A new healthcare startup is taking two approaches to improving the patient experience – by launching a web platform and app that provides telemedicine, appointment scheduling, prescription refills and more, and also opening an actual brick and mortar private primary care practice.
Carbon Health, which presented on stage at Tech Crunch Disrupt in San Francisco, announced the launch of their app and opening of their clinic in the same city. The goal is to have a comprehensive platform for electronic health records and billing for small, independent practices that will ultimately create a giant network, all accessible via the app.
“As crazy as it may sound, we are building a healthcare system from scratch,” said Eren Bali, cofounder of Carbon Health. “The important thing is, since you control your experience all the way from physician application to patient application to the integration with third parties, we are able to design an experience that would be impossible for the traditional health care providers."
The app connects patients who are covered under several major insurance plans, including UnitedHealthcare, Humana, BlueCross Blue Shield and Aetna (Medicaid is not yet covered) to a primary care physician employed with Carbon Health. The user begins by scanning their insurance card, filling out an application, providing an emergency contact and then choosing a doctor. After an automated set of questions on the doctor side, a real physician will step in and recommend a course of treatment, which may include coming into Carbon Health’s clinic in San Francisco.
“We’ve built a seamless hybrid of virtual and in-person care, so that when you get to the clinic, the doctor has all of the information from your virtual visit, and similarly, when you leave the clinic, you can choose to do follow-ups virtually if you wish,” said Carbon Health co-founder and CTO Tom Berry.
The clinic serves as a pilot project for Carbon Health. If all goes well and the network expands, they will open more clinics in San Francisco, then move on to the rest of the country by building out a network through the app that will, hopefully, inspire more doctors to take on private practices to accommodate patients through the app and in new clinics.
Gary Swart, a general partner at venture capital firm Polaris Partners posited the sticking question: how will they scale up to this desired network that spans the entire country and beyond?
“It sounds like you have a real chicken-egg problem here,” Swart said onstage during the Startup Battlefield portion of the event, wherein startups give quick presentations to compete for $50,000 in funding. “You need more patients, you need more doctors. What do you get first?”
The founders of the company explained that, while Carbon Health has grand ambitions, the San Francisco clinic, with its actual staff of four, will be more of a jumping off point than a major service at once.
“We wanted to start with primary care because we think of that as the main starting point with the patient and really the first point of contact within healthcare,” Greg Burell, Carbon Health’s director of medicine and founding physician.
“We’re focusing on independent practices for the foreseeable future,” added Bali.
Bali was inspired to approach an overhaul to healthcare by the success of Udemy, an online marketplace for educational courses that he cofounded in 2009 which now has over 40,000 courses serving 12 million students. In effect, Carbon Health is repeating that playbook, which started with a few professors connecting to students and gradually build a network.
“I witnessed how a seemingly un-disruptible industry could be transformed through networks,” said Bali, adding that he envisioned an improved healthcare system looking like one, giant, efficient hospital with all the information and people in one place. Carbon Health's mission is to create a network of actual clinics and doctors that leverages a vast virtual marketplace through the app, much like those that work with transportation or lodging.
“Let’s take a look at what a hospital is — at its core are the doctors who give the actual care. The hospital itself is mostly an administrative layer that handles things like registration, billing and shared access to medical records,” said Bali. “Turns out, you can replace most of these things with technology. Just like Udemy is the world’s largest school, and Airbnb is the world’s largest hotel without any buildings, and Uber is the world’s largest taxi without owning a single cab, Carbon Health can be the world’s largest hospital.”