We’re living in unprecedented times. COVID-19 has closed borders and shuttered businesses. And for many startups, cancelled events means vanished opportunities to build critical networking relationships, showcase their innovations, and secure funding they need for their next steps.
That’s why it’s so important for businesses to be able to take a step back, re-evaluate where they are and where they’re going, and try to figure out how they can fit into the new COVID economy.
On today’s episode, we talk with Adeel Malik, CEO of Clearstep. He was able to create an extension of his care routing tool, helping health systems with their urgent need to quickly and effectively triage COVID-19 patients and ensure that scarce resources are spent wisely. He shares:
- How his team quickly pivoted Clearstep’s messaging to cater to their audience’s new, urgent needs — and how they had a record-breaking 8-day sales cycle with a new health system customer
- Why it’s critical to reassess how your business can fit in with today’s new market needs, while still making sure that you don’t lose sight of your core product in the long-term
- How you can raise capital in a time where it’s more important than ever to prove your relevance, usefulness, and longevity to investors
- The importance of having the right team — and the best team — to weather the storm and grow together
Adeel Malik is the CEO of Clearstep, a care routing tool that aims to create the new consumer experience for accessing healthcare. The tool “consumerizes” the healthcare experience, giving patients all the data they need to make informed choices about their care.
Adeel came to Clearstep after spending several years working in healthcare consulting. Before that, he was a medical researcher for Johns Hopkins.
To learn more about Adeel and Clearstep, check out the company’s feature on TechCrunch or visit www.clearstep.health. To chat with Adeel, fill out the website’s contact form and mention that you’d like to connect with him.
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Speaker 1: Welcome back COIQ listeners on today's episode, we have Adeel Malik with us, he's the CEO of Clearstep. Welcome to the show.
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Speaker 2: Thank you. Happy to be here.
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Speaker 1: Yeah. So a deal, if you don't mind, if we just get started for our listeners who aren't familiar with you or the work that you're doing, um, give us a little bit about your background and what you're doing with Clearstep.
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Speaker 2: Sure. Um, so, uh, what we're doing with Clearstep is we are, you know, to put it very briefly, you're trying to bring the consumer experience from every other industry, uh, to, to the experience of accessing healthcare, uh, making it really easy for people to understand what care they need, uh, who exactly they should go to, who's in network, how much things like costs and when they can go. Being able to access virtual care easily or being able to access online scheduling easily. Um, so really, you know, consumerizing that experience, making it really easy to have all the data and information you need to make an informed decision. Same way you do when you shop for a car or you book an airline ticket. Obviously there's a lot more nuance in healthcare, but it's really that experience that we're trying to bring to the fold. Um, and to my, my experience is coming from, you know, healthcare consulting, um, that I did for a number of years and that'd be for that medical research at Johns Hopkins.
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Speaker 1: That's great. That's great. So, you know what's interesting is, is, um, we were supposed to meet at hymns, uh, just a few weeks ago and of course didn't happen. Um, and, and you know, the conversation that we would have had a couple of weeks ago is going to be very different than we were gonna talk about today. It's kind of like in the midst of the coven chaos, right? So you have some exciting news. What's new?
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Speaker 2: Yeah, yeah, no, a just found out we were featured on the front page of the tech crunch this morning. So, uh, super exciting. I've been in meetings, uh, since the morning, so I haven't even been able to read the article yet. But, uh, really exciting news for us. And we're happy to, you know, being a care routing solution at our core. Um, it, it kind of made a lot of sense for us to prop up an extension of our core product that's specific to COBIT and, and help make sure that people who are anxious are truly at risk, um, know exactly what their next step should be.
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Speaker 1: That's incredible. Congratulations. I think that, um, that is just absolutely wonderful and that's part of what I want to talk about today. As, you know, health innovators like yourself are faced with all of the changes, um, that have resulted from the COBIT crisis. You know, I feel really strongly that for many, if not all businesses, you know, we're at this crossroad of pivoting, um, and deciding that we, you know, we don't have a solution now that meets an unmet need or that's relevant right now. Like that, you know, that previous business model is not going to work. Or like what you just mentioned that it does and it works really well. We just need, we have an opportunity to reframe our business around the know that need right now. So let's talk about that a little bit.
