Zachariah Reitano’s mission for his company, Ro, is to build a patient-centric health care system. It’s an ambitious mission that seeks to unravel decades of mind-boggling complexity, but Reitano has demonstrated to patients, providers, and investors that he is the right person at the right time to make it happen.
Reitano launched Ro, initially called Roman, in 2017, to focus on men’s health. With a promise to discreetly deliver treatment for men’s health concerns through a virtual platform, he proved that the public was ready for a different approach to health care. Reitano shortened the company name to Ro and began adding verticals. One year after the launch of Ro, Reitano started Zero to support smoking cessation, and the expansion has continued with Rory for women’s health care, Ro Pharmacy, Modern Fertility, Plenity for weight loss, Workpath for in-home health care, and Kit for in-home diagnositics.
“We offer products and services for mental health, weight management, women’s health, men’s health, fertility, skin care, and have a generic cash pay pharmacy with over 1,000 medications for just a few dollars a month,” Reitano says.
The public response shows that patients are eager for an alternative. “Since 2017, Ro has facilitated more than six million digital health care visits in nearly every county in the United States, including 98 percent of primary care deserts,” Reitano says.
Relief in the Desert
For rural residents who must choose between driving for hours to see a doctor or tolerating whatever is afflicting them, having easy access to quality care is as close as their phone. The Ro system works for everyone, as even those in well-served cities find modern health care to be inconvenient and unnecessarily complicated.
“Patients should be in control of their health care,” Reitano says. “Unfortunately, that’s not the case today. It seems every stakeholder in the health care system, except patients—from insurance companies to PBMs (pharmacy benefit managers)—are determining what’s best for patients. But we learned during the pandemic with the rapid adoption of virtual care that patients are no longer going to wait for the current health care system to catch up with their needs. They’re no longer willing to take off work and travel across town for a 13-minute doctor’s appointment that took a month to schedule and costs over $100.
“We’re thrilled to see the rise in a direct-to-patient approach to health care that makes accessing care easier, costs more transparent, and unburdens providers from insurance-related tasks to focus solely on patients’ needs. This model has also become especially important for the millions of patients across the country who may not have existing or adequate health insurance. We owe patients a health care system designed with them at the center, and frankly, it is one that will be expected and the standard in the future.”
COVID-19 wasn’t on any company’s radar, and the chaos it created touched everyone, but Reitano acknowledges that the pandemic was a catalyst for innovation. “The impact on Ro is hard to quantify as we’re still in it,” he says. “But one of the brightest spots of the pandemic has been getting to watch Ro’ers constantly work to leverage the technology we’ve built to help patients through it.”
In March 2020, as infections increased and shutdowns began, Ro was the first company to launch a free nationwide telehealth assessment for COVID-19 triage. “People could come online, enter their symptoms, enter their exposure or travel history, and then if appropriate, they would get connected to a provider to speak to for free,” Reitano says. “Eventually, we partnered with over 70 companies nationally to give their employees or consumers access to this tool, including Uber, who rolled this out to all of their drivers.”
That was just the beginning of Ro’s commitment to helping the public navigate the pandemic. Last December, the company acquired Workpath, and that acquisition put them in a position to deliver vaccines to New Yorkers in need.
“[Workpath] unlocked a new capability for us: the ability to send health care professionals to a patient’s home to deliver care and support more chronic and complex conditions through Ro’s platform.
Workpath’s capability also enabled us to launch our COVID-19 Vaccine Drive, a first-of-its-kind in-home vaccination program facilitated with New York State’s Department of Health. We helped thousands of vulnerable New Yorkers who could not access vaccination sites, including the elderly, disabled, and homebound, by dispatching health care professionals directly to patients’ homes to administer the COVID-19 vaccine.”
Bringing Health Care Home
Reitano knows that Workpath’s in-home care delivery will continue to be valuable post-pandemic.
“Over time, Ro will integrate Workpath with our most recent acquisition, Kit, an at-home diagnostics company,” he says. The integration of Workpath and Kit will facilitate in-home care and diagnostics that might include self-administered test kits or in-home visits by a provider. “Ro can help patients more effectively manage their health, detect health issues earlier, and ultimately improve their health outcomes.”
According to Reitano, Workpath’s nationwide network now reaches 95 percent of the U.S. population, giving them access to providers who can perform services such as blood draws, vaccinations, and other primary care services. “Since its launch, Workpath has powered over 100,000 in-home care appointments for clinical trial operators, Fortune 100 companies, and the nation’s largest diagnostic laboratories.”
The addition of Workpath strengthens a company that was already offering a comprehensive list of services. “What makes Ro unique is that we’re entirely vertically integrated,” Reitano says. “We’re the only health care company in the entire country to seamlessly integrate a nationwide telemedicine practice, a nationwide pharmacy network (we own and operate eight pharmacies distributed throughout the country), our own CLIA-certified and CAP-accredited lab, at-home lab tests, and an in-home care platform that can send a health care provider to the home of 95 percent of the U.S. population. Ro’s infrastructure, which gives us the ability to make high-quality affordable health care available where and when patients need it most, is one of one.”
Investing in Change
After four years, it is clear that Ro is a success, but the earliest investors in the company made the leap based on their faith in Reitano and their disdain for the status quo. In March, the company completed its Series D round of fundraising, which brought the company’s total funding to $876 million.
“We’re lucky to have investors who have supported us pre-launch through Series D,” Reitano says. “The reasons are straightforward: They’ve recognized the incredible value we provide to patients across the country, we’ve grown extremely quickly, and there is no obvious limit to the impact we can have. Our investors are mission-driven, take the longest view in the room, and are in support of challenging the status quo in service of helping patients. We couldn’t ask for more.”
There is no reason to believe Ro’s growth is going to slow down. “When we think about adding new capabilities and services to the Ro platform through acquisition, we think about partnering with incredible teams that can help accelerate our ability to add value to patients’ lives and advance our mission of building a patient-centric health system.”
All Together Now
Ro’s robust multipronged platform may be best exemplified by its COVID-19 Vaccine Drive in New York. Reitano takes pride in how the entire Ro team came together for that effort. “This initiative required every ounce of technology and operations Ro has built over the last three-plus years. It required our synchronous and asynchronous telehealth services, our pharmacy distribution network, our in-home care platform Workpath, and our team of pharmacists, doctors, nurses, engineers, designers, and operators working relentlessly to serve patients.
“We helped more than a thousand elderly, homebound New Yorkers receive the vaccine from the convenience and safety of their homes and also got to learn their stories. We helped a woman who was 107 years old and homebound, and convinced she otherwise wouldn’t have gotten the vaccine. We also helped a 92-year-old grandmother get vaccinated so that after a year, she could finally see her grandkids and attend her granddaughter’s wedding. These powerful moments were only possible because of the platform we built. And we have so much left to build.
“It’s just the beginning.”