Chicago-based remote visits company First Stop Health has raised $2.1 million from the company’s cofounders Patrick Spain and Dr. Mark Friedman as well as other angel investors. This brings First Stop Health’s total funding to $5.6 million to date.
Spain said he first decided to found the company after getting involved in patient advocacy work.
“We had a family issue that required me to get smart about a fairly rare disease,” Spain said. “I discovered that by going to doctors who were in oncology, they didn’t know anything about it, even though I lived in Chicago with two of the best research hospitals in the United States. They said ‘Well, we’ve heard of it. We don’t know who treats it or where.’ I got interested in what’s now become known as patient advocacy. The challenge with patient advocacy was I had to do all my own research, I figured out who treated the disease, where, and was able to get the resources we needed.”
While exploring the idea of creating a company that would help improve patients’ experience with the healthcare system, Spain and his cofounder Friedman decided that they didn’t have a great business model for their offering. The two then considered offering a remote visits service for people who go to the ER, but don’t need to. While the market for these patients was larger, they eventually decided to create an offering that helps patients who want to communicate with a doctor outside of their business hours.
“Americans go to see specialists and primary care physicians and pediatricians 1 billion times a year,” Spain said. “Seventy percent of those do not require a physical exam, they require a discussion — what are your symptoms, tell me more about it... and then they can diagnose and prescribe if necessary.”
First Stop Health primarily offers its service to employers that have between 500 to 5,000 employees. People who want to use the service can either fill out and send medical information to First Stop Health or call an 800 number to have a customer service agent help fill the forms out. Employees then request a callback online and in a few minutes, a physician will call them to discuss issues, diagnose the problem, and request a prescription if necessary. Physicians on First Stop treat non emergent conditions, like pink eye, rashes, and ear infections.
First Stop Health offered video visits in 2014 and in the first half of 2015. In the second half of 2015, the company switched from using third party physicians to contracting their own. The physician service they used offered video visits, so instead of adding their own video visits system then, First Stop Health decided to stop offering video visits until they could figure out how to make the system easier for patients.
“Patients are most comfortable with the telephone,” Spain said. “Left to their own devices, 99 out of 100 patients would prefer a telephone consult with the doctor. It can happen very quickly and happen in a matter of minutes as opposed to making the appointment, logging into the portal, and then having a conversation. And if you're at home and you have a low bandwidth WiFi, you're going to run into problems with breaking up and that sort of thing. So the whole process of consulting a doctor over video is hard.”
The funds from the investment will be used to improve the way in which First Stop manages physicians. Spain explained that the company manages its physicians similarly to how Uber manages drivers, factoring in ratings, availability, and location. The company will also improve its customer platform, for employers to learn more about how the service is being used, what usage of the service has been like month each month, and what kinds of things are people being treated for. Employers don’t see any details about specific employees but get a sense of what’s going on.