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Speaker 2: Yeah. You know, I'm not sure it's about reframing for us entirely. Um, I think it's, it's almost doubling down on what, and this is specific to us, right? Um, being, you know, again, care routing now there is somewhat of a reframing because it's not re we aren't shipping Clearstep as it is, uh, as the whole product. We're shipping kind of this extension of it that's specific for coven, but at the same time it's underscoring the same value prop that we were driving forward anyways, which is that right now in general in healthcare, there's a lot of confusion that results in a lot of wasted spend and a lot of inefficiencies and missed opportunities to deliver the right care at the right time because people just don't know what to do. They don't know whether they should go to the ER, use telemedicine or go to a minute clinic or use, um, you know, go to an urgent care and they don't know which ones in network and they don't know how much things are going to cost and they don't know when they can go.
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Right? So that's the same problem that we're experiencing right now. It's just dramatically exacerbated because of what is kind of protected to be the case. You know, in us healthcare where we won't have enough resources to meet the demand of people that will, that may need to be hospitalized. And that's, it's really horrible. It's really dramatic. It's really sad. Um, but this is where kind of, we're hoping to play a very small part in just making sure that in that context where we may not even have enough beds to serve as the people that will need it, that people who really don't need to go to the hospital are not going to the hospital. Even people who don't need to use virtual care and just need to self-isolate and stay at home, that's what they're doing. They're not taking up kind of necessary bandwidth with doctor on demand and Teledoc and MD live and these other telemedicine companies that are, you know, turn their neck, uh, and work.
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So, you know, getting people to the right point of care. And then on the, on the counter side people who do need to go with people who really should go in and shouldn't just stay at home and self-isolate, but now it's time. They need to get specific instructions on how to safely get to the ER, but they need to go, um, that also needs to happen, right? So, um, you know, it's, it's the same function of, of what we're doing doing with our core product. It's just now there's, there's, uh, there's such an important use case for it in the very, very immediate term.
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Speaker 1: So, so I think that that's really important to point out, um, that I think that our listeners have what I would call, um, I refer to it as like through, and it's not to say that they need to pivot at each one of these areas, but it's something to do. I need a pivot, my business model, do I need a pendant, my marketing? Do I need a pivot? Right. And so I think the example that you just gave is you don't need to pivot your business model. It's still very valid in the midst of coven, what hear you saying is the messaging's changing, right? So like a month ago, you wouldn't have had COBIT on your website. You wouldn't have had your elevator pitch. And now it makes it more, um, you know, tweaking that messaging allows it to be more timely and relevant. Um, and yeah, eliminating any guesswork of how your solution could fit the need that people are experiencing right now.
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Speaker 2: Yeah, I think that's, I think that's a really fair way to put it. And you know, I'm not sure how this will apply to other digital health companies, right. We just, you know, got lucky. I dunno what the word is and that we're actually positioned to, with the technology you've already had, do something that's so directly relevant. Um, I do agree though with your kind of previous comment or observation that now is a good time to try to take a step back and try to think it's what we're trying to do to think really hard about what's the world's going to be like in six to eight weeks and beyond. Um, and how will we need to change as a result of that? We're not, we're not immune to that either. Right? So we're, we're trying to think really hard about, and it's hard because we're just all in the weeds every day with COBIT, but we're trying to sometimes take a step back and think about how, how do we strategize two or three months from now to kind of come out of this, um, whether that's repositioned or doubled down or how is our messaging gonna change and how are we going to go after our target market?
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Like all the same questions. Right? So, um, I do think now it's an important time for, for everyone to take a step back and try to think about that because it is likely the case that things won't, things won't be the same, um, in terms of how healthcare is delivered.
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Speaker 1: So, so, you know, it's interesting. So for someone like you, the solution that you're bringing to market, um, is where you described earlier where it's, it's really bringing a highly digital, um, consumer centric experience to the healthcare industry. So I imagine for you being able to work virtual is, it's not a stretch. Um, probably being able to conduct business meetings via zoom, right? It's not a stretch, but for some of these healthcare organizations, for some of these entrepreneurs, you know, they were really just boots on the ground that were knocking on doors and is constantly different skillset. So their business model might still be intact. Even maybe some of their marketing still be intact. But talk about an immediate sales pivot because you know, one, those doors are closed to you can't fly to reach them. Um, a lot of instances they're just overwhelmed and inundated with putting out the fires of the day that they don't really want to hear about the solution that you have. So like, let's just kind of talk about what you're doing in that regards, um, and how that may be the same or different as far as getting in front of folks that would be the, your customers.
