Fireside chat recap: Dr. Melynda Barnes at Ro

Stephanie Diaz
May 18, 2021

Dr. Melynda Barnes shares her passion for bringing equitable care to more people through telehealth company

Every patient is more than their condition—more than a chart or ailment and certainly more than a data point.

This is why Ro, the patient-driven telehealth company, has been focused on treating the whole person since its founding. With a patient-centric healthcare system spanning a nationwide provider network, in-home care API, and proprietary pharmacy distribution centers, Ro seamlessly connects telehealth, diagnostics, and pharmacy services to provide high-quality, affordable healthcare without the need for insurance. And with Dr. Melynda Barnes as Chief Medical Officer, Ro is building the future of healthcare with products and services that meet patients’ unique needs.

Ribbon Health recently met up with Dr. Barnes in a virtual fireside chat to hear more about her journey from practicing medicine to innovating in technology and how Ro aims to be a patient’s first call for all health-related needs by building a new care delivery system.

From the clinic to the cloud

From a young age, Dr. Barnes was drawn to exciting careers. But she also wanted to make a meaningful impact on people’s lives, prompting her to pursue a future in medicine. This led her to Stanford University for undergraduate studies and eventually Mount Sinai School of Medicine before taking her first job at Yale-New Haven Health in facial plastics. She spent the next few years in the thick of the healthcare system, inspired by the opportunity to change healthcare delivery but curious about the innovation happening in start-ups.

“All of my friends kept saying, ‘You’re thinking about how to make healthcare different, but you’re not going to be able to do that within the traditional healthcare system,’” she said. “‘You should get with other smart, like-minded people who are coming from all different backgrounds to go solve the problem.’”

Dr. Barnes could see her passion replicated in Ro’s vision. Until then, Ro had been known as a men’s health platform for its digital health clinic, Roman. But there were already women using the platform for smoking cessation, prompting the creation of Zero, the telehealth company to help people stop smoking. With Ro’s commitment to all types of patients, extending the platform to women’s healthcare was essential. Dr. Barnes was brought on as a clinical director to help with the launch of Rory, where she got her first taste of start-up life, working into the early morning hours and launching the platform in her first four months.

Now in her role as Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Barnes oversees Ro’s clinical product strategy, shaping its proprietary EMR and technology tools it offers providers and physical product innovation.

“The way forward is not replacing all administrators with physicians,” she said. “It’s really having this union of physicians at the table, representing patients and providers in the business of healthcare. If we’re at the table, we can hopefully make things better.”

Working toward healthcare equity

Ro didn’t set out to improve healthcare just to change medicine. More than just lowering cholesterol or preventing diabetes, Ro aims to help patients achieve life goals like playing with their grandkids or running a marathon. But to help patients requires knowing them better. Dr. Barnes felt strongly that the company needed to invest in clinical research to better understand who they were treating and where to focus their energy. So she launched Ro’s first clinical research team to ensure they were getting to the root of patients’ needs.

“We can’t know where the problems are if we aren’t asking and studying people,” she said. “Once we do, then we can figure out how to help.”

In her medical affairs and research role, she found that, contrary to popular belief, telemedicine wasn’t just being used by the wealthy. Ro’s patients included people in cities and rural areas, the wealthy and the financially insecure, the healthy and those who hadn’t been to the doctor in over a year. And because of this patient diversity, gaps existed in how they could access care. In response, the research team is careful to craft patient survey questions to be inclusive, eliminating assumptions and accounting for different perceptions across cultures as much as possible.

“Telemedicine might actually be the way to equalize access to care,” Dr. Barnes suggested. Whereas people might be hesitant to share a deep medical history in person, they may feel more inclined to share sensitive details digitally from behind a screen, resulting in more informed, helpful care.

Empowering healthcare through data

With partners like Ribbon Health, Dr. Barnes believes Ro can help to reduce the fragmentation of care and provide comprehensive continuity of care. Ro believes a patient’s care journey includes both quality virtual care and in-person care and is committed to bridging that gap. Having a referral system powered by Ribbon gives Ro confidence to send patients in the right direction.

Dr. Barnes believes that a freestanding healthcare ecosystem allows patients to demand more and be heard. Over the next few years, she’s passionate about decreasing health costs on an exponential scale to increase the democratization of healthcare. With new devices, tech, and inspiring leaders at the helm, Dr. Barnes believes patients and providers alike will be more empowered than ever.

To learn more about Ro, check out the telehealth company here.

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