How a former Emergency Room nurse and director formed an innovative, a la carte healthcare company called HealthBar. Featuring Nathan Baar.
In this episode, Brian Anderson interviews Nathan Baar, MHA, BSN, RN, CEN. Nathan began his medical career as a Registered Nurse at Metro Health and eventually served as Director of Emergency and Urgent Care Service.
He details his entrance into healthcare, sharing that his mom — a nurse’s aid — noticed his love for personal interaction and conversation. Nathan’s experience in the emergency department alerted him to the dysfunction that exists within healthcare: failed cases, chronic diseases, and the unmanaged health of individuals where the ER is used as an access point for basic needs.
These realizations led him, ultimately, to create HealthBar. The company provides healthcare services delivered by highly trained clinicians. They strive to provide timely, accessible, transparent, and affordable care to all clients.
HealthBar aims to counter common complaints such as, “I can’t get into my doctor for three months,” or “I don’t want to use health services because I’m worried about how much it’s going to cost me.” Instead, HealthBar provides price transparency and drive-thru accessibility through its a la carte offerings.
Nathan adds that the COVID-19 pandemic truly transformed how we interact as a society and how clinical care is provided. Many people, naturally, needed to use technology from their homes to receive diagnoses and care. He describes 2020 as the moment where everything clicked. While telehealth isn’t a catchall, it is an access point for a conversation, a check-in, or an opportunity to educate individuals.
He questions: “Why does healthcare have to be in person? Why do you have to get of your vehicle for a blood draw?” Nathan’s company removes complexities, turning it into a consumerist model — like ordering food online.
Nathan concludes by highlighting the importance of technology, saying, “You really can’t operate right now without being a sliver of a tech company, too.” At Augusto, we’re proud to work alongside Nathan and HealthBar on these innovative healthcare opportunities.
We thank Nathan for his time on the Augusto Podcast and wish him the best of luck with HealthBar!
Brian: Welcome to the Augusto Health IT Digital Insights podcast. This episode is part of our healthcare focus. We highlight innovators who are changing healthcare for the better.
This episode’s guest is Nathan Baar. He’s the founder of HealthBar. HealthBar offers custom healthcare services provided by skilled technicians wherever you need them. They’re changing the way healthcare is consumed one service at a time.
Welcome to the podcast, Nathan.
Nathan: Thanks, Brian. Glad to be here.
Brian: It’s been really fun watching HealthBar grow. I think it’s a reflection on the history, your history, and where you came from and how you came up with some of these ideas and put them into action.
Maybe, could we talk a little bit about your history? Didn’t you grow up on a farm?
Nathan: Yeah. Out in the country, down in Allegan, definitely had some good times growing up bailing hay and taking care of some horses. I think it taught me hard work and dedication and determination from an early age.
I got into the service industry, working in a grocery store as well and found out that I really liked interacting with people a lot, that level of personal interaction and conversation. My mom saw that. She was a nurse’s aid and said, “Hey, you might like the medical field.”
So I graduated from high school. Got my CNA license, just a quick little degree. And started working in a nursing home and found out that I did, I loved taking care of people. I loved the interaction, that caring and empathy side of it, which led me to get my nursing degree from Calvin College, here in Grand Rapids.
And then I started my nursing career in the Emergency Department shortly after that.
Brian: What was that experience like? It seems like a quick progression, but that took some time.
What was it like starting as an entry-level and then working your way into this larger organization and leading parts of that nursing team in a larger organization?
Nathan: One of the things they don’t tell you when you start working in the Emergency Department is the challenges that it presents. A lot of people see the ER and they think of all the high-energy, high-rush things, which there’s plenty of.
But you also see a lot of the dysfunction that exists within healthcare. You see a lot of the failed cases, the chronic diseases, the unmanaged health of all these individuals and how the ER is used as an access point for a lot of very basic needs.