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Speaker 2: So it's, it's interesting and I have a lot of sympathy for startups that are kind of going through and all businesses, small businesses there. It's just, it's hard times and it's, it's really tough. Um, I of course don't have the answers as to how, how to approach and even navigate it. I mean, for us, um, we are, again, kind of lucky, but you know, the, the same stakeholders that we typically sell to now, what we can offer them is like number one or number two on their, on their priority list. Right. Um, and so, you know, we, we went through a eight day sales cycle last week with a major health system. Um,
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Speaker 1: that is absolutely history in the making.
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Speaker 2: Yeah. I mean it's, it's unreal right from the, from the point of picking up the phone and them asking, Hey, can you do this? And us being like, Hey, we're already working on it. It's like two days away from being ready, but starting a contracting process, getting things signed, uh, getting, getting things cost configured and customized and implemented and live for users to use in literally like eight days. I mean, yeah. Absolute record speeds because, because what we were talking about, it's a problem. Health systems need to make sure that people are getting the right level of care and not coming in or they are coming in when they, when they really do need to. Um, so for us, our stakeholders have, uh, have an acute attention on what we can, what we can offer right now.
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Speaker 1: So one of the things that you said that I think is really interesting is it almost sounded like you said they reached out to you.
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Speaker 2: Yeah. So this was a year.
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Speaker 1: Those would be interesting. You right.
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Speaker 2: Yeah. So we were already in communication with this group, which is why, and they knew what our core solution was. So their immediate question was, Hey, can you do this as well? Um, and we've had that happen two more times as well. And we're trying to, you know, it is true. We're trying to do a bit more proactive outreach, which is, which is harder. Um, because now even we actually, maybe this is relevant to your point before, even we with a solution that is relevant, maybe feel like to people who are just kind of putting out fires, like they don't want to think about something new. Uh, when there's, when there's an existing relationship or we were already engaged in conversations with them and they kind of had us filed away in their head. Now we can kind of be surfaced back up to the top. But making the initial touch point is, is actually still very difficult for us right now. Okay. Versus just talking to people where we've already been engaged with.
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Speaker 1: Yup. Yup. So I can see that, that that would play out as well. That, you know, I've, I've got some contacts in our database where we're nurturing them, we're trying to get in front of them. We've maybe done some demos or some presentations. Right. You know, it's still, you know, competing with all the other priorities. And then, like you said, priorities change and now all of a sudden it, the door opens wide quick. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Um, so, um, what are some other strategies that it's okay if you hadn't have it all figured out? Cause all of us are just trying to figure this out in meal time. Um, even myself, you know, so we as an organization, when I was supposed to speak at HIMS at a couple of sessions and so when the conference was canceled, you know, we had an understanding of the situation to be one thing and I said, okay, well let's just take that material and go virtual. And then we started to develop that, the virtual experience of that and then basically all hell broke loose. And so like that, even that material just wasn't even going to be relevant anymore. And so we've had, we've shifted twice just in the last two weeks because it's such a dynamic, evolving situation. Um, so, so anyway, so I think that, um, we're all trying to figure this out. And so, um, you know, what are some strategies and tactics that you are deploying or considering right now? Um, in the new, new normal that we're living, right?
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Speaker 2: Yeah. I mean, I don't know if this is directly related to the question. Um, because I think the direct answers, the question is like, we didn't even have that much time to strategize. We just started building this extension and then we were getting demand and then we were like in an implementation phase, right? So even taking a step back to like strategize has been a little difficult. But in the moments where we do like what we're trying to think about, um, is how can we make sure that, um, that your staff
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being implemented in this way specific for COBIT still grows to the broader use case, right? Beyond. So right now we are just focusing the implementations on the COBIT screener and making sure that we're doing very robust triage for people concerned about COBIT. But obviously the direction is, well now let's just enable clear step which can handle any symptom that comes that that a patient presents with and get them routed to the best resource within your healthcare you ecosystem. So that's how we're trying to set up our infrastructure with these relationships, with these quick deployments. So that in two or three months, hopefully when we're on the other side of this, um, it just makes it a lot of sense to say, well, this one's super well, this underscored the need and highlighted why this kind of technology is really important. So all you have to do is flip the switch and we just enable more functionality within our existing contract and within our existing relationship. It's like we don't have to go back to legal paperwork. We already went through that. Just what the switch and we can, we can do a, we can do, you know, employ the more robust use case. So that's what we're trying to think about. Um,
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Speaker 1: yeah. Yeah. And I think that that makes a sense. It makes a lot of sense. And I think that's, um, that's definitely, you know, wisdom for our listeners to take here is that it would be really easy for us to think about just the immediate business opportunity and not think about the longer term commercialization of the full solution, if it's still relevant. Right. Um, but making part, making the planning for that to be part of the process from the very beginning. So that way you can eliminate any work. Like you said, we don't have to go through contracting. We don't have to go through a really quick eight-day sales cycle only to get through this to then go back to another 12 months sales cycle at the end.
