the stuff that's hard or not a part of their core mission. If you're an oncology-trained nurse, it's probably not the best use of your time to arrange transportation, but someone needs to."
To date, Thyme Care has partnered with oncology practices primarily in the New Jersey market to support their Clover Health members and is establishing relationships with other oncologists, health plans and provider groups in the region. After partnering with a health plan, Thyme Care team members proactively reach out to members or are contacted by members themselves. Now with 50-plus employees, Thyme Care hopes to grow their geographic footprint with more partners in more locations and expanded its tech capabilities.
"Cancer is really hard, and we're certainly not lacking for amazing oncologists in both community and academic settings," Green said. "If you fill gaps, you ultimately make it easier for clinicians to take care of patients; it's hard to provide chemo if the patient can't get a ride to the office. We're hearing really exciting stories from interactions with members and are eager to see where we go from here."