Meet WellStart Health, the startup that wants to reverse chronic disease

February 22, 2018


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For all the medical breakthroughs the world has seen over the last century, millions of people fall victim to illnesses that can be both prevented and — in some cases — cured.

In the United States, chronic diseases are responsible for seven of every 10 deaths. Afflictions like diabetes, obesity or heart disease — along with other chronic illnesses — account for 75 percent of the nation’s yearly health spending, costing employers millions each year in lost productivity.

Founded in 2015, WellStart Health hopes to change all that. The healthtech company has created a clinician-led program to help users reduce the risk of chronic disease from a digital platform that helps users feel happier and healthier.

“WellStart Health is a physician-led digital therapeutics platform for chronic disease prevention and reversal,” said Olivia Kelly, founder and CEO of the LA-based startup. “We help people reverse or significantly arrest their lifestyle-related chronic illnesses by addressing the root causes. We do it through our tech platform, but it's physician-led and dietician and health coach supported.”

We help people reverse or significantly arrest their lifestyle-related chronic illnesses by addressing the root causes."

Initially conceived when Kelly was pursuing her master’s degree in public health at UCLA, WellStart Health’s platform was designed to be used by both individual users or enterprises, with businesses paying per positive outcome.

“Many employees in the workforce receive some kind of support from their employer in the form of a nurse line or medication reminders,” Kelly said. “Employers are interested in our platform because they don't get ROI from general wellness programs, and disease management costs them a lot of money. We operate on a biometrics-backed, pay-per-outcome model.”

As a part of the intensive 12-week program — managed through WellStart’s tech platform — users meet with physicians, dietitians and health coaches to develop a personalized program. Ongoing group discussions, regular communication with health coaches and daily content help keep users engaged and provide additional insight into the professionals’ methods. Users who complete the program have seen reduced blood pressure, normalized cholesterol levels and weight loss, all major factors in chronic disease prevention.

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“Initially, we envisioned a brick-and-mortar preventative health clinic, but realized pretty quickly that was a total non-starter, which is how we came to the digital platform model,” Kelly said. “All users get virtual visits with a physician and dietician after getting initial blood-work done, and they receive daily text messages from a health coach via SMS initiated by our platform. We help people increase their physical activity, and there's a whole social support aspect, in addition to discussion and group visits, it's helping people shore up their social support infrastructure at home.”

Founded in 2015, the company took part in Startup Next Los Angeles in the spring of 2016 and raised a $300,000 seed round at the end of August 2017. The company is also in the final stages of a 200-person study in conjunction with Louisiana State University, which Kelly admitted is something that she and her co-founder, Bojana Jankovic Weatherly, MD, MSc, are both excited about.

“We feel that we need to continue to prove out the model,” she said. “We feel it’s the rocket fuel to get the business development side ramped up further.”

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