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Speaker 2: Exactly.
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Speaker 1: Oh yeah. Um, you know, so, so I, I think that digital health innovators have a lot of changes to face. Um, there is a lot of challenges that are taking place, but I think that you are an incredible opportunity. I mean, uh, an incredible, uh, example of the opportunities that are peppered into the crisis that we are facing. And you know, what, how do you think that this is going to transform adoption of digital health and connected health and all of the innovations, uh, that we have been trying so hard for, for several years now to, to penetrate in the healthcare industry? You know, what, what's your perspective on how this might change that going forward?
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Speaker 2: Yeah, it's a good question. One that's, I think on, on everyone's mind. Um, and, and for everyone, it's pure speculation at this point, right? Uh, but you know, it seems like Lucy's telemedicine as an example, historically before two weeks ago or three weeks ago, telemedicine was still struggling with just low utilization, low adoption. Um, and the big thing for telemedicine companies was, you know, despite the fact that, you know, we're offering a clearly more convenient, cheaper, um, you know, consumer centric and friendly way to access care that is actually just as often just as clinically relevant as, as going in to see a provider. People are reluctant and hesitant to give it a try. Um, and to just try using it. Uh, and largely because of that, the question around that last piece is this as clinically relevant as going in and seeing my provider, can I get what I need out of this? And now where there's just been a two to three X surge, uh, potentially more, uh, in daily telemedicine utilization, um, and perhaps at what people are thinking is now this is going to change the paradigm of consumer behavior in relationship to the telemedicine. Uh, and get people more comfortable with it because now, you know, in a situation where people are being forced to use it,
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Speaker 1: yeah.
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Speaker 2: Choice, right? And maybe now it's like, Oh, Hey, this, this works. This was easy convenience covered by my insurance, which a lot of people don't know is often the case actually. Um, you know, now people might be a lot more inclined towards just using telemedicine, which might really pave the way towards, you know, um, pro D, uh, what virtual primary care, right? So, which is what, you know, companies like doctor on demand, um, are really driving forward. This concept of your primary care doc is a virtual medicine provider and it'll be the same person on the phone every time that you FaceTime with or have a session with, but it's all virtual and you'll never go see a primary care doctor in person. Um, and that seems very logical that it could, could very well start to happen, especially since now there are these federal mandates like to cover telemedicine, make sure it is free for people. Um, it's, it's gonna be hard to rip that out. Uh, actually, um, you know, in a few months to say, okay, now COBIT is not a concern, but now we're going to change how these things are covered. It's going to be, it's going to be sticky there. So I think it'll really paved the way for telehealth. And, and I think going to an earlier question, health care, digital health innovators should really think hard about that shifting landscape and how their solution can play a part in that.
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Speaker 1: yeah, yeah, absolutely. I mean, it's, it's again, you know, nobody wants, like, it's terrible that this crisis is happening. I mean, it's just absolutely horrible experience and I think it's going to get worse before it gets better. Um, yeah, there's, you know, like most crises there's, there can be silver linings and I think this is one of those silver linings in the situation. And, um, and, and so I just, I think that it's going to be a game changer for us in so many different ways. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So, you know, as, as a digital health innovator, um, what are some, what's on your mind right now? So we talked about, you know, some of the questions of stepping back and kind of trying to figure out what's going to happen six to eight weeks, but, you know, what are some of the questions and challenges that you're facing right now?
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Speaker 2: Yeah, I think the biggest, probably the biggest one is around fundraising. It's on, it's on everyone's mind. Um, you know, what, how is this going to affect, affect being able to raise capital effectively? Um, I think, you know, we're seeing some, some hurdles in that regard, but at the same time, I think, uh, the opportunities are still there. What funds are really concerned about looking for like funds still have the capital, they can still deploy them, um, or deploy, yeah, deploy capital, but you know, what they're super, uh, concerned about or thinking hard about and want really crystal clear answers towards a or four in order to be comfortable around making an investment is, you know, how one, if, if things are bad for you right now, how are you gonna survive this? Uh, and, and how are you going to, you know, how's this going to, what is the world going to look like in three months?
