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Ro operates digital health clinics for men's and women's health, along with smoking cessation
Steven Loeb and Bambi Francisco interview Saman Rahmanian, co-founder and Chief Product Officer at Ro, a telehealth startup that operates digital health clinics for men's and women's health, along with smoking cessation. The company has raised $376.1 million, including a $200 million round in July of 2020.
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For these digital health podcasts, our goal is to also understand these three high-level questions: How are we empowering the consumer? Are we creating productivity that also allows us to see overall economic costs go down? How is this advancement changing the role of the doctor?
Highlights from the interview:
- Ro is building a new patient-centric healthcare system. That means that the company is working every day to put its patients back in control of their health via its vertically integrated primary care platform that provides them with a seamless, personalized, end-to-end experience for all of their basic healthcare needs.
- Before Ro, the company started as Roman, with its first product centered around men’s health and, specifically, erectile dysfunction, before expanding to 25 different conditions, including in women's health with Rory.
- Early on, the company had conversations about starting narrowly, even though they had broad ambitions. Starting too broad would have meant not performing narrowly in one area really well, which is why it began with its focus on men's health and ED before expanding.
- Ro uses ED, and other conditions, as a way to get men into a primary care setting that they normally might be reluctant to enter. The company builds an established trust, after which they can taking care of more of their health needs. That is what happens in a traditional doctor-patient relationship, but Ro makes it more convenient and affordable.
- The company has seen more similarities than differences in the way men and women access care on the platform, and has even seen women sign up on the Roman platform. For that reason, Ro has had internal discussions for the last year or two about potentially getting rid of the Roman and Rory branding and putting all care under the Ro umbrella instead. There will likely be a push over the next few months to make that change happen.
- The company launched its smoking cessation product, Zero, because a lot of its patients were smokers, which caused other health problems, including ED. The program has a high success rate, though getting people to pay for treatment to stop doing something they crave is very difficult. That is why Zero, which costs $20 to $60 a month and lasts for 3 months, is often funded by employers and other organizations.
- Ro has built its own technology to run in the background of its platform. That includes its own operations, amd its own infrastructure, to power its provider network. It has built its own EHR system and its own pharmacy-distribution network. By not daisy-chaining different providers and vendors, it has been able to launch a seamless experience with patients but also to innovate on every part of that.
- Ro also recently partnered with the New York State Department of Health for a vaccine drive. There are 2.1 million New Yorkers who are 65 or older and who live with chronic conditions, making it unsafe or too difficult or impossible to travel to get the vaccine. Ro administers vaccinations directly in the home, at no cost to the recipients.
- Ro's partners in the vaccine drive include Bark, General Catalyst and First Mark, while Uber has been sponsoring free rides for healthcare workers. The company has been thinking of expanding the vaccine drive to other states, though that will depend on the vaccine supply that comes from the state and local governments.
- Users on Ro still pay out of pocket, and the company has no plans to accept insurance. Today, people pay for their health indirectly, either through taxes or employers. The result is when they go to doctor’s office or pharmacy, they may be the patient but they're not actually the customer, because the customer is the insurance company. This results in people returning to the same doctor, even when they have a terrible experience because people think they aren't directly paying for it, and there's no incentive to make it better for the patient. Ro believes that cash pay is an important characteristic of a patient-centric healthcare system.
- Rahmanian's vision for the future of health is that the majority of transactions will not happen in the hospital or clinic, but in patient’s homes. During the pandemic we've seen how telehealth and remote patient monitoring has become mainstream. That's the vision and Ro is building every piece of its healthcare system to bring that into reality.
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