Health Tech

Former VA Secretary Teams up With Daughter to Launch Chronic Pain Care Startup

Override provides chronic pain patients with a care team that includes a pain physician, a physical therapist, a psychologist and a coach. The company has received $3.5 million in seed funding and has acquired Take Courage Coaching.

Dr. David Shulkin (left), former U.S. secretary of Veterans Affairs, launched Override Thursday with his daughter, Jennie (Right).

Jennie Shulkin, CEO and co-founder of Override, never intended to start a business. She got her degree at Harvard Law School and worked as a criminal attorney for several years. But she had another job taking up much of her time: managing her chronic pain condition. She and her father David, former U.S. secretary of Veterans Affairs, spent years trying to find a solution.

“We’ve traveled the country looking at different options for relief, pages and pages of treatments and medications and devices attempted and failed. We’ve really become experts in what is wrong with chronic pain care,” said Jennie, whose company launched on Thursday. 

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What’s wrong is that the care is fragmented, Jennie and David said. Surgeons, primary care physicians and psychologists are all providing their own form of treatment without communicating with one another. That’s why the father-daughter duo decided to launch Override, which serves as a virtual, one-stop-shop for chronic pain patients without prescribing opioids. The name refers to “overriding” pain neural pathways in the brain. In addition to its launch, the Philadelphia-based startup also announced a $3.5 million seed round and an acquisition of pain coaching company, Take Courage Coaching.

Override provides patients with a care team that includes a pain physician, a physical therapist, a psychologist and a coach. Patients begin with a virtual assessment process where they meet one-on-one with each person on the care team. The team works together to create a plan for the patient, who then receives ongoing care and is able to schedule meetings and message their providers via desktop or Override’s app.

“We focus on getting the interdisciplinary team to speak to one another, collaborate around the patient rather than just focus on their individual disciplines as providers,” David said in an interview. 

The patients receive coaching from Override’s Take Courage Coaching business, which also offers coaching as a standalone service. Through the coaching model, the company offers individual sessions as well as group sessions that include peer support. In addition, Override helps teach patients about pain neuroscience, neuroplasticity and the tools they can use to deal with their condition.

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The $3.5 million seed round was led by 7wireVentures and included participation from Martin Ventures, SignalFire and Confluent Health. Some of that money was used to acquire Take Courage Coaching, but is also being used to grow the team, develop the product and pilot programs with health systems, employers and payers to validate its clinical model.

While Override mainly has as B2B business model, its services are also available to consumers directly, who can book individual appointments with a clinician or pain coach. Prices for these sessions range from $45 to $90 an appointment. Patients can also get a full monthly package that is priced differently based on their needs. Additionally, Override works with provider groups so that they can collaborate with the company’s team of experts.

“Primary care doctors and pain physicians actually have a component of the model, but they may not have a whole team around them,” David said. “So therefore, we’re working with them to create the full experience.”

Override’s competitors include musculoskeletal pain companies like Hinge Health and Sword Health. But while they’re beneficial for acute care patients, they don’t typically work for chronic pain patients, Jennie said.

David had his own journey in the chronic pain space watching veterans suffer from conditions similar to his daughter’s. He said Override’s model was inspired by a program rolled out by Veterans Affairs during his tenure at the department. The brick and mortar program included an interdisciplinary team that supported and taught veterans how to manage their condition. A study on the program showed that it decreased the total cost of care by 30% in the first 12 months and significantly reduced opioid use. David and Jennie decided to build a similar model, but bring it to a virtual platform.

“When we looked at the effectiveness of that [VA program], it was a much more effective model than anything we had seen in our journeys with Jennie across the country,” David said.

Ultimately, Jennie hopes to help patients like her circumvent the struggles she experienced.

“I’m trying to help other people avoid what I’ve had to go through … I’m hoping to make care more convenient, more affordable, more empathetic and to really have all the pieces available in one place,” she said.

Photo: David and Jennie Shulkin