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And how are you gonna start still grow as a company? It's a really hard question to answer if, if you are in a difficult position, um, but it is answerable, right? Um, and then even in, even in our case, it's okay if this is a tailwind for you, how, how are you, how are you going to kind of bring it back to your core? How are you going to, you know, if this is an extension of your core product, how are, how are you gonna, um, make sure that, you know, you aren't just a, you know, a short lived while useful solution for, for a coven. How are you gonna continue growing, um, uh, thereafter? And those are, those are fair questions, right? So, um, I think that's where a lot of the challenges are. Um, right now. Uh, and they're just new questions that we have to address. There's, there's always a million questions you have to address when you're raising money. Um, but this kind of adds a new spin to it.
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Speaker 1: So I was reading an article the other day and, um, it was kind of like what's happening with investors in healthcare and healthcare innovation obviously. Um, and I came across this term that I thought was really interesting. It said that one of the things that investors are looking for is they want to know is your business coven proof? And I mean, I think that there's probably no guarantees, right. Um, by any means. Um, but at the same time I thought, wow. You know, they're, they're kind of given us insights into what they're looking for. And so if I'm creating or helping a client, um, create their, their pitch deck, you know, whatever they were pitching before, that deck needs to be revised.
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Speaker 2: Yeah. Slide. Probably it needs to be addressed.
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Speaker 1: Uh huh. Yeah. And you know, what better way to grab their attention and hold their attention of, you know, being able to present that you've got a coven proof business and here's why. And how, um, what do you think about that?
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Speaker 2: No, I think I just, I think it's spot on. Right? I think it's, uh, I think kind of a, a brief or a more succinct way of, of describing what I was mentioning before of like kind of what, what venture, what funds are looking for really, whether, whether it is a tailwind or a headwind. They want to know that you're coping proof. Yeah.
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Speaker 1: Yup, yup. Exactly. Um, so, so this has been absolutely fantastic. Um, I look to see you on more covers of more business magazine and, and healthcare. Um, media. I mean, I think that you have an incredible story and you know, um, I think, you know, beyond all the business stuff that we've talked about here, um, the real opportunity and I think what's so exciting is that, you know, all of us, I think, um, you know, go into business cause we want to make money, but most of us go into business because we want to change the world. We want to be able to make a difference in some kind of way. And what better opportunity to leave your thumbprint, your fingerprint on the world, um, by being able to say, like, you started with this conversation. I ha we helped in some small way. We made a difference through the Cove ed crisis. That's really exciting.
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Speaker 2: Yeah, absolutely. I think that's, we feel very grateful that, uh, we are in a position to feel like, you know, to not feel helpless, uh, and, and feel like, you know, we just have to kind of sit on our hands and wait for this to flow through. Like, um, I mean I think a lot of people are feeling right now. Like we, we feel very grateful that we were even in a position to be able to deliver something, but that is helpful right now. And I want to kind of give credit to my team. Like it's, we, the team has been putting in a ton of hours working really, really hard, um, to, to make this all a reality. And, uh, and so, you know, this is, that's, that's another thing as, as a message. So just other innovators, right? Uh, the, the, the absolute best thing you can do, uh, if nothing else right now is focus on, on your team and team building. And because the only, the only reason we've been able to weather the storm right now is because we had put in so much time and effort and thoughtfulness, uh, leading up to this point and making sure that we have the right and the best people, uh, working, working together on, on career stuff. And now, you know, it's great to kind of be a fall back on that.
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Speaker 1: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I mean, you know, with so many millions of people out of work right now, um, again, kind of that's, that other contribution is, is, you know, being able to serve the industry in the community, but, you know, being able to pivot and pivot well, um, around this crisis and be able to, you know, no matter how big the team is, to be able to create sustainability, uh, financially, um, for, for the team is incredibly rewarding.
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Speaker 2: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
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Speaker 1: Well, thank you so much for your time today. It's been a great conversation. I've definitely enjoyed it. Before we wrap up, can you just give our listeners a way to be able to get a hold of you? It just in case anybody has questions?
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Speaker 2: Yeah, absolutely. Uh, easiest way is to just go, go online, go on our website, uh, clearstep.health. Um, if you, you know, fill out a form submission there. Uh, and if you reference me, it'll, it'll make its way over over to me and happy to get in touch with, with anyone, uh, who's interested in talking more, or whether you know, your fellow entrepreneur, uh, health system or hospital that's looking for this kind of care routing solution. I'm happy, happy to engage and thank you so much for having me on.
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Thank you. Bye bye.