Digital Health with Sami Inkinen, Founder & CEO of Virta Health

In this episode of Creating a New Healthcare, Dr. Zeev Neuwirth interviews Sami Inkinen, founder & CEO of Virta Health.  Sami’s story is remarkable, and remarkably disruptive to healthcare. There are actually 3 stories rolled up into this podcast: (1) the story of Sami Inkinen, (2) the story of the ketogenic nutritional approach (low carb/high fat diet), and (3) most importantly, from our perspective, the story of how disrupt-able healthcare delivery is when you combine cutting edge medical science with leading digital technology. Sami, an immigrant from Finland with a physics background and an MBA from Stanford, co-founded, took public, and then sold Trulia, an online real estate marketplace, for $3.4 Billion. He did this before he was 40 years old. Then he discovered that despite being a world-class athlete (literally—he won a world triathlon championship in his age group), he had pre-diabetes.  After researching on his own, Sami connected with two highly published, world-class nutritional scientists who had been studying the ketogenic nutirtional approach for decades.  One being Steve Phinney, a Stanford-trained physician with a PhD in nutrition from MIT; and the other being Jeff Volek PhD, one of the most highly published researchers in the ketogenic genre, with over 300 peer-reviewed publications.  The three decided to merge cutting-edge medical science with Sami’s software and technology background.  And, Virta Health was born—an online specialty medical clinic that reverses type 2 diabetes, without medication or surgery.  Their goal – that is, Virta’s corporate mission- is to reverse diabetes in over 100 million people by 2025!  There are many remarkable aspects to this story, but just keep in mind that Sami is a guy who had no medical/clinical background, and within a couple of years has a company that is licensed to provide specialty medical care in all 50 states within the U.S.  It is our belief that this is not an aberration; but rather an emerging trend that will continue to accelerate as more entrants from the digital technology world make their way into healthcare delivery, and begin to collaborate closely with evidence-based authorities in clinical medicine.  [For further evidence of this, you can view podcast episode #16 with Aaron Martin at Providence Health St Joseph; or podcast episode #12 with Sean Duffy at Omada Health; or podcast episode #11 with Eyal Gura at ZebraMed; or podcast episode #6 with Joanna Strober at Kurbo – as other brilliant examples of this trail blazing trend.]  Getting back to Sami & Virta Health, the immediate and understandable response to hearing about this might be skepticism.  How can you meaningfully connect with patients and treat them effectively via an online service?  In this interview Sami shares some early results and outcomes that might surprise you.  Virta Health has a Net Promoter Score (broadly used measure of customer satisfaction & loyalty) of 70—on par with Apple, The university-based research studies Virta has conducted to date are showing type 2 diabetes reversal rates of nearly 60%, with adherence of over 80%.  It’s still early on, but the results, to date, are promising.  And the trail that Sami – and others like him – are blazing, is one that would be very worthwhile listening to and learning from.

Disclosure: Dr. Zeev Neuwirth sits on the Industry Advisory Board for Virta.  He has been collaborating (non-paid) with Sami Inkinen and his colleagues, even prior to the launch of Virta – driven by a genuine professional and personal desire to improve the care of people with diabetes.  Dr. Neuwirth wasn’t going to post this interview publicly because of concerns related to a perceived conflict of interest; but he felt this story was too important not to share.  Dr. Neuwirth holds stock options in Virta; but receives no payment or other remuneration for this podcast episode, or any other discussion of Virta.