Why we built Ribbon Health

Nate Maslak
November 1, 2021

Co-Founder and CEO of Ribbon, Nate Maslak, tells the founding story behind the health tech company

Think about the last time you searched for a restaurant, a piece of clothing, a barber – the list goes on and on. As consumers, we are equipped with more data and information than ever before. Yelp alone has over 1,200 categories to help consumers make their daily choices. We would be utterly dumbfounded if we booked a stay at a hotel and showed up at the wrong location without knowing the cost, the reviews, or the ratings.

And yet, for what is the most important aspect of our lives – our health – we forfeit those expectations.

We try. We do all the online searching, the endless calling, the intense research, and the system still manages to disappoint, or worse, fail us. Suddenly, we are no longer consumers worthy of receiving good service, but rather patients, “able to accept or tolerate delays, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious” (Oxford Dictionary).

This distinction became all too real for me when my mom was left in the dark as she tried to navigate the healthcare system, resulting in a huge medical bill that threatened to ruin her financially. It didn’t matter that I had a background in healthcare or that my mom was living in Cleveland, a world-class healthcare market. None of that mattered when my mom searched for a joint pain doctor and instead landed at a back pain doctor. The endless tests, imaging, and referrals resulted in more and more medical bills. And after thousands of dollars spent and time wasted, my mom found herself on the verge of a terrible financial situation, no better off than when her pain began. I bet this story sounds all too familiar to many of you.

Sadly, there is just so much that can go wrong in a patient’s journey, and much of it depends on the critical point at which a care decision is made.

We often hear how important it is to be “in the right hands” when choosing a doctor, but how are patients and their advocates supposed to make those decisions without accurate information at their disposal? Searching for a doctor to get care suddenly becomes daunting, anxiety-provoking, and never-ending.

When I met my co-founder Nate Fox, we were determined to fix a broken system that failed my mom and so many others. Fox was optimistic. He told me about how he was born unable to hear, but thanks to his family’s efforts, they were able to identify the problem quickly, navigate the system, and find the right care team and resources. Incredible. Our healthcare system has the potential to enable someone to hear! Unfortunately, we knew that most people were not as lucky as Fox, so we decided to do something about it. We built a simple care navigation tool that would help people find the right doctors.

We failed. While we saw extremely high engagement with our tool, our users were enraged with what happened when they showed up at their appointment. Patients would end up at a bank instead of a doctor’s office. Others could not reach the doctor by phone because of outdated or dead phone numbers. Others found that the doctor was no longer in-network with their insurance.

We recognized that this was not a navigation problem but an inaccurate provider data problem. We needed better data to build a world where people have a simple way of finding the proper care.

The data set we used to power our first venture was a public one, with only 45% accuracy. Fox and I knew we could do much better to make his healthcare story more common for all patients and my mom’s story obsolete.

Our vision remained the same – to power every healthcare decision to be accessible, affordable and high quality.

With a new approach, we built the first-ever comprehensive infrastructure platform for finding care. As a result, health tech companies could easily integrate with Ribbon by leveraging our API layer for accurate care providers, cost, and quality data. Think “real-time updates” of trusted information instead of static data dumps with half the accuracy.

Ribbon Health has become the foundation for provider search, cost, and quality workflows for 10 million patients in less than four years since our inception.

Whether it’s a care navigator, primary care doctor, or patient using our platform, these individuals contribute to improving the accuracy of Ribbon’s data set, allowing us to learn daily from those on the front lines of helping patients navigate their care. Every teammate at Ribbon can relate to this story one way or another. That’s why we are continuing to grow a team that builds with empathy for the patient experience and lives by six of our core values. I hope you will join us in our mission to simplify healthcare and help us afford all patients the chance to make informed decisions about what matters most – their health and empowerment.

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At Ribbon, our mission is to simplify healthcare