One of the things that I saw at the bedside were those. I’m talking to patients. I’m hearing about their issues. There’s so much frustration that exists.
Having that all mull around in my head, I found that I had a natural inclination to leadership. It’s that people factor again. I liked talking with patients, but also fellow clinicians, and it naturally gravitated towards leadership.
So I started getting some entry-level positions in leadership. I was able to excel at that. I found that I was a good match.
I still heavily focused on clinical care, but then also got the components of leadership. I had additional opportunities presented that I was able to get. Until finally, getting to my last position (before starting HealthBar) as the Director of Emergency and Urgent Care Services for Metro Health.
That experience, when you get to that level, and still having that clinical background and in working bedside a little bit, it truly put two and two together with, I’m seeing the core operations of how everything works, from the legal side to the HR side, finance and knitting that narrative of the dysfunction of healthcare in seeing it firsthand.
Brian: What were some of the things that started to give you the seeds of these ideas that you’re applying to HealthBar now?
Nathan: A lot of it was utilization — inappropriate utilization of our services. It was in hearing those direct patient stories. It was hearing people saying, “I can’t get into my doctor for three months.” Or, “I don’t want to use health services, because I’m worried about how much it’s going to cost me. I don’t know what that bill’s going to be.” Or, “Well, I was thinking about doing this, but I didn’t have the information. I Googled something.”
They didn’t have a good source of information to go to. There was not that trusted advisor side. A lot of those different conversations and realizations led to this thought process forming in my head of, why can’t we make healthcare more accessible? Why can’t it be delivered in a transparent way? Why does it have to be so complex? What are we doing all of this for, all this documentation and all this insurance-related work?
It was a lot of busy work that didn’t really provide better patient care. All it did was check boxes and provide data. There are important aspects to data. But it was taking over our clinical lives.
As clinicians, we get into healthcare because we want to help people. It felt like we were becoming data entry specialists and not being able to perform the work we wanted to do.
Brian: That’s interesting. You’re touching on the price transparency issues in healthcare. It is a mystery. If you wanted to go get a health service or even a surgery or something like that, it’s really unclear a lot of times how much it’s going to cost. It prevents people from taking advantage of the services they need. It’s interesting.
So you saw that. What were the very beginnings of HealthBar? What did you do to get that off the ground?
Nathan: Knowing that healthcare is, obviously, a very complex system and how they’ve been disrupted a lot of times, honestly, I think a lot of things are timing related. Having this idea for a service-delivery model that mobilizes a clinical workforce and provides them with the opportunity to provide services outside of a hospital’s four walls, first and foremost was one of the core components of it.
The pandemic truly transformed how we interact as a society and how clinical care is provided. You started seeing a lot more of this mobilization factor with health services, because they were needed. So we saw that and it’s like, here is truly an opportunity to mobilize clinicians in a meaningful way for testing or other clinical support services in a business environment.
That was truly the first moment where the model started to make a lot of sense; here was a legitimate opportunity. That was step one. The next step, as the business continues to evolve, is providing these clinical services in a more simplistic way. But beyond just testing, these are clinical supports, it’s more advanced care.
Brian: It’s interesting. It’s interesting how you mobilize teams, kind of like the whole trend towards the gig economy and the nature of how healthcare workers are scheduled in hospitals and healthcare organizations. They don’t work standard hours. They sometimes have time on their hands that can be utilized differently.
Maybe you could speak to some of that, too.
Nathan: One of those things for me as a clinician, I worked three 12-hour shifts. It’s pretty standard for a nurse to have 12-hour shifts. It’s days or nights or some mix of that. But I had four days off a week. What am I going to do with that time? People will take time off and spend time with their families, but even then, four days off a week is a lot.
Taking that personal experience I thought, “Well, are other clinicians thinking the same thing?” They definitely are.
And providing an opportunity for these clinicians to work and utilize that free time in a way that empowers them to create their own schedule and to use their skills and talents on a larger scale, community impacting, it’s been an awesome thing.
