98point6 pulls in $19.5M for chat-only telemedicine platform

By Jonah Comstock
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Correction: This article has been updated and corrected based on comments from 98point6.

Chat-based telemedicine company 98point6 has raised $19.5 million in third-round funding. The round comes from undisclosed private investors and brings the company's total funding to $35 million, according to the company. 

The company offers an app that lets users chat with a board-certified physician. All users have to do is sign up, and then open the app any time and ask a question — no appointment necessary. As of now, patients don't even have to pay for their care, though the company's FAQ suggests that this will change when the service is out of development. It's currently available only in Washington state.

“It is well documented that skyrocketing costs and lack of access to quality medical care are two of the biggest challenges facing our healthcare system today. An unconscionable number of people don’t receive the care they need, physicians are burning out and employers are hamstrung by healthcare costs,” CEO Robbie Cape said in a statement.

“98point6 is creating a new approach to primary care where everyone wins: consumers, physicians, businesses, payers, and provider groups," he continued. "We are ecstatic to have the financial backing of our incredible investors, along with the expertise of our prestigious medical advisors and early development partners. All are helping us navigate an incredibly complex industry to build a solution that significantly improves the overall experience.”

When patients strike up a conversation with 98point6's physicians in the app, doctors will ask them enough questions to come up with a diagnosis. The company can address about 85 percent of issues that patients present, according to Cape. For those, the doctor sends any prescriptions to the patient's preferred pharmacy and generates a care plan with next steps for the patient. The care plan is generated within the app and stored there for reference. In cases where in-person care is required, doctors will refer patients to their primary care provider.

The model is similar to Sherpaa, a virtual primary care clinic that has been offering — and advocating for — chat-based telemedicine for some time. Sherpaa has settled on a business model that mostly caters to employers who purchase the service for their employees. Concierge care service Zoom+Care also added a doctor chat functionality into its platform last year, but in their case the chat function is part of a multitiered offering rather than standing alone.

While 98point6 is offering its app direct to consumer while in beta, the company's longterm business model is to work with self-insured employers. To that end, the company is working with more than 15 early development partners, including public and private companies, some of whom have signed on to participate in the company's pilot program, planned for early 2018.

In the future, the company plans to expand beyond acute care and help with wellness areas like weight loss and chronic condition management -- a strategy that the company calls "Continuity Care". The model stands in contrast, Cape says, to the transactional model employed today even by today's telemedicine companies.

Cape said the company's ultimate pricing model isn't something the company is ready to talk about yet, but the plan is to have low prices as one of the company's major selling points, along with high quality, easily accessible care.

"There is not a single offering on the market today that even comes close to the pricing structure we are contemplating," he told MobiHealthNews.