Make America Healthy Again

How Penta founder Luka Ivicevic is going against the American healthcare system with his newest start-up Index, a novel, digitised and subscription-based approach to improving people’s health.

This summer, Ivicevic left Penta which he co-founded together with Lav Odorovic, Jessica Holzbach, Igor Kuschnir and Sir Gabriel Holbach at the age of 22, to dedicate his time to building the medtech start-up Index. With Index, he hopes to provide an alternative to how healthcare is conventionally provided in the United States, the shortcomings of which he witnessed firsthand with his mom.

Experiencing chronic fatigue, headaches and pain, she went from doctor to doctor and they all essentially did the same thing – prescribe her medication to milder the symptoms, rather than treat the underlying problem. This continued until she finally found a doctor who had a different approach. Unlike others, he took the time to interview her about all aspects of her life from lifestyle habits to diet, exercise and stress and also commissioned numerous lab tests to get a fuller picture. He eventually diagnosed her with an autoimmune disease, at the age of 63.

And Mrs. Ivicevic is not alone. Nearly every second American has taken prescription drugs in the last 30 days: A dataset published in 2019 by the CDC (Center for Disease Control) shows that 45.8% of American adults are on medication, with central nervous stimulants being most common with people aged 12 to 19 and antidepressants most common for patients aged 20 to 59. “The median duration of a doctor’s visit in the United States is 15 minutes,” says Ivicevic when Forbes interviewed him only days before Index’s launch in the US. The reason for this is that “doctors get paid by insurance companies for a limited amount of time per patient, leading to the quick assembly line style diagnosis based on people’s symptoms, and not the root cause of their health problems,” he explains. With Index, he wants to provide an alternative – a data-driven and personalized approach to healthcare.

Funded mostly by Ivicevic himself along with a few angel investors (he could not share the exact amount of investment at the time of the interview), Index bypasses the traditional American healthcare industry by creating a new model: digital, subscription-based, personalised. “High quality, affordable direct primary care. One flat monthly fee. No co-payments or hidden fees. Same-day appointments, virtual or in-person. No insurance needed,” Index boasts on its Facebook page. Sounds too good to be true? Here is how it works, according to Ivicevic.

Users go to the Index website and fill out a short survey about their habits, lifestyle, what problems or pains they’re experiencing. Based on the survey results Index will point them towards the necessary lab tests. After sending in the results, Index begins to build a data-based model specific to the user and provides them with a recommendation or a health plan. Oftentimes, things such as food intolerances, hormone imbalances or undiscovered chronic diseases are at the root of people’s health complaints, explains Ivicevic. Such things shouldn’t necessarily be treated with medication, he says, as they usually would be if you had a 15 minute appointment with a normal physician. The recommendations and evaluations are provided by doctors hired by Index because they themselves take this personalised approach to treating their patients.

Fiscally, Index’s model is based on the DPC or “direct primary care” concept. Think of it as a subscription for your health – Ivicevic plans to charge customers between $100 and $150 per month. To become a customer, you must be invited by someone within the network, Ivicevic says: “We want to make sure we’re serving the right people. We’re not for everybody. You have to want to take a proactive and long-term approach to your health. That’s why Index is ‘invite only.’” By offering a fully digital experience, Index can save on overhead while providing more in-depth care for less money. Index's subscription price may seem high to some, however, monitoring your health now could save you thousands of dollars (or hundreds of thousands in the U.S.) in hospital bills later: “Our biggest challenge is to change people’s mentality and show them that there is a better way to get healthy. Our goal is not only to get you healthy but also to keep you healthy.”

Index is launching at a prime time: Not only has health awareness risen due to the global Coronavirus pandemic, but revenues in the digital health industry are also expected to rise in the next few years. Consulting company Capgemini, estimates that global revenue in the sector will hit $933.6 billion by 2025.

Ivicevic founded his first start-up, Penta, after finishing a degree in philosophy with a minor in computer science at the American University in Paris. The Berlin based challenger bank launched in January 2018 with the goal of providing easy banking for SMEs. Within the next few years, Ivicevic helped scale the company to 150 employees, 25.000+ SME customers and raise $45 million USD in venture capital. “One of my advantages of starting Penta was not being a banker. It allowed me to see how banking could work differently. And the same goes for Index. Being an outsider, I can see how healthcare could work differently.”.

Ivicevic sees Index’s future development on a 10-year timeline: “What will medicine look like in 2030? It’s personalised, data-driven and actionable – all in real-time on your phone.  If we know what’s influencing our health, it allows us to live longer. But the way healthcare works now, it doesn’t dig deep enough to discover the root cause of what’s really going on inside of us. It’s crazy. Index is changing that,” he says. Ivicevic doesn’t see the government as up to the task of reforming a healthcare system where corporate profits tend to be the highest priority and so, he believes, it is now up to the private sector to find new ways to keep America healthy.

Text: Sophie Spiegelberger
Foto: Index Health, Inc

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