We’ve been able to mobilize a very large workforce in an employee contractor model.
Brian: That’s interesting. Maybe tell the audience about some of the types of services that you offer and some of the ways you deliver it.
Nathan: Early on, pandemic-related and through 2020, a lot of it was testing and screening services. We started out by supporting businesses, institutions, extended care facilities, and schools with our testing and clinical services. It’s having a clinician on sites, at a place of business, at a school, or an extended care facility and providing those different clinical services distributed across the state. Logistically very complex, but having the right tools in place makes for the ability to do that.
Brian: When you say the right tools, what do you mean?
Nathan: Technology. We live in a day where technology is key. It’s one of those things where phone calls and emails only do a certain amount from an extent standpoint.
We started seeing the need as our team continued to grow, and as we grabbed more contracts to start utilizing some higher levels of tech.
It was, what are some of the more advanced communication platforms? What are some pieces of scheduling software? Timekeeping. And gathering some data to go along with that. You start layering in these different tools, but each of them has their limitations and barriers.
Brian: It’s like you’ve got a mix between some that’s custom in your vision of how you want the experience to be for customers and patients and your clinicians. And part that’s off-the-shelf software and things like that.
Then also, I think some of the models that you’re using for delivery, like you said, you’re using contracts to connect with companies and putting people in those locations at times when they need to be there. But you’ve also got drive-throughs and stuff.
Maybe you could talk about some of those models.
Nathan: The concierge component of it is one of our big service points, where we want to go out to individuals and provide the service where they are. We also understand that people sometimes want to come to us for services.
Continuing to try to flip the script and what traditional healthcare has provided, we wanted to provide a drive-through medical service where someone doesn’t have to get out of their vehicle to receive medical services. They come up to us in our drive-through locations.
These are old bank buildings. Stay in your vehicle. You use a QR code to register for your service and provide your information. You order your service, like you’re ordering off of a menu. Then a clinician comes out to your vehicle and completes that service.
Very simplistic in nature, but also extremely effective. It removes a lot of that waste that exists within healthcare.
Brian: I think you had this really interesting inflection point with these ideas, because the pandemic hit. Where a lot of people were going into their homes and using technology and stuff and disrupting the way that the system was forcing people to interact with it, you took that as an inflection point and created something that matched up with the new reality, right?
Nathan: Yeah. With a lot of things, timing is everything. It truly was one of those situations where I think there’s been a lot of thought by a lot of people within healthcare to say there’s got to be a better way. Cost is going up. Outcomes are getting worse. People aren’t living longer.
Yet we’re still perpetuating a system that they know hasn’t been effective and, I think, truly understanding why it’s not effective and what the barriers are.
I think that that’s what that clicking point was. I was able to see some of those barriers firsthand, both from the administrative side, but then also from the patient side. And then that clinician component of it.
Then the pandemic, it was a clicking point of, all right, here’s that in a system that is so entrenched. But here’s a spot where telehealth is starting to take off. The services within your home and in distributed medical care, it’s all progressing. That’s truly the moment where everything clicked.
Brian: It’s interesting. Even before the pandemic, if I recall correctly, the insurance providers wouldn’t pay for a telehealth call. You heard that the only things they would reimburse for were actually in-person things, which seems so crazy now after going through this pandemic.
Nathan: The digital space is flourishing. I think it’s great that it’s getting some of the justice it is.
Healthcare is very complex. A lot of that entrenchment from the insurance industry and everything else was jaded against telehealth, because of some of its limitations.
But the pandemic truly bore out what the value of telehealth is. It’s not a catchall. It doesn’t solve every problem. But it’s another access point. It’s another conversation. It’s another moment to educate the individual or check in on them that’s simple and easy.
That’s one of the core concepts with HealthBar is healthcare has been made to be so complex. It doesn’t have to be. Boil it down to its most basic components and it’s clinicians taking care of people and helping them.
