Ro, Ribbon Health team up to bridge the gap between telehealth and in-person care

Two startups—Ro and Ribbon Health—have teamed up to help telehealth patients more easily connect with brick-and-mortar primary and specialty care doctors.

Telehealth company Ro is partnering with Ribbon Health to enable telehealth patients to have a more convenient way to access in-person care by leveraging Ribbon's nationwide directory of healthcare providers.

Ribbon Health is a data platform that helps healthcare groups provide accurate provider directories, referral management and care navigation. 

The partnership will enable Ro's patients to find reliable information on providers, including contact information, location, services offered, accepted insurance and quality indicators.

By integrating Ribbon Health's platform with Ro, it will help improve the continuity of care between telehealth and in-person care, the companies said.

Telehealth companies are having a big moment as the COVID-19 pandemic drove patients to seek virtual care to avoid stepping foot in a doctor's office. 

Telemedicine is going to become the default for patients, Zachariah Reitano, co-founder and CEO of Ro, told Fierce Healthcare in an exclusive interview about the partnership. 

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"The telehealth industry has pulled forward three to five years minimum during this time," he said. "Telemedicine used to provide a more convenient and more affordable option. Now patients see it as more convenient, more affordable and also safer. That creates a habit where people first look to see if telemedicine can solve their problem."

Ro operates three online health clinics—Roman for men, Rory for women and Zero for addiction treatment—and the company has seen tremendous growth across all its services during the health crisis, Reitano said.

Ro has completed more than 4 million telehealth visits since it launched in 2017.

The company also has a network of pharmacies for prescription and home delivery. During the pandemic, the company expedited the launch of Ro Pharmacy, an online mail-order pharmacy that offers 500 of the most common medications for $5 per month.

Ro's Roman platform (Ro)

While the telehealth boom has been beneficial to companies like Ro, there are times when patients need to see a physician face-to-face, Reitano said, and there are gaps that exist between virtual care and in-person healthcare appointments.

"Telehealth here is to stay. But healthcare doesn't end with any one particular visit. We need to have telehealth and brick and mortar healthcare co-exist and flow together," Nate Maslak, co-founder and CEO of Ribbon Health, told Fierce Healthcare.

As a telehealth patient, Maslak said he has struggled to bridge that gap. Once the telehealth visit was over, he was left to his own devices to figure out next steps, he said.

The pandemic has sparked widespread disruptions in the healthcare system, creating new anxieties and confusion for patients about when, where and how to seek care, he said.

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The partnership is designed to help guide patients to appropriate in-person care when they need it and connect the telehealth and in-person patient experiences, Maslak said.

"We view telemedicine as a complement to in-person care. It's not meant to replace your primary care doctor," Reitano said. "With the integration that we have built with Ribbon Health, if a patient contacts Ro and the doctor feels the patient would be better served by seeing a physician in person or needs to see a specialist, then the provider can pull up a list of the top five endocrinologists in the patient's area, filtered by specialty, geography and quality rating. And it can even be filtered down by the ones that are open and that accept that patient's insurance."

Ro can help patients share their health information with providers outside of Ro’s platform and automatically flags potential risk factors, such as medication contraindications, which can also be shared with in-person providers.

Reitano said Ro was interested in working with Ribbon Health because the company provides a nationwide directory of providers. 

"We’re a platform in all 50 states. There is a Ro patient in almost every county in the entire country. We wanted a partner that has a provider base where it doesn’t matter what geography the patient is in, we can guide them to a specialist," Reitano said.

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Moving forward, patients will seek a combination of telehealth and in-person care to meet their needs, and this will likely increase throughout 2020 as many patients delayed medical care because of COVID-19, Reitano said.

Nearly half of Americans have skipped or delayed needed medical care because of COVID-19, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation; yet, as stay-at-home restrictions ease, most expect to get the delayed care in the next three months.

"In the next six months, I think you’ll see a massive increase in telemedicine now that patients have been exposed to it," Reitano said.

Healthcare is currently fragmented, but Ro's CEO would like to see the industry evolve to the point that booking a doctor's appointment is as transparent and convenient as booking a flight.

"We're far away from that, but this partnership gets us as close as possible to guiding the patient from that remote telehealth experience to that continuous in-person experience," he said.