Product Strategy
Product Management
Product Development

Building military flexibility by caring for special needs families

The Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) requires that military families with special needs can access an expert web of support within 50 miles of their military base. But these families faced the overwhelming task of rebuilding the web with every reassignment. CareStarter improves mobility for the military, and ensures quality care for EFMP families.


Carestarter is a mission-driven company founded by Lamarque Polvado after his own family embarked on a special needs journey. Lamarque saw that by supporting caregivers in finding local resources for holistic support across six critical life dimensions — medical, therapeutic, educational, nutritional, recreational, and family — special needs families could make faster, more confident decisions to secure the best possible quality of life for all family members.

Altus Nova helped us to distill our expertise and focus our engineering efforts to rapidly create a solution that will not only help military families with special needs, but will also bring to life a solution that ALL families with special needs across the United States so desperately need.

Lamarque Polvado, CEO, CareStarter


After years of dedication, CareStarter’s world-changing mission to help caregivers and their patients got a significant boost. The company had painstakingly perfected the art of creating CareMaps — a map that helps family caregivers connect with providers and services that are:

  • Both diagnosis-specific and holistic to serve family needs
  • Taking new patients and covered by their insurance
  • Convenient to the family’s home, work, and even other care resources

Each CareMap required hours of effort to create, partly due to a chicken-and-egg problem. Providers are motivated to participate in CareStarter’s mapping when there are many patients to be gained, and patients are motivated to use CareMaps if there are many providers participating.

But in 2019, the US Department of Defense (DoD) identified CareStarter as the way to improve their Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP), which mandates that military families will not be relocated to bases where qualified special needs providers are not available within a reasonable distance of the base.

DoD struggled to keep up with an ever-changing landscape of providers to support special needs families in relocating. CareStarter was in a unique position to solve this problem through their understanding of the appropriate providers for various diagnoses and ability to create CareMaps that truly support such families.

After a successful pilot program at Travis Air Force Base, DoD asked Carestarter how quickly the program could be automated and scaled. CareStarter knew that if they could scale quickly enough, they’d be able to create a robust national provider directory and benefit a large patient population all at once.

Short on time and in-house resources, CareStarter knew they’d need a well-oiled and experienced team to build the custom software platform they envisioned to serve DoD. They turned to Altus Nova.


CareStarter had utilized experts with an in-depth understanding of a patient’s diagnosis as well as care implications for the whole family in order to map out appropriate support for a family’s physical and mental well being. Unfortunately, the limited number of expert “family champions” available to create personalized CareMaps could not scale to serve tens of thousands of patients.

Using our flexible yet meticulous discovery methodology, Altus Nova did a deep dive with the CareStarter team and Subject Matter Experts to understand:

  • What about the Travis Airforce Base test program worked for CareStarter and the DoD, and what didn’t?
  • What specialized knowledge were family champions using to create CareMaps?
  • What parts of the CareMap creation process could be automated, and what could not?
  • What did military relocation personnel need, and what did special needs families need, from the new solution?

After investigating how CareStarter family champions worked to find the right type of provider, identify those willing and able to take on new patients with a particular diagnosis, and who were accessible to a particular geography, Altus Nova proposed a simple but effective templated approach to serve families at scale.

Next, we helped CareStarter break the roadmap down into smaller, more manageable steps. By focusing on developing and launching core features that generate revenue first, CareStarter could add intelligently prioritized features over time. With this approach, CareStarter could fund development efforts from revenue rather than using investment dollars.

Finally, we investigated how a provider directory across CareStarter’s “care categories” could be populated and self-maintained by providers rather than CareStarter resources, all while maintaining the quality and integrity special needs families would need in order to get value from such a resource.


CareStarter needed to find the right balance between a highly secure solution that could meet DoD’s Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) standards — a significant security framework for any software vendor to comply with — while also moving fast and remaining nimble.

