Despite the prevalence of Latinos across the country, the health care system still fails to meet the unique cultural needs of this population. Zócalo Hello co-founder and CEO Eric Cardenas said in an interview.
That’s why he and Marisa Hardin founded their startup last year. Zócalo, a virtual primary care provider designed for Latino patients, began providing care to patients in California in July during a public beta. On Monday, the company announced $5 million in seed funding that will help launch virtual primary care in Texas and Washington in 2022.
Zócalo’s seed funding stands out as a rare example of venture capital targeting a Latin American-founded company. In fact, the funding of startups started by Latinos represents only about 2% of the overall start-up investment.
“I grew up in South Texas on the Mexican border and speak Spanish fluently. I have seen from my own experience that the current health care system is not designed to meet the needs of the Latino population,” said Lisa Blau, Founding Partner of Able Partners. “We have been looking to invest in this category and are excited to participate in Zócalo Health’s seed round to enable affordable and accessible primary care that meets the needs, preferences and expectations of this growing demographic.”
Both Cárdenas and Hardin are veterans of the healthcare industry—between the two of them, they’ve held positions at well-known companies such as Tenet Healthcare, Omada Hello, Everlywell and the defunct one Amazon Care. They created Zócalo to address the fact that Latinos face disproportionately limited access to primary care services, with a ratio of one primary care physician for every 5,000 to 6,000 inhabitants living in predominantly Latino zip codes, Cárdenas said.
Zócalo, which is headquartered in Seattle, offers its virtual primary care services through one-time visit fees and membership fees. On the platform, patients have access to a care team that is led by them promoter de salud (health promoter), a community health worker who helps educate patients along their journey. Other members of the care team include doctors, nurses, and therapists.
An individual membership costs about $40 a month, according to Cardenas. These memberships include 12 doctor visits per year, as well as unlimited access to the promotor de salud via chat, video and phone meetings. A household membership costs about $65 USD per month. Zócalo is also working to include lab work and medication in those memberships in the near future, Cárdenas said.
When building its care teams, Zócalo always remembers that it is “for Latinos, by Latinos,” Cárdenas said. He noted that it is imperative that Zócalo patients are connected to care teams that “look like them, talk like them and think like them.”
Hiring Latin American clinicians who can relate to patients on a cultural level is a key factor that separates Zócalo from other virtual primary care providers such as Teladoc or Firefly health, according to Cárdenas. He said this ensures that clinicians do not overlook beliefs and traditions that Latinos have, such as the use of home remedies. Deploying Latino care teams is a more genuine way to meet the unique cultural needs of this population than simply translating content such as retail clinics CVS and Walmart did, Cardena claims.
“Our value proposition is to create relationships and have data at our fingertips, which allows us to provide a more personal and personalized experience for our patients,” he said. “It’s not just about access to a medical examination. It’s about using these community health workers to build relationships that allow us to better understand what social determinants are at play so that we can really address a more holistic experience for our patients.”
Photo: Zócalo Health