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Why One Medical Group Acquired Nutrition App Rise

One Medical wants to do more to help its obese and chronically ill patients.

[Photo: courtesy of One Medical]

Primary care group One Medical has acquired a nutrition-coaching app called Rise, in a surprising but not entirely unprecedented move.

One Medical is a primary care provider with dozens of offices across the United States. The company was founded by Tom Lee, a physician who saw ample opportunities to improve the experience of primary care. One Medical offers same-day appointments, online scheduling, and 24/7 access to medical support by phone.

But as a longtime member, I've noticed a few gaps in the service: Telemedicine (it did offer at one point virtual consultations through Google Helpouts, but dropped that), mental health, and nutrition. The company does have a nutritionist on-site at a few of its locations, but it's not yet widespread.

Today's acquisition of Rise offers an opportunity to fill at least one of these gaps. It might also serve One Medical as it bolsters its own mobile health offerings, which could save its members' unnecessary trips to the doctor's office. For these reasons, the buy-up does make a lot of sense. But it's not very often that you see doctor-led medical practices acquiring trendy mobile health startups. One Medical paid $20 million to buy Rise, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Some might argue that One Medical isn't a traditional doctor's office. After all, it does have a functioning mobile app for appointment-scheduling and billing, and it raised its funds from traditional Silicon Valley venture capitalists including Google Ventures. But at its core, it's a primary care service provider: The company makes its money by charging members an annual subscription of $99 to $199.

So how will Rise help One Medical bolster its patient experience?

As Rise CEO Suneel Gupta explained via phone, both companies are grappling with how to help large patient populations that are struggling with diabetes, hypertension, and other chronic diseases. About a third of Americans are overweight or obese, according to the CDC. And these patients are responsible for the majority of the cost in the U.S. health system.

"There's a whole universe of people out there who could use the help of a private coach," said Gupta. "We'll work with One Medical to target those groups."

Most primary care providers haven't quite figured out how to manage an at-risk population. For One Medical, the acquisition offers an opportunity to provide continuous services to its members, rather than waiting for them to schedule an appointment. The company might be taking a page from Kaiser, an integrated payer and provider that has made some major strides with its mobile and care coordination offerings to manage its sickest patients. Moreover, Silicon Valley companies like Vida Health and Omada Health have recently started working with health systems to offer virtual health coaching services to their patients.

Rise's service is available to patients for between $40 and $50 per month. It recently introduced a new program called Maintenance, which is essentially a simpler version of the app for just $9.

It's not clear whether One Medical will subsidize the cost of the app, or work with insurers to push for them to reimburse some of the cost. Gupta says many of the logistical details have not yet been worked out.

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