For Chelsea Clinton, widening access to pediatric care is one of the most essential health care initiatives of our time. As many parents already contend with caregiving responsibilities, full-time jobs, and financial strain, accessing quality pediatric care shouldn’t also be a burden, Clinton tells Fortune in an exclusive interview this week.
“There are so many challenges facing kids and caregivers and families in our country,” Clinton says.
Clinton’s call for increased access to pediatric care comes amid a surge in physician burnout, which has catalyzed the current health care staffing shortage. Arming parents and caregivers with health advice, many of whom have limited resources and support to care for their children as daycares and nurseries shutter their doors at alarming rates, is integral to the solution, says Clinton who invests in a portfolio of health care companies. “More supported parents are happier and healthier, less anxious, and then also better able to parent,” Clinton says.
This type of care can be outside of the four walls of a doctor’s office, she says. In 2022, Clinton invested in Summer Health, a start-up pediatric telehealth platform that today announced its expansion into primary care for kids through their text-based service. The company’s new model, Everyday Care, will offer a 24/7 on-demand text message service for parents to connect with pediatricians, sleep coaches, and lactation experts.
“Any caregiver, whether a parent or grandparent, older sibling, nanny, babysitter, or neighbor, should have access to excellent advice in a timely fashion,” Clinton tells Fortune. “We have more phones in our country than we have people, and we have many examples of text-based platforms being particularly valuable to parents.”
Ellen DaSilva, Summer Health’s CEO and founder, recalls days and sometimes a week-long wait for a pediatrician in New York City for her child. But not all medical problems and queries require immediate in-person care, she says. Since launching, DaSilva noticed caregivers want more streamlined communication with experts around nutrition, sleep, and mental health—topics where a 15-minute text exchange with an expert can help crack the code. The most common questions on Summer Health’s platform range from, “How do I get my child to sleep through the night?” to “I have anxiety when I leave my kids, how do I teach them about stranger safety?”
“We’re living in a moment where we are awash in information, and yet it’s very hard to know the quality of that information,” Clinton says. “We just have to do a better job of platforming the experts and making that expertise more accessible to more people in more places in a timely fashion.”
Since the pandemic laid bare the nation’s worsening childcare crisis, Clinton says addressing caregiver burnout and parental anxiety is ingrained in their model and that telehealth can be a hallmark solution. Still, these platforms must have the infrastructure and care teams in place to address parental concerns in a timely manner. Physicians at the 2019 Canadian Medical Association Health Summit warned telehealth is only as good as the systematic improvements needed to keep providers in the fold. However, Clinton sees this text message care model as an alternative way for pedestrians to serve as high levels of physician burnout have pushed people out of the clinic.
“How can we better support our providers to do the work that they aspired to do when they went to medical school?” Clinton says. “I think it’s a normative question as much as anything else, to better support our providers to ultimately do the caregiving that they feel called to do.”
While numerous telehealth services are already on the scene, and launching every day, like Amazon’s new $9 a month virtual health clinic, DaSilva tells Fortune her company is targeting the $92 billion pediatric market and specifically, “the mother who works a shift job and can’t be in front of a Zoom to speak with a provider about their kid’s ailment.” At $20 a month, she hopes it is an accessible additive to other care parents seek.
“There is so much pressure to be great as a parent, be great as a professional, be great as a child of aging parents,” DaSilva says. “We do give peace of mind to our parents.”