It’s the “Match.com of nutrition,” according to its founder—and it’s one of the newest arrivals in Boston’s telehealth scene. Nutrimedy, one of 128 startups entering the MassChallenge accelerator this month, has created an app that matches patients with registered dietitians for virtual nutrition counseling. It wants to help people form healthy eating habits and tackle chronic disease.
The inspiration for the company came in 2016. Jonah Cohen, a gastroenterologist at Harvard Medical School, noticed that patients were increasingly asking nutrition-related questions about their health. “I felt like there was a consistent, unmet need,” said Cohen, founder and chief medical officer. “Physicians get minimal, if any, training in nutrition in med school. Because of that, we’re not really positioned as experts to help people on those journeys. Registered dietitians really are.”
Cohen began researching telehealth, and realized the opportunities to leverage telehealth platforms to address nutrition and nutrition related diseases. “When I made that connection in my mind I said ‘I have to go for this. It’s too important not to,’” he said. “There’s so much preventable disease in our country related to poor diet.’”
Less than 2% of Americans eat an ideal diet. 130 million Americans have one or more chronic diseases, many of which are linked to poor nutrition. These chronic diseases cost the U.S. healthcare system billions of dollars each year.
Nutrimedy’s answer to this national issue is a telenutrition platform. The model is simple. Patients search a database of over 500 registered dietitians, called “food coaches,” until they find a match that fits the criteria they specified. Then they meet their food coaches for a video visit and form a healthy eating plan. The plan can be tailored to address a variety of chronic conditions, including diabetes, obesity and celiac disease. The initial visit typically lasts an hour and costs $90 on average. The number and frequency of follow-up visits varies by condition.
Nutrimedy, which currently operates in 32 states, seeks to disrupt the traditional system of face-to-face visits. “There’s no reason you should be waiting in traffic or waiting rooms, when there are 97,000 registered dietitians in the country,” said Edwin Rivera, chief executive officer.
Rivera, a seasoned business executive and past president of JPMorgan Property Exchange, joined the company in February. “I was immediately drawn, from a personal standpoint, to the idea of helping people to a path of better health,” he said. “I’ve had quite a few members of my immediate family, aunts and uncles, who have passed away due to diabetes.”
He also expressed enthusiasm about creating “an ecosystem of social support” to help patients stay on the path to wellness. The app allows patients to message food coaches in between visits, share successes on social media and order groceries via partner Blue Apron.
Nutrimedy has big plans for the future. Currently in its seed round, the company seeks to raise half a million to a million dollars in funding from angel investors. It also draws support from Boston Children’s Hospital, its first investor, and the BCH Innovation & Digital Health accelerator program, which it began in March.
“The most exciting part is that it’s just very real right now,” said Cohen. “We’ve had fantastic investor support and interest. More importantly, people are benefiting from the nutritional counseling on our platform. It’s exciting to see the company really moving forward.”
Nutrimedy plans to launch the mobile version of the app, compatible with Android and iOS devices, later this year. It’s slated to finish MassChallenge in November.
Amy Pollard is a candidate for the MA in Communication and International Relations at Boston University. Her interest in health care began with her first trip to Tanzania, where she volunteered at a medical dispensary in a rural village and saw firsthand how access to health care impacts patients. She’s excited to learn about health care technology in Boston. She’s originally from Seattle and holds a B.A. in English from Saint Martin’s University. When she’s not writing, she’s probably drinking coffee, making tacos or watching Parks and Rec. Follow her @amyannexu.
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