Altus Nova established a strategy to help CareStarter meet its deadlines, augment its software engineering organization, and deliver a robust, scalable product with limited funds. Working hand-in-hand over a 6-month period, the Altus Nova and CareStarter teams built a strong development roadmap.

This gave CareStarter a solid foundation to grow from – one that would enable CareStarter to expand across the DoD, leverage their momentum into the commercial sector, and finally make the CareStarter vision a reality for the entire US population. The solution included:

Efficient CareMaps. Altus Nova was able to distill the “secret” of creating an effective CareMap into a “Diagnosis Template.” Once a diagnosis template is established by CareStarter experts, the software automates finding providers for every treatment category and subcategory. Each diagnosis template can be reused in ANY geography and by EVERY patient and caregiver addressing that diagnosis.

[object Object]

Maximized expertise. Each CareMap offers customized value to individual patients and their families by identifying providers in the patient’s location and relevant to the patient’s age group. CareStarter could rapidly create a library of the most common diagnoses despite limited expert resources, and expand this library over time to cover less common diagnoses.

[object Object]

Dynamic mapping. The Diagnosis Templates concept allows CareStarter to dynamically match providers and family caregivers across six dimensions of care. This game-changing approach transformed what had been a static, manual, SME-constrained process into a real-time resource that could be deployed at scale.

User-centered views. The business rules defined to match providers with a patient based on the CareStarter’s six dimensions of care further enabled CareStarter to offer DoD both EFMP management views and family caregiver views. This allows EFMP decision-makers to make effective relocation decisions for EFMP families while keeping extended care recommendations private and confidential.

[object Object]

Revenue positive. Working to serve military families solved the chicken-and-egg issue between patients and providers, allowing developers to focus on addressing EMFP compliance requirements. Rather than worrying about adoption by special needs families, CareStarter could focus on DoD’s requirements and adoption would take care of itself. Later, the successes with military families could be measured and used to drive adoption with other audiences.

[object Object]
[object Object]

Smart roadmap. Addressing the customer’s pain point would establish a revenue base for CareStarter from which additional product features could be developed to maximize adoption with family caregivers and patients. As such, we could partition off the most security-sensitive portions of the solution to get started on a high quality “Provider Directory” that required development effort, but did not have the same HIPAA or PII sensitivities.


Altus Nova worked with CareStarter to create a more dynamic experience for end users, including an improved ability to track usage of their CareMaps. This capability was critical for the military in demonstrating compliance on behalf of the EFMP Program. CareStarter’s new platform enabled users to:

  • Track when and to whom CareMaps were deployed and whether caregivers viewed them in a defensible audit trail
  • Incentivize caregivers to register in order to save favorite providers, add custom care categories, and to share the CareMap with others involved in the patient’s care
  • Dynamically update CareMaps as new providers become available in the local geography
  • Dynamically update the CareMap with relevant providers as well as care categories as patients grows into new age groups or to meet other changing needs

A calm, clear front end design helps everyone in the process use these enriched, dynamic CareMaps to identify diagnosis-relevant providers across the 6 care categories CareStarter considers essential to building patient and family quality of life.

CareStarter’s mission to help families with special needs finally got the resources needed to leverage my years of software architecture experience to make an impact. When I got there, I found myself stretched too thin, having to play the role not only of Engineering Director, but also of Product Manager, Project Manager, UI/UX Designer and Developer.   The Alus Nova team worked closely with me and my engineering team to help streamline communication with the business, harvest the knowledge from my team and subject matter experts, and synthesize that knowledge into a strategy we could execute. The Altus Nova team also brought strong Product Management, Project Management, Front-End development, and Quality Assurance resources to our team to help us quickly develop an exciting MVP, ensure that all of the designs, decisions and code were thoroughly documented, and seamlessly transition the solution to us.”

Jerome Nolte, Director of Development, CareStarter

Are you ready to make your breakthrough?

Let's find your competitive advantage, today.

Schedule a call:

© 2023, Altus Nova Technologies, All rights reserved.