Vitable, a new PHC company in Philadelphia, wins accolades from patients

Joseph Kitonga is a 24-year-old from Delaware County who aims to reinvent the way primary care is delivered to hourly workers without health insurance.

Its primary care department, Vitable LLC, has received good reviews from employers and workers in child care, restaurants and home care for its high quality and convenience. The company has already recruited 10,000 people in its current markets of southeastern Pennsylvania and Delaware.

“The best part about it all is that they come to you because when you’re sick you really don’t want to go anywhere,” said Elaine Green, a teacher at Somerset Academy in Philadelphia, whose the school uses the service. .

Kitonga, who emigrated from Kenya to the United States with her family at the age of 13, founded primary care provider Vitable LLC in 2019 while studying computer engineering at Pennsylvania State University and won accolades. technology and millions of investors.

Last year, Vitable went through prestigious Silicon Valley tech start-up accelerator Y Combinator, and Kitonga won a foundation scholarship from billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel. The scholarship includes $ 100,000 over two years for young entrepreneurs who drop out of college or drop out to start a business.

Forbes recently named Kitonga one of its 30 entrepreneurs under 30 to watch in 2022.

Vitable, headquartered in Woodlyn with a second office in Northern Liberties, sells virtual and in-person primary and emergency care services to small employers of hourly workers, for around $ 50 per month per employee. The company has entered a competitive arena, joining tech titans like Amazon.com in an effort to eliminate inefficiencies and inconvenience in basic care.

Despite all the technological accolades, Kitonga’s business is human-focused, inspired by the health issues of employees at Hosana Home Health Care, a Delaware County company his parents founded in 2012.

“In their small business, hourly workers were earning too much to qualify for Medicaid, too little to afford full health insurance, so they were stranded without insurance and overused emergency rooms,” Kitonga said. “Vitable is designed to be their primary care plan that is both affordable and accessible. “

Vitable has been a success at Somerset Academy, a daycare and preschool on West Girard Avenue near Eighth Street.

“You don’t want to go to the doctor’s office. You don’t want to be bothered “when you’re sick, explained Green, a seasoned preschool teacher who worked in Somerset for two years. “That’s what I like. Whenever I have a problem or problem, they’re always quick, always call, and they even check back later. I like it.”

READ MORE: Virtual care has exploded during the pandemic and is expected to play a big role in the future.

On December 17, a nurse practitioner, Vicky Tubens-Lowa, who works about eight hours a week for Vitable, was in Somerset to perform the required annual physical exams for Green and other staff. Somerset employs 22.

“We absolutely love Vitable,” said Tiffany Chavous, director of Somerset, recalling how Vitable came to her home to check for her strep throat. Chavous also received his physique from Tubens-Lowa on the 17th.

Vitable’s approach attracted a $ 1.6 million investment led by SoftBank’s Opportunity fund earlier this year, and Vitable announced in October that it had received $ 7.2 million in venture capital to expand. . The next market will be Baltimore in February, Kitonga said.

Philadelphia’s first-round capital contributed more than 80% of the latest investment in Vitable, which employs 22 people and uses around 50 nurse practitioners such as Tubens-Lowa as independent contractors to provide much of the care. Vitable has not disclosed its annual sales or profitability.

First Round partner Josh Kopelman, who chairs The Inquirer’s board of directors, said it’s important for a start-up founder to have a thorough understanding of the problem the company is trying to solve, which in Vitable’s case serves low hourly wage workers who often have limited access to affordable health care.

“Joseph connects to this on so many levels,” Kopelman said. “It’s not someone who won a business plan competition with a random idea. He is someone who is deeply connected with the problem.

But Vitable isn’t the only company tackling primary care. There has been a surge of investment over the past 10 years in primary care and telehealth by start-ups and giants such as CVS Health Corp. The Plymouth Meeting Accolade, which began helping employees at large companies navigate between healthcare providers, this year paid $ 380 million to PlushCare Inc., an online primary care provider.

“In primary care, what is happening today is that all the big tech companies like Amazon and many of the early digital start-ups are going into primary care because it is relatively safe to assess the risk and manage the population, ”said Paddy Padmanabhan. , CEO of Damo Consulting, near Chicago, specializing in digital healthcare. He said primary care can be very cost effective under these new models, depending on the health of the population covered.

READ MORE: Virtual care is here to stay, but it’s unclear how insurance will pay for it.

Padmanabhan noted that Vitable’s approach to primary care – among small employers – is at odds with the market compared to Amazon Care, which is trying to recruit large employers for its hybrid of virtual and in-person primary care. . In-person tours are only available in certain markets.

Kitonga and Kopelman said most primary care start-ups are designed to facilitate employees of large companies – people who already have good access to health services.

“This is obviously the most profitable segment of the market, but they have left the long tail of the market, small businesses, hourly workers completely underserved,” Kitonga said in general of the industry. “For me, that’s where the interest lay, where I wanted to build this service for my parents and their employees. I think this is where the problem is not yet resolved.

The backbone of Vitable is a software system designed by Kitonga and its employees that allows the company to control the “end-to-end experience”, including the application for members, electronic medical record of visits and the dashboard for employers, said Kitonga, who left Penn State in January 2020 and turned down a job offer as a software engineer at Microsoft Corp. to focus on Vitable.

Consumers can reach Vitable by phone, email or through a smartphone app. After this initial contact, Vitable’s algorithms direct the patient to “the most appropriate setting of care, whether it’s a quick virtual visit or a home visit.” All of this allows us to have same day tours available to members, ”Kitonga said. The service is not available to people 65 and older due to Medicare rules, Vitable said.

Nurse practitioners such as Tubens-Lowa, who also works in an emergency care center, notify Vitable of their availability in blocks of two weeks. “It gives you a lot of flexibility. I can give them as much or as little time as I have available, ”she said.

Olive Baimba, president of Elite Care & Staffing LLC, in Upper Darby, was delighted to learn of Vitable’s existence in September 2020. Her home helpers were facing delays of several months – due to the devastation caused by COVID-19 in health care – getting the annual medical exams required to work as a caregiver.

Elite’s HR manager heard about Vitable when a company nurse practitioner came to their office building to give medicals at another home care company based there. Elite quickly signed up for the service and now has a three-year contract covering 150 full-time employees, Baimba said. Elite employs over 300 people in total.

“When we signed up it blew me away. It was incredible, their quality of service, ”said Baimba.

Some employers see Vitable as an added benefit that can help retain and attract workers in times of widespread labor shortages.

That’s why Jon Myerow, founder and partner of Tria, which owns three restaurants in Center City, purchases the service for its 65 employees. Tria also offers traditional health insurance, gradually paying a higher percentage of the premium as employee tenure increases, he said.

“Vitable is good for people with and without health insurance,” Myerow said. “They offer health care with no deductibles, and it’s incredibly convenient because they have nurse practitioners who come to employees’ homes or work or do telehealth. I have seen people use it who have Cadillac plans just because of its convenience.

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