Most of us feel better when we eat better. But for patients with chronic diseases, the issue is more serious: adjusting their diet is often the key to controlling their condition.
According to the CDC, six out of 10 adults in the US have a chronic disease such as diabetes or heart disease. Millions of these could benefit from professional nutrition guidance, but don’t always have the time or means to seek care.
Enter Nourish, a US startup that connects users with a registered dietitian (RD) via telehealth and helps them get their consultation covered by health insurance.
Telehealth is part of the appeal, both for patients and nutritionists, but RD competency is also an important point.
“All registered dietitians are nutritionists – but not all nutritionists are registered dietitians,” warns the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Unless you’re looking for an RD or RDN (registered dietitian nutritionist), you won’t be sure if your dietitian is qualified for the job—and your insurance won’t cover it.
Insurance coverage is a big part of Noorish’s value addition. “94% of our patients are fully insured and pay nothing out of pocket,” the startup’s CEO Aidan Dewar told TechCrunch. Most residuals only have a small co-pay.
Because since 2002, medical nutrition therapy has fallen under certain criteria under Medicare, a move that has prompted major private insurers to follow suit.
On paper, eligible patients who know this will be reimbursed for outpatient (RD) treatment online or after it’s gone. But when it comes to health care in the US, the process is difficult for professionals, and many do not accept insurance.
In contrast, Nourish’s RDs are employed by the company and paid care to close partnerships with Medicare and major US healthcare companies Aetna, BCBS, Cigna, Humana and United Healthcare.
Nourish currently employs 50 RDs, but has a waiting list of more than 400 RDs interested in joining the team, Dewar said. In the year Launching in November 2021, the startup is downsizing itself but reports “millions in revenue” from “thousands of patients seeing nutritionists every month.” And he plans to hire 200 RDs by the end of the year and grow the non-RD team from 18 to around 30.
Nourish’s growth plans are funded by a recent $8 million seed round, bringing its total funding to $9.3 million. Led by Thrive Capital, with participation from Sousa Ventures, Operator Partners, Box Group, and Y Combinator, the startup is slated to graduate in 2021.
Dewar also highlighted that several of Nourish’s angel investors have built exciting healthcare companies such as Alto Pharma (Jamie Carraker), Headway (Andrew Adams), Ryway Healthcare (Jordan Feldman) and SpringHealth (April Koh).
Despite its importance and relevance to human health, nutrition has largely been excluded from the health care system. We love that Nourish is changing that by bringing together consumers, registered dietitians and insurance companies to build a complete and comprehensive nutrition program at an affordable price.
Expanding nutritional therapy
Nourish has big goals: By helping people eat well, the startup hopes to contribute to solving America’s health care crisis. “More than half of Americans have a chronic disease related to what they eat, which has contributed to increased health care costs and reduced quality-adjusted life expectancy,” the founders said.
Dewar and Nourish COO Sam Perkins are childhood friends and landed on Nourish’s mission after battling serious illnesses themselves (migraines and irritable bowel syndrome, respectively). After experiencing the positive impact of nutrition care, they co-founded a startup with CTO Stephanie Liu, who had been close friends with Perkins at Princeton.
The founders knew firsthand that working with a nutritionist was a long-term process, but this vision was reinforced by the startup’s chief clinical officer, Adrien Paczosa. “We focus on a long-term, sustainable approach — truly a lifestyle change,” she said. “We never put you on a fad diet, tell you to eat only salad for every meal, make you watch everything you eat, or give you some generic, one-size-fits-all meal plan.”
Because of this approach, the startup doesn’t see itself as directly competing with weight loss apps. However, it plans to use the seed round to launch its own app by the end of the quarter, but with different goals in mind.
The mobile app adds to the core experience of seeing your dietitian, including high-quality nutrition content and resources, clinical outcome tracking, and features to help you find meals like integrated grocery delivery (so your RD can prescribe food the same way an MD can prescribe medication),” says Nourish. He explained.
The goal of the app is to ensure that patients are achieving the desired results. Indeed, Nourish has two priorities in 2023: growth and results. This roadmap relates to how Dewar and his team define success. “it is [both] How many people we help and how much we help them.
There’s plenty of room for nutrition to grow on both fronts: most chronically ill patients can’t benefit from seeing RD, and even when they do, eating well is a struggle. Can an app help make their journey easier? Only time will tell.