April 13, 2020
Pittsburgh, PA

Pittsburgh-based telemedicine company ramps up offerings

A Pittsburgh-based telemedicine provider had, before the novel coronavirus emerged, carved out a niche helping people with chronic diseases and others manage their health care via smartphone and health coaching. But COVID-19 has made its mission more important than ever.

Wellbridge Health was founded by Daniel Rosen, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, who envisioned a smartphone-enabled system that would cut down on avoidable ER visits and hospitalizations. More than four years later, Wellbridge has caught on among people with chronic diseases, people who are aging in place and also people who have intellectual or development disabilities. They have completed more than 30,000 video "chats" as well as providing remote health care monitoring every day.

The goal is to have brief, frequent interaction — through a self-reported smartphone app as well as the video chats — to head off problems before they occur. This is important all the time but it's even more so now, given the fact that the virus has for the time being upended health care.

"This idea of having brief, frequent interaction and followup care is the way we complement what hospitals and doctors do," said Wellbridge COO Pam Greenhouse.

The company has over the past month ramped up its efforts to help its members — who are generally enrolled through insurers, managed care plans, accountable care organizations, employers, health systems or hospitals — and added COVID-19-specific material to its app and health coaching. Since most of the people it already monitors are at increased risk for serious complications due to the virus, it's important that Wellbridge monitors them specifically for symptoms and checks in with them regularly.

"With people with chronic diseases, we know they are more likely to contract COVID and more likely to have the more serious complications," said Greenhouse.

They're also working with the companies, insurers, hospitals and health systems to show how the Wellbridge system can not only improve well-being and reduce costs during normal times but also now as the novel coronavirus is the number-one public health threat. It's also working with people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and are recovering at home.

"We really work with all of our patients to make sure that this is a positive and effective experience for them," Greenhouse said. "We hear from our patients every day that this changed their lives, they don't know what they would have done had they not connected with us."

As for the company itself, Wellbridge's 12 employees are working from home beyond the health coaches that have always worked remotely. Greenhouse said the main focus has been on serving its existing client base as well as reaching out to more health plans, hospitals and health systems to provide them with what Wellbridge's platform can do.

"This is not the way that anybody would want to see telehealth come to the forefront, but it has served to open the door so that more hospitals, more insurers and managed care organizations have seen the benefits of what telehealth can do for their members in terms of decreasing avoidable ER visits and hospitalizations while improving self management and the quality of life of their members," Greenhouse said.