BS/BC invests $11.6M in wireless check-in

By Brian Dolan
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Phreesia tabletNew York-based Phreesia, which provides a free patient-intake solution for physicians' waiting rooms, raised $11.6 million in venture capital. The company's third round of funding was led by BlueCross BlueShield Venture Partners, which has a $116 million war chest into which eleven independent BlueCross and BlueShield companies have committed capital. Return investors Polaris Venture Partners, HLM Venture Partners and Long River Ventures also contributed to the most recent round. Phreesia's second round of VC funding was disclosed in the fall of 2007 when the company announced $10.25 million in VC, led by Polaris. The company's first round of funding was never disclosed, but it was announced in December 2006 and was led by HLM.

Phreesia said it will use the most recent funding to expand its already expanding footprint of thousands of doctors in 49 states. The company's CEO Chaim Indig noted that "Given the push by the new Administration towards advanced healthcare IT adoption, this is an exciting time to be at the forefront of technology for patient‐centered care. We are proud to have such a strategic partner lead this round."

Phreesia has nearly 100 employees with offices in Ottawa and other parts of Canada, Indig said during an interview with The Health Care Blog. Indig also said all of the company's vendor partners participated in the most recent round of funding. Phreesia has up until now provided doctors' offices with free, wireless-enabled tablets that replace the old-fashioned, pen-and-paper clipboards. The company offers the tablets for free because after the patient has checked-in, the tablet asks permission to share some health information, which may or may not be sponsored by a pharma company.

"Right now... You could have the best EMR in the world but you still have to hand patients a clipboard [for check-in]," Indig told The Health Care Blog during a podcast interview. "After you've checked-in... We ask your permission if it's OK to show you healthcare information, and some is sponsored and some un-sponsored. The vast majority of patients are OK with that and the information is applicable. If you have a problem with your bladder and you are going to the bathroom all the time you are OK with that," Indig said. "You are at the doctor, this is the right place to learn about that... Empowering patients with information is never bad."

Read on for more from the podcast.

During the podcast, Paul Brown, managing partner at BlueCross BlueShield Venture Partners explained why his fund decided to invest in the company: "Phreesia has a wonderfully grounded focus on what they're doing: what they can do and what they can't do. As we look at companies in the EHR space and the PHR space, we see a lot of companies that have very, very big dreams and grand visions. One of the things I think we liked about Phreesia was that they are single-minded in attacking a very crucial spot in the continuum of care and doing that well. I think there are exciting ways that that can expand and will, but we really like their focus. We like the idea that physicians could at some point immediately check E&B or immediately get a co-payment from patients. We want physicians to get reimbursed quickly and easily. We like the focus and particularly the modesty Chaim and his team have."

Those are good lessons for health tech start-ups: Remain grounded, retain focus and don't try to be the be-all, end-all of connected health. You don't have to figure the whole thing out, just make a small but important step in the process better.

Indig also mentioned during the interview that soon the company would start charging some physicians for use of the tablets, assumedly the pay model would be for those doctors uncomfortable with or opposed to the advertising, however, Indig did not specify. I wonder if the new, alternative business model will cause the company to change it's name?

Be sure to listen to The Health Care Blog's podcast interview with Indig and Brown.