First Opinion gets $6 million from Polaris Ventures to let consumers text a doctor first

By Jonah Comstock
03:00 am
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bg-howFirst Opinion, a San Francisco-based telemedicine app maker, has raised $6 million from Polaris Ventures. Existing investors also contributed, including True Ventures, Felicis Ventures, Scrum Ventures and Monashees Capital.

This brings the company's total funding to $8.6 million, including a $1.2 million seed round in January and another $1.4 million round in May.

First Opinion offers consumers text message consultations with contracted doctors via a mobile app. Users can get answers to medical questions within 24 hours for free, or can pay $9 a month for a guaranteed 5-minute response rate and the ability to send photographs to these doctors as well.

"The purpose of the app, the purpose of the company, is to get people texting a doctor first," CEO McKay Thomas told MobiHealthNews in an interview. "We’ve found that between 60 and 80 percent of office visits are unnecessary, and some people will say that nine out of ten are unnecessary. We think that people should just text a doctor first. First Opinion is basically a new class of care, situated above the current healthcare system that is meant to give everyone a personal doctor that they can message 24 hours a day to help them understand how serious [a condition] is and to help them understand what they should do next." 

The funding will be used to expand the team and drive for increased adoption of the platform, as well as to recruit additional doctors.

"This money is going to be used to double down on this strategy," he said. "We want to be the place America goes to text a doctor first. We’re direct to consumer and when you’re getting customers all the way at the beginning of the experience arc, you have power in the marketplace. Because everyone else is servicing your customers second or third or fourth. Because we’re in the relationship business, because we build the relationships between our doctors and our customers, we’ll be able to help our users make great and empowering decisions in terms of what they choose to do next. So that’s what we’re doubling down on and this capital will be used to expand the team, and expand our markets."

Thomas said the company's goal is to change the way healthcare works by adding a new first step in the care process. Texting First Opinion can serve as a kind of triage, keeping easily addressed issues out of the doctor's office. In addition, it pushes doctors and patients toward a relational model of care, where patients text doctors, but doctors also text patients to check in.

"Our goal is to make sure doctors are available 24 hours a day and they reach back out to their users," he said. "And they reach back out every single time. So if you message a doctor about something, they write back to you and they say 'Hey, how’s everything going with that?' Sometimes that’s one time, sometimes that’s two or three or four times, just until it’s resolved."

Additionally, First Opinion users are anonymous. In addition to encryption on the messages, this helps keep the company HIPAA compliant. It also makes patients more honest in some circumstances, Thomas said.

"For college students, anonymity means they can be completely honest about their sexual health questions," he said. "Or for parents, they can speak more freely about their children or their parenting style."

Thomas says First Opinion is unique because it delivers care that users can access continuously, which better matches people's health needs than episodic care, even virtual episodic care.

"We are experience-driven, we are relationship-driven," he said. "This is not transactional care. If you start a video consultation, that consultation will be done and when it’s done, you will be alone again, just like you were before, but you’ll be forty dollars lighter. First Opinion is free and it’s available 24 hours a day and it never ends."

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