Many of us would feel better if we ate better. But for patients with chronic diseases, the problem is more pressing: Modifying their diet is often key to managing their condition.
According to the CDC, six in ten adults in the US have a chronic illness such as diabetes or heart disease. Millions of them could benefit from professional nutritional counseling, but don’t always have the time or resources to seek care.
Enter To feedan American startup that connects users with a registered dietitian (RD) via telehealth and helps them get their consultations covered by health insurance.
Telehealth is part of the call, both for patients and nutritionists, but the RD qualification is also an important point.
“All registered dietitians are nutritionists – but not all nutritionists are registered dietitians,” the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics warns. Unless you seek out an RD or RDN (registered dietitian, nutritionist), you can’t be sure your nutritionist is qualified enough for the job — and your insurance won’t cover it.
Insurance coverage is a big part of Nourish’s added value. The startup’s CEO, Aidan Dewar, told TechCrunch that “94% of our patients are fully insured and pay nothing out of pocket. Most of the rest only have a small co-payment.”
That’s because medical nutrition therapy has been within the scope of Medicare under certain criteria since 2002, a move that led major private insurers to follow suit.
On paper, qualified patients who know about this could be reimbursed after seeing an outpatient RD, both online and offline. But as often with healthcare in the US, the process is cumbersome for practitioners, and many end up not accepting insurance.
Nourish’s RDs, on the other hand, are employed by the company, which, in return for compensation, secured 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. The startup, which launched in November 2021, is on track, but is already reporting “millions of revenue” from “thousands of patients visiting dietitians every month.” And by the end of the year, it plans to employ 200 RDs and expand the non-RD team from 18 to about 30.
Nourish’s growth plans will be funded by a recent $8 million seed round that brought total funding to $9.3 million. Led by Thrive Capital, it had participation from Susa Ventures, Operator Partners, Box Group and Y Combinator, whose accelerator the startup graduated in 2021.
Dewar also highlighted that several of Nourish’s angel investors have built exciting healthcare companies, such as Alto Pharmacy (Jamie Karraker), Headway (Andrew Adams), Rightway Healthcare (Jordan Feldman), and Spring Health (April Koh).
“Food has been largely excluded from healthcare, despite its importance and connection to people’s health. We are thrilled that Nourish is changing that by bringing consumers, registered dietitians and insurance companies together to build a more affordable and complete nutrition program,” said Kareem Zaki, general partner of Thrive Capital.
Expand nutritional therapy
Nourish has big goals: by helping people eat well, the startup hopes to contribute to solving the American healthcare crisis. “More than half of Americans have a chronic condition related to what they eat, which has contributed to rising health care costs and falling quality-adjusted life expectancy,” the founders said.
Dewar and Nourish COO Sam Perkins are childhood friends and came upon Nourish’s mission after struggling with chronic conditions themselves (migraine and irritable bowel syndrome, respectively). After experiencing the positive impact of nutritional care, they co-founded their startup with CTO Stephanie Liu, who had become close friends with Perkins at Princeton.
The founders knew firsthand that working with a dietitian was a lengthy process, but this view is also reinforced by the startup’s chief clinical officer, Adrien Paczosa. “We’re focusing on a long-term, sustainable approach — truly a lifestyle change,” she said. “We will never put you on a fad diet that is impossible to sustain, tell you to eat only salad for every meal, make you track everything you eat, or give you a generic, one-size-fits-all meal plan .”
Because of this approach, the startup doesn’t see itself as a direct competitor to weight loss apps. However, it plans to use its launch round to launch its own app by the end of the quarter, but with different goals in mind.
“The mobile app will enhance the core experience of seeing your dietician, with features such as high-quality nutrition content and resources, clinical outcome tracking, and features that help you get the food, such as integrated grocery delivery (so your RD can bring you food can prescribe in the same way a doctor can prescribe medicine),’ Nourish explained.
The aim of the app is to ensure that patients achieve the desired results. Indeed, Nourish has two priorities in 2023: growth and results. This roadmap has to do with how Dewar and his team define success. “Are [both] about how many people we help and how much we help them.”
There is still plenty of room for Nourish to grow on both fronts: the vast majority of patients with a chronic disease who could benefit from seeing an RD do not currently do so, and even if they do, they continue to good food a struggle. Will an app make their journey easier? Time will tell.