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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.

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