Brian: I follow what you’re saying, man.
I have parents. They’re aging now. It’s watching how they interact with the health system. They’re going to appointments a lot. I think there’s a lot of times where they don’t need to be in-person.
What they need to do is give an update of how they’re feeling or what they’re experiencing. Then they can decide if the next step is to go meet in-person, because that takes a drive. It takes parking somewhere. It takes going in. It takes waiting.
You’re providing a more streamlined experience for services that speed the whole process up and make it more accessible for people.
Nathan: There’s so much waste that exists. If you think about all the systems that are in place to check the boxes, to grab this piece of documentation. Why does it have to be in-person? Why do you have to get out of your vehicle for a blood draw?
These are things where people have followed tradition for so long. It truly is, like I said, boiling it down again to its most basic functions. It’s a clinician assessing and interacting with a patient.
And taking all the complexities of everything in between and saying, how do we make it so simple that somebody won’t hesitate to use our services? Because there’s no other thought in it. There’s no surprises. There’s no complexities to it. It’s a very consumeristic model.
Brian: I think it’s interesting, with some of the services that you offer, you make it clear to people what the options are.
If you wanted to do a COVID antibody test, you’ve got different options that people can choose from. Whereas, a lot of times, the doctor would order that and they would tell you.
I think one of the interesting ones you guys are doing is the immunity strength.
Nathan: The AvTech score. That’s again, you spoke to it, options and education. We want to have the individuals using our services be informed. We want to empower them to take control of their own health journeys. We firmly believe that a well-informed consumer of healthcare services is going to make significantly better choices and take better care of themselves.
We have a couple different options for COVID testing, if it’s immunity testing. One of the great products we had was the AvTech score that we just brought on. It’s a great piece of information to tell somebody how immune they are to COVID, which may inform future decisions.
This is something, again, that’s empowering, that is pertinent information. That’s what we’re about, is saying, how do we empower our patients to take better care of themselves and make more informed decisions?
Brian: It’s innovative and it’s cool.
What are you excited about? What’s your vision? Where is it going?
Nathan: That’s almost the hard part with healthcare, is there’s so many shiny objects.
The vision though, and what we’re staying focused on, is creating this new delivery network for healthcare to say, there’s another way. You have your traditional structures, hospitals and outpatient offices and emergency departments.
But once you leave that as a patient, where do you go? You go home. Who’s there to help you in that space? There’s nobody that’s intentionally helping you.
We want to create a healthcare system that is wrapped around and focused around that component of life. We don’t want you to interact with healthcare when you’re sick, those systems based on illness. You go see your doctor when you have questions, because you’re not feeling good or certain things.
We want individuals to be proactive about their health, engage in certain health promotion and wellness activities, because they know it’s good for them and they understand where their current needs are. We want to be that simple access point where it’s as easy as going to a drive-through for McDonald’s, to receive healthcare.
It’s so simplistic and easy, but existing outside of the insurance industry, so we can keep everything fully transparent. We can control pricing to a point where it fits that consumer model.
Brian: Well, I think you’re doing great things, Nathan. The growth of the business so far has been impressive. I think it shows that it’s needed. I’m excited for you.
We’re excited to be working with you on different initiatives and really appreciate what you’re doing for our community and for healthcare, man.
Nathan: Really appreciate it. Like I said, quick plug for Augusto. You guys are amazing partners and awesome to be working with on a custom piece of software, that’s helping the mobilization of our workforce.
Understanding we live in a digital world now, our goal is to create these care networks, not just in West Michigan, but across the state and across the country. Technology is going to be a significant part of that. You really can’t operate right now without being a sliver of a tech company, too. We feel that’s a growing part of our business.
Happy to be working on the projects together.
Brian: It’s super interesting what you can do if you think outside the box. And you guys are definitely doing it.
I want to thank you for your time and for being on the interview. I really appreciate the work you’re doing, Nathan. Thank you.
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