Mobile and digital health startup HealthTap wants to make the old new again.
Back in our less-harried, low healthcare-cost past, doctors could make house calls that gave them the time to really listen to the concerns of patients and engage them. That is about as anachronistic today as finding an about-to-hatch dinosaur egg.
But HealthTap, based in San Francisco, aims to harness the mobile revolution to bring the house calls back into vogue –albeit virtually. (And, no, it doesn’t involve video conferencing, at least not yet.)
“We believe that the whole notion of mobile revolution, smartphones, cloud computing and the social engagement are coming together in extremely powerful ways that were not possible even five years ago when we started the previous company,” said Ron Gutman, HealthTap’s founder and CEO.
The company, backed by marquee investors like Google’s Eric Schmidt and Esther Dyson, a prominent angel investor, has built a mobile platform that allows patients to ask health questions to 14,000 licensed physicians who respond for free. What’s more, physicians have the ability to agree with an answer provided by another physician so that patients can see how other doctors have rated their colleague’s answer. It’s like getting an instant second or multiple opinions, Gutman said.
Started more than a year ago, the startup rolled out a new tool in late June by which for $9.99 patients can choose a doctor with whom to have a HIPAA-secure, private conversation quite like an email. A patient can share documents, images and, after the doctor analyzes his or her case, can also ask for a follow-up. Patients can choose a physician to engage with out of a million contained in HealthTap’s database. The communication is also platform agnostic –in other words, patients can use desktop, laptop, iPad, iPhone and Android devices to engage with physicians online.
Gutman believes that people want reliable information about a health question quickly from the Internet, but according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, most people believe that the health information they get from the Internet is mostly useless.
That has led him to create a platform by which patients join for free to access doctors who would answer common health questions for free or for less than a typical co-pay amount if it is a specific question. Most importantly, doctors operate under their real names and a photo in a bid for maximum transparency. (A popular network for doctors called Sermo, acquired recently, allows doctors to communicate under a user name instead.)
The platform is more than just a win for patients. For doctors, it’s place to build their reputations, Gutman states. Too often they are ranked negatively because of how long the wait times are. Instead, on HealthTap doctors use their knowledge or expertise to build an image.
It is also a business development tool. HealthTap has unique algorithms by which questions from patients can be routed to nearby doctors who can answer a particular query. This allows the questioner to get a feel for the doctor, see how other physicians have rated the answer and decide whether it is worth it to go and make a real-world appointment.
“It’s what one of our investors — Esther Dyson –calls the free sample,” Gutman said.
HealthTap also has an app for doctors by which they can consult with one another on complex cases for free.
So far, HealthTap has raised $11.5 million, Gutman said, and has more than 20 employees that include doctors. But the company is growing at a very fast pace and has ambitious goals to have every single physician in America using HealthTap to engage patients online.
“It’s time to bring healthcare to the mobile revolution and transform the industry by greater interaction between physicians and patients,” Gutman said.