Our Founding Story: LingoHealth

“I was nervous that the doctor wouldn’t understand me and even how to fill out all the forms, so I did not want to go.” — Patient (interviewed October 2020)

US healthcare is messy and challenging. And it is not designed to fit the needs of many communities in our country. It’s easy to feel disheartened by a system that is incredibly broken. When my co-founder, Yaritza, and I went to graduate school after working in the healthcare sector, it’s fair to say that we were both fairly disillusioned by the industry.

While the COVID-19 pandemic pushed digital health innovation forward rapidly, it also shone a harsh spotlight on the health disparities in this country. In recent years, most digital health solutions are focused on providing convenience to patients who already experience fewer barriers to accessing care, widening health equity gaps. These gaps are exacerbated by existing language and cultural barriers.

As we looked to our own respective communities, we asked, how could we ensure our loved ones were getting the most appropriate care? How could we bring better digitally enabled solutions for healthcare access to our communities?

Against this backdrop of deepening inequities in healthcare, we embarked on founding LingoHealth.

We 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, and how such behavior can manifest through terms like “total body dolor” that disempower these patients.

We have watched family members delay necessary care and, in certain extreme instances, leave the US to seek care. I remember how my dad — someone who has lived and worked in the US for four decades — dealt with chest pains for almost a year before he found care in his native country, where he thought he would have a better healthcare experience. He told me that the doctors abroad said that he really should not have waited to see a cardiologist and needed surgery immediately. The doctors said it was a miracle that my dad lived long enough to get that surgery.

We understand that fears and anxiety coupled with these cultural barriers can create a reactive, rather than proactive, approach to health. Limited English proficient patients are significantly less likely to have a usual place of care and more likely to have worse health status. Many of these patients end up in emergency rooms or urgent care centers with preventable health concerns.

These truths are particularly startling considering that 67 million Americans speak a language other than English at home. In fact, the non-white population is growing to be 45% of the senior population. Asian and Hispanic Americans are the fastest growing group of Medicare beneficiaries. The US healthcare system is not well-equipped to accommodate a rapidly aging and diversifying population.

It does not have to be this way.

Healthcare, especially digital health, should do more to increase access for multicultural communities. Solutions must be built for language, culture, and accessibility from the start, rather than as an afterthought. Digital tools should “meet patients where they are at” — meaning to communicate with them based on their preferences. Importantly, our healthcare system should better involve and engage a patient’s support system — namely, family, community members, and other loved ones.

Yet, in our conversations with traditional healthcare players as well as digital health companies, we have seen that embodying these principles would require these organizations to completely reimagine their strategies.

We are building LingoHealth to reimagine the healthcare experience for families like ours. We help family advocates — the role we have been playing for years — have more visibility into the care management of their loved ones. With our platform, patients, especially non-fluent English speakers, can access the most appropriate site of care and better understand their health.

Our founding team collectively has a decade of experience working in healthcare before starting LingoHealth. From working with federal payers such as Medicaid and Medicare to investing in the digital health companies, we have seen the persisting disparities in access to care among different communities. We know that issues in healthcare access are inextricably linked to access to other resources. We are excited to build a team that is passionate about increasing equity in healthcare, our workplace, and our community. A community-based solution must come from folks who deeply understand these communities.

“From a young age, I learned to speak for my mother as authoritatively as I could. Not only did I want to dispel the derision I saw behind that woman’s eyes, I wanted to shame her with my sobering fluency for thinking what she was thinking. I have been partly drawn to writing, I realize, to judge those who have unfairly judged my family; to prove that I’ve been watching this whole time.” — Cathy Park Hong

We are grateful for all the support as we embarked upon this journey: from doctors who squeezed us into their busy schedules to share the impact of language barriers on their practices, to patients and families who opened up about their most challenging experiences, to classmates who lent their talents to develop our initial proof-of-concept. We are backed by an incredible team of mission-aligned investors and advisors — we could not be building this without your conviction in us.

Together, we can create a more inclusive solution for healthcare.

Yaritza Vargas (left) and Jessica Chao (right), co-founders of LingoHealth

Pondering how to support underserved communities, improve healthcare accessibility, support diversity/equity/inclusion, and promote responsible business