Using a predictive analytics system that determines the most corrective course of wound treatment, a Minneapolis startup is plugging the gap in wound care and adding support to understaffed hospitals and clinics nationwide.

Wound Co., formed in 2021, is also building a team of wound experts who consult with health care providers and their patients virtually and in-person.

For years, a fee-for-service model has allowed specialists to run up the price for more elaborate procedures and products, said Nima Ahmadi, the chief executive and founder of Wound Co.

"Through our analytics, we can figure out who's at high risk, and we can make sure that we're checking in with them and that they are in a good place and getting the right care that they need," Ahmadi said. "Even if we're not there in person, we can help them directly, we can work with their spouse, we can work with a caretaker, we can work with a local home care agency."

Ninety-percent of the patients the company helps are on Medicare or Medicaid, Ahmadi said. Of the wound patients experts see, more than 90% are older than 65 years old. In that age group, complications with wounds can dramatically upend someone's life, Ahmadi said.

"It really becomes crippling, not only physically but also mentally," he said, "because as a senior, then you're not able to walk, you're not able to exercise, and it just creates this snowball effect that all goes back to the fact that you had a wound on your leg that didn't get healed properly, and then you develop all these other health issues."

Home care help

America's ability to manage its wounded patient population has reached a critical point. Reports show nearly 7 million people currently live with chronic wounds, a $60 billion cost to the health care system.

Meanwhile, the number of trained professionals needed to care for those patients is dwindling.

Between 2020-22, nearly 100,000 U.S. registered nurses, included those trained in wound and ostomy care, left the workforce because of burnout, stress or retirement, according to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. More than 600,000 nurses have said they intend to leave the profession by 2027, the council reported.

A similar report from the Minnesota Nurses Association states there is a staffing and retention crisis in Minnesota hospitals that "leaves nurses stretched thin trying to do more with less." While there is no shortage of registered nurses in the state, the overwhelming consensus is understaffing hampers a nurses' ability to deliver patient care, per the association

A company like Wound Co. could help relieve some of that burden.

Wound Co. sells its services to health insurance plans and to health systems. Some of the largest insurers and health systems in Minnesota are customers of Wound, Ahmadi said, though he declined to disclose specifics.

Earlier this year, the 25-person company closed on $4.25 million in venture funding to grow its team of wound experts and expand its services to other markets like Florida, Texas, Arizona and California.

For the past two years, St. Paul nonprofit Our Lady of Peace, an end-of-life home care and hospice provider for older adults, has partnered with Wound Co. to better determine care treatment its patients. Julie Roskamp, Wound Co.'s head of care delivery, previously partnered with the nonprofit through her former company, Twin City Wound & Ostomy.

It's been a helpful relationship, said Lindsey Pelletier, the performance improvement coordinator at Our Lady of Peace. By getting wounds under control, hospice nurses have more time to spend with other patients.

"To have someone helping you manage that just ends up being a parallel service that works really well for us," Pelletier said.

Consultations between the nonprofit and Wound Co. regarding the status of several patients take place every month. Through video conferences, Wound Co. experts see sores and lacerations, Pelletier said. Virtual health consulting with Wound Co. was the first foray into telehealth for the 80-year-old nonprofit, which has roughly 75 patients in its community-based hospice program.

"When people are in this fragile state and end of life, a wound can change really quickly, so to be able to get that real-time response and just show them a current picture or video of the wound and have them weigh in has been definitely a game-changer for our patients," Pelletier said.

Most home care providers and clinics are in the same position as Our Lady of Peace, Ahmadi said.

"Home care companies, I feel for them because they're just faced with this kind of insurmountable problem," Ahmadi said.

Diabetic needs

One of the most common causes of wounds is diabetes-related, Ahmadi said. If untreated, limbs that have slow-healing wounds often require amputation because of reduced blood flow to that part of the body.

In Minnesota, roughly 9% of adults, equal to about 390,000 people, have diabetes, either type 1 or type 2, the state's heath department reports.

Based on Ahmadi's analysis, he expects more than 8,000 amputations to occur per year for Minnesotans on Medicare because of diabetic wounds that won't heal properly. Overall, the number of amputations due to diabetic wounds has increased 75% in the U.S. in the past 10 years, he said.

"Even though Minnesota is not the largest state by population, it is still a state where there are thousands of people suffering from wound-care issues, and thousands of people who are going to lose their limb. We can save at least half those amputations in the state of Minnesota," Ahmadi said.

Prior to starting Wound Co., Ahmadi worked for a health benefits firm, where he grew the company's population of Medicare and Medicaid patients. There, he learned about health insurance and the needs of health insurance plans. His next stop was with a medical device company that specialized in amputation prevention.

Those experiences, along with having family members undergo lowe- extremity amputations after wounds didn't heal properly, led Ahmadi on a journey to starting Wound Co.

"I realized this problem is actually bigger than I once knew," he said. "Medical device companies are not positioned to solve this. They play a role by producing the necessary hardware that needs to be used in certain places and in the wound-care continuum. But a more holistic solution that really aligns the incentives of health plans and patients and providers is going to require a new company."