The inspiration for both the business model and the name of Blake Wehman’s new health care startup stem from his journey to achieve and maintain remission of his diagnosis of early-adult onset of undifferentiated inflammatory arthritis.
It began in early 2011, when the then-20-year-old JMU intramural athlete went to the doctor believing he had tennis elbow and was told to see a rheumatologist.
After being diagnosed two years later and achieving remission in 2014, he found himself facing a new challenging life chapter: staying in remission. He would move three times in the coming years and had to seek out a new rheumatologist to help manage his condition each time.
“That process is cumbersome. You have to go through the whole rigmarole of meeting a new doc, building that trust, your medical history,” said Wehman. “They have to get product authorization for the drugs, it’s this whole process. So, as a result, I knew not only is seeking remission a battle, but once you’re in remission staying in maintenance is inconvenient.”
Now 32, Wehman has turned those experiences into a business.
In June, he launched Remission Medical, a Richmond-based company which fashions itself a digital rheumatology clinic for people with rheumatic conditions such as arthritis, Crohn’s Disease and gout.
The company has seven people on its staff, five of them doctors. Wehman said it has seen more than 30 patients as of early August.
“Because of our virtual care network, we’re able to treat patients essentially as we would in a brick-and-mortar setting just through video conferencing. The labs, the imaging, we can order those. We can order the drugs and you can pick them up from your pharmacy. But we’re just going to give you that speed and convenience,” he said.
Wehman said there’s a national shortage of rheumatologists, which has created challenges for people seeking diagnosis, and to the best of his knowledge there are little in the way of telehealth players in rheumatology specifically.
The company’s virtual model allows it call on doctors who can be physically based anywhere in the country but licensed in multiple states.
“There is a level of dormant capacity but because of telehealth not being in this space no one is leveraging that. I have a doctor that has two days every single week he gives us. I have another doctor who gives us five days a week. I have another doc who gives us Friday afternoons,” he said. “All those docs have jobs as well. We’re able to leverage their excess capacity to improve access to care and we do that by up-licensing them in states they don’t live in.”
Wehman said most the company’s clinicians have equity stakes in the new company and get paid through a revenue-split agreement, though a few are paid by the hour.
Looking ahead, Wehman, who was formerly COO at the local health care tech company that is now known as Workpath, said Remission has nationwide expansion plans. It currently can accept major insurance carriers and can treat patients in Virginia, Ohio, Alabama, Florida and North Carolina. The Midwest and West are next on its list.
“We’re trying to rapidly expand into some more rural states as well,” Wehman said. “There’s a tranche of states out there that have horrible rheumatology shortages.”