Cassie Choi, a critical care nurse in San Francisco, was frustrated with the healthcare system. She had been trying to instigate better methods for delivering care to patients, but the system wasn’t responding nearly fast enough to suit her.
“I didn’t want to be a cog in the wheel,” says Choi, who earned a nursing degree from Northeastern in 2013. “So I decided to move to startups as a way to make the impact that I felt was necessary.”
Choi is co-founder and chief operating officer of Pair Team, which has been streamlining access to healthcare since 2019. The focus is on providing technology and remote care teams to clinics in underserved communities. Pair Team currently manages 5,000 patients in Southern California with plans to provide services for an additional 30,000 patients this summer.
In support of her startup, Choi has received an inaugural $5,000 Innovator Award from Northeastern’s Women Who Empower inclusion and entrepreneurship initiative. The awards recognize 19 women who are graduates or current students at Northeastern. The organization is distributing a total of $100,000 in grants to help fund 17 ventures.
Choi has spent the past five years seeking better healthcare solutions for people in need. One year after helping launch a health tech startup in 2016, she moved on to a leadership role with a health technology company. Those experiences inspired her to join with Neil Batlivala, her co-founder and chief executive officer, to develop Pair Team.
“We really want to serve the patient populations that are more meaningful to us,” Choi says. “My co-founder grew up in India, where there are drastic socio-economic disparities. I grew up in New Hampshire and worked alongside patients in Roxbury [in Boston, Mass.] and the [emergency rooms] in Boston and Washington Heights in inner-city San Francisco—and I knew that the [tools] that we had built in Silicon Valley would have a greater impact on them. Pair Team is on a mission to bring technology innovations to clinicians that serve those patient populations in rural areas across America.”
Pair Team deploys automated systems that enable people to find the care they need and access it more quickly, including chronic care management and outreach to patients who need preventive care.
“We come in as a remote team to offload the work that needs to happen,” Choi says. “It’s getting patients to labs, getting them to mammograms, and helping these complex patient populations navigate the healthcare system. When they’re working three jobs and taking care of kids, they don’t have the time to sit on hold for 10 minutes to schedule a mammogram, even if they know what number to call.”
Their aim is to bring services to states that have expanded Medicaid coverage, including Texas, Ohio, and Florida.
“We partner with health plans to bring our services to their clinical network,” Choi says. “In places where there’s a lot of rural healthcare, it comes down to cost. If you’re fiscally conservative, you end up being a healthcare liberal because that’s the way to solve the financial problem of healthcare.”
As a student, Choi was told that she wouldn’t continue her work as “a bedside nurse for long” by Catherine O’Connor, clinical instructor and director of Mobile Health at the Bouvé College of Health Sciences. O’Connor wasn’t surprised last year when Pair Team received $2.7 million in seed funding to take on the fragmented U.S. healthcare system.
“Her previous experience as a critical care nurse in multiple acute care settings was the obvious catalyst for Cassie to identify what was broken in American healthcare,” says O’Connor. “I hope that in the future Cassie will have the opportunity to disseminate her experiences to other nurse entrepreneurs in successfully merging tech-enabled support to enhance the delivery of patient-centered care.”
Which strikes at another of Choi’s goals: She says her dream job is to become director of innovation and entrepreneurship at Bouvé.
“I really believe that Northeastern can breed innovative and entrepreneurial nurses,” says Choi, who encourages nursing students to take computer coding and other courses to broaden their approach. “I never knew that nurses could be founders or could create technology. I just think it’s important to have exposure to different career paths in nursing.”