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Why Lionel Richie and other famous investors are betting on this Uber for health care

Lori Ioannou
Why Lionel Richie and other famous investors are betting on this Uber for health care


In this era of services on-demand, one start-up backed by high-profile investors aims to deliver a doctor to your doorstep in two hours or less: Heal.

Today, the two year-old California-based company has announced it plans to roll out its services to select cities in Florida, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas by year-end.

Heal is more than just convenient doctor house calls 365 days a year. "Its larger mission is to transform the broken health care system throughout the value chain," said Nick Desai, CEO and co-founder of Heal. "We do this by freeing doctors from the burden of high administrative costs that force them to see 40 patients a day, by helping patients get convenient care at an affordable price, and by cutting unnecessary medical costs."

The start-up has attracted $55 million in investment from such famous investors as singer Lionel Richie, Qualcomm (QCOM) executive chairman Paul Jacobs and billionaire film producer Thomas Tull of the Tull Investment Group. And it has just added a high-powered tech executive, Rish Tandon, the former general manager of mobile apps at Amazon (AMZN).

The germ of the idea came to founders Dr. Renee Dua and her husband Nick Desai when they had to take their newborn son to the emergency room for a high fever on a Friday night and waited seven hours for a doctor. "It was then that we had an epiphany and realized families face a real challenge when they have to get themselves or the kids to the doctor, especially during off-hours. So we thought, why not revisit the health care model for patients and their families."

Heal's mobile app is simple. You download it, input your personal information, location and medical symptoms, you pick an appointment time, then input and credit card and insurance information and request a doctor who's guaranteed to be there within an hour. Heal doctors write prescriptions for medication and lab work. And unlike traditional doctors, Heal sends a summary of the services within 24 hours. The price for the house call: a flat fee of $99.

The company is connected to Medicare and all major PPOs such as Anthem, Blue Shield, Cigna, Aetna and United Healthcare. Since they are in these insurance networks often the visit is the cost of a co-pay.

A new health-care model

So far, 75 doctors — internists, pediatricians and primary care physicians — have signed on with the company in major California markets, including San Francsico and Los Angeles. A few have joined Heal full-time, but most work about 20 hours a week on top of other jobs and are paid for their shift.

Heal says it has made 16,000 house calls to date — a physician and a medical assistant who manage a portable office take vitals and point-of-site testing for strep, flu and pregnancy, among other conditions. To date, it has driven more than $5.9 million in health care savings, reduced unnecessary prescription antibiotic usage by more than 50 percent, and reduced non-emergency trips to the ER and urgent care by 62 percent for patients and partners.

By reducing paperwork and bureaucracy, Desai says the company makes an average revenue of $150 per patient and a gross profit margin of 28 percent in one of its largest and most competitive markets: Los Angeles.

According to investor Thomas Tull, "Heal is on an upward trajectory."

Heal is not the first start-up to offer such a service. Pager, a 3 year-old start-up backed by New Enterprise Associates and Sound Ventures, offers doctors on-demand in New York and San Francisco markets. In addition, companies have cropped up to offer telemedicine services that let patients consult with doctors through their mobile phones such as Doctors on Demand, HealthTap and Teladoc.

What is the biggest challenge Heal is facing right now? "Scaling up and keeping up with fast growth. We have to be selective and hire the most compassionate and skilled caregivers and that vetting is not a simple process," said Dr. Dua, chief medical officer and co-founder.