The impact of type 2 diabetes on our health and wellness—not to mention healthcare costs—is well-documented. About 1.4 million new diagnoses are handed out each year, and more than 29 million people in the US are living with diabetes. What makes this chronic illness particularly troubling is that its largely preventable, and in some cases, reversible.
However the lifestyle choices that positively impact diabetes can be difficult once outside the doors of a clinician’s office. How do you close the gap? How do you help people make the right choices to impact their treatment adherence and management?
Enter Virta Health, the first clinically proven treatment to safely and sustainably reverse type 2 diabetes without medications or surgery. Its founder and CEO Sami Inkinen started his career as a radiochemist and holds both a Master of Science in engineering physics and Master of Business Administration. His entrepreneurial activity is driven by data-informed technology, an approach he decide to apply to the health care challenge of type 2 diabetes. Inkinen spoke at this year’s Health 2.0 conference where we had a chance to dive into what sets Virta apart from the competition for consumers.
How would you describe the ideal Virta brand experience for a consumer?
In one word: assurance.
Patients are told that type 2 diabetes is chronic and progressive, and that they should just exercise more and eat less. These same patients see their physician every three to six months and in between visits are expected to practice “self-management” of their condition. With nearly 120 million people in the US having type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes, this clearly isn’t working. Patients deserve better.
We want patients to know we are there for them whenever and wherever they need us. So we give them near-real-time access to a provider and health coach on a 24/7 basis. Our clinical team provides personalized treatment and guidance on nutrition, medications and more. Our patients proactively hear from their clinical team based on their reported symptoms and biomarkers.
It’s a new model, and we call it continuous remote care. Patients love it because we’re helping them return to the life they had before diabetes. In our peer-reviewed outcomes we’re seeing 60% reversal rates for type 2 diabetes after one year with 94% of insulin users eliminating or reducing usage.
How are you offering a better way to manage diabetes than other connected tech solutions or digital wellness programs on the market?
Our difference starts with our approach. The goal of the Virta Treatment isn’t better management, it’s type 2 diabetes reversal. This means achieving blood sugar levels below the diagnostic threshold for diabetes while removing all diabetes-specific medications.
We realized early on that if we wanted to reverse disease, we’d need to give people always-on access to a clinical team. The 15-minute doctor visits every few months don’t help when patients make decisions about their health on a scale of minutes. This is why continuous remote care is so critical to what we do.
Yet, even with a new care model, you need the right intervention and protocols to reverse disease. We practice carbohydrate restriction, which addresses the root cause of diabetes to restore metabolic health. Then, with continuous remote care we can individualize treatment for each person, make sure we deliver safe and sustainable results, and eventually scale to millions of people.
The easiest way to see how we’re different is in our results, and not just the 60% diabetes reversal rates or medication reductions. We see improvement in cardiovascular disease risk factors, inflammation and obesity, too. We’re also saving payers money—an estimated $9,600 over two years for people living with type 2 diabetes.
Virta uses ketogenic nutrition in its approach, which has led to some confusion. Why does it seem to be good for people living with type 2 diabetes?
To reverse type 2 diabetes, you have to get at the root cause, which is insulin resistance. Using carbohydrate restriction as a therapeutic tool allows us to do that. This approach to treating diabetes is not new, and we are fortunate to have the leading scientists in the field as part of our founding team. Everything we do is science- and evidence-based.
As to the confusion, people try to find the “best” nutritional approach and apply it universally to everyone. This is misguided. Even among our patients, there is wild variation in life circumstances, food access, food preferences, medications, genetic predispositions and numerous other health conditions.
We know carbohydrate restriction can have profound positive impact on metabolic health, but, if you don’t appreciate the nuances among different people, you won’t be successful. This is why we’ve built individualization into our protocols from day one.
The Virta brand seems to be more patient/consumer-oriented than others that target employers or HCPs. Who do you consider to be your primary audience?
You’re right, we focus on the patient. There is simply no other way to operate when our goal is to provide transformational health outcomes. Our clinical team works closely with each patient, and our overall success is contingent on that connection.
With that said, we make the value clear for our employer and insurance carrier customers, too—we go at-risk for our fees, and if we don’t deliver health outcomes, then our customers don’t pay. We’ve estimated $9,600 in savings for the Virta Treatment over the first 24 months, and the ROI happens fast. So in addition to seeing patients transform their health, there is a substantial economic win for payers, too.
For HCPs, it’s been exciting to see so many respond positively to what we do. Truthfully, we were unsure when we started several years ago what the reaction would be. But what we hear from HCPs is that we are helping them strengthen the bond with their patients because we take on metabolic care and provide a real, long-lasting solution that simply wasn’t available before.
Where do you see Virta in the future? Will you move deeper into diabetes or develop solutions for other chronic conditions?
From the beginning, Virta’s mission has been to reverse type 2 diabetes in 100 million people by 2025.
This goal isn’t achievable if we lose focus. With that said, our model of continuous remote care combined with our nutrition and behavioral protocols are making a real impact on other chronic metabolic diseases, too. We have peer-reviewed results that show improvement in 22 of 26 risk factors of cardiovascular disease, including blood pressure, while removing anti-hypertensive medications. We’ve seen substantial improvement in inflammation as well as obesity at 1 year, and soon we’ll be releasing some incredibly encouraging outcomes for liver disorders such as NAFLD and NASH.
So we remain committed to our long-term mission, but see a future where our model can address the nearly $1 trillion economic burden in the US that is created by chronic diseases.
Nicole Diamant is head of communications for InterbrandHealth.