When it comes to diagnoses and the possibility of undergoing serious medical procedures, we want second opinions (and trustworthy referrals) whenever we can get them. With 30 to 40 million Americans slated to receive insurance for the first time next year thanks to Obamacare — and with millions expected to experience higher costs and reduced coverage as a result — the system is in for a shock.
That’s why one Bay Area startup sees a huge need for trustworthy, affordable online resource for second opinions, and referrals. And, potentially, a huge business opportunity.
Conceived by Reputation.com co-founder Owen Tripp and chief of interventional radiology at Stanford Hospital, Dr. Lawrence Hofmann, ConsultingMD launched in early 2012 to streamline the diagnosis process and help patients connect with top specialists for speedy second opinions. In other words, it wants to be the “Mayo Clinic of the Web,” as The Wall Street Journal intoned in February.
Investors are intrigued; particularly, a firm that has quite a bit of experience investing in Health IT companies. Today, ConsultingMD announced that it has raised $10 million in series A financing from Venrock, which follows the $1 million in seed capital it raised from Harrison Metal last year, bringing its total to just over $11 million. While Tripp (like every founder on the planet) says that the company had interest from a range of investors, the company chose Venrock to lead its round because he sees them as the “leading venture firm” when it comes to healthcare IT, and one that is committed to “advancing patient-centered care.”
At first blush, the concept behind ConsultingMD may sound similar to that of familiar HealthTech startups, like ZocDoc, which allows anyone to search for doctors, find ratings and reviews and book appointments online, or the fast-growing information and doctor Q&A platform, HealthTap, for example. However, the co-founder tells us that ConsultingMD wants to reach higher — to go beyond simply creating a directory or Q&A service for physicians to build a real “virtual clinic” — something Tripp feels is still missing on the Web.
With ConsultingMD, the co-founder continues, someone who is experiencing anxiety over his or her medical condition can answer a few questions, and let the site do the rest. ConsultingMD will then automatically pull the patient’s medical records and images — along with digitizing any written records — organizing them in reverse chronological order and annotating the history. Previously, it’s taken patients weeks to collect all this information and, in turn, takes a physician weeks or months to read through those records and offer a diagnosis. Tripp says that the startup’s technology has reduced that process to one that takes 48 hours from start to finish.
The other key part to ConsultingMD’s model is that, once a patient starts a case on the platform and it has collected and digitized all its records, it automatically matches the patient with the “best” expert for their case. The startup has developed a physician network that the founders say is comprised of the “top 0.1 percent of experts in each field.” And these experts tend to be the chiefs or chairs of major medical research universities, Trip explains.
In other words, the real problem ConsultingMD is trying to solve is one of access. In today’s world, the average person has no idea how to find or connect with these top physicians. By creating a network of elite doctors and specialists and by digitizing a patient’s medical records for them, ConsultingMD wants to simplify that discovery process — and help push the digitization of medical information forward.
The one problem, however, is that this service doesn’t come cheap. ConsultingMD is trying to create an elite platform that features the best specialists in the country. For those looking for a second opinion — after authorizing the site to access their medical records and disclosing their history — the service will cost $3,750 on average. While that’s a fairly expensive price tag for individuals, ConsultingMD believes the real opportunity is in working with companies to help employees get access to better care, and outcomes.
For an additional $200, the startup also offers a referral service, which connects patients with top medical professionals in their area, scheduling an appointment and providing doctors with all of their medical information, digitized.
In the end, the startup wants to provide value for both sides of the table by enabling physicians to network with other elite doctors in their network, admitting only those who’ve received quality peer recommendations. And by allowing them to tap into a platform that automatically connects them with more cases that directly apply to their area of focus and specialty, ConsultingMD hopes to provide a more attractive lead generator and additional source of income.
On the flip side, the startup hopes to provide a way for patients to get access to the best of the best and, by doing so, offer them a shot at achieving far better outcomes than they would with their family doctor. That kind of service has plenty of appeal to be sure, but admittedly, with a fairly high price tag and without being covered by insurance, ConsultingMD may lose some of its potential audience.
However, by using its new funds to attract companies and startups looking to reduce costs and improve treatment outcomes for their employees, the startup could be able to create a lot of value in that growing, B2B niche.