For the past decade, former Apple chief executive John Sculley has been taking on the problem of reforming health care through new technologies.
And now that the Obamacare rollout is in full effect, Sculley is betting on the Sunrise, Fla.-based MDLive to bring the practice of medicine into the modern area.
The rise of telemedicine — connecting doctors and patients via a secure video line — is a field investors perceive as one of the hottest opportunities in health care. It’s one of the few areas in the sector that has garnered widespread support across the U.S. as a potential means to lower health costs.
One of the fastest-growing telemedicine startups is MDLive, founded by serial entrepreneur Randy Parker and financially backed by Sculley. On MDLive, patients can register in a matter of minutes to speak with a board certified physician by email, on the phone, or in a video call.
Parker believes MDLive is poised to bring telemedicine to a new market of patients. Today, the company announced $23.6 million in venture financing led by Heritage Group and Sutter Health.
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“The Affordable Care Act is creating a huge opportunity,” said Sculley in a phone interview with VentureBeat. “We’re realizing that the majority of people’s appointments with doctors are for things that could be done online.”
Above: The MDLive user interface
According to Sculley and Parker, physicians are eager to sign up, as it offers them flexible work. The system detects when a doctor has logged into MDLive on a tablet device or laptop and connects them with patients in need of a consultation. These physicians will inform patients when they should schedule an in-person follow-up visit.
Another recent shift is the support from both Democrats and Republicans for telehealth.
“Telemedicine is a hot topic [in Washington, D.C.] and is supported by both sides of the aisle,” said Lauren Fifield, a senior policy strategist at Practice Fusion, who divides her time between San Francisco and D.C. In July, New Jersey, Kentucky, and Missouri introduced bills to expand telehealth coverage for patients, as did Congress.
Twenty states now have mandates that favor reimbursement, so patients won’t have to pay out of pocket to chat with a doctor online. “Reimbursement within the private-payer world and the self-insured world is really accelerating,” said Parker in a phone conversation with VentureBeat.
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That said, MDLive is designed to be affordable for patients who are paying out of pocket. Individuals pay $14.95 per month for a plan, and families are charged $24.95 monthly. Rival telehealth service Doctor on Demand charges a flat rate of $40 for a video call — but unlike MDLive, it isn’t available in all 50 states.
What’s the future of telehealth?
For MDLive, secure video conferencing technology is the first step. The company also sells cloud-based services, including billing software and a medical record. Parker refers to MDLive as a “virtual medical office.”
With its new round of funding, MDLive plans to build out its cloud services, including a feature that helps patients connect with physicians for second opinions. It’s a smart move, given that San Francisco startup Grand Rounds Health (formerly ConsultingMD) has made a business out of virtually connecting patients with medical experts.
MDLive is essentially trying to do it all: Cloud tools, electronic health records, and telemedicine.
“We are seeing the consumer era of health,” said Sculley. “It’s becoming clear to a lot of people that health care won’t be solved in Washington, D.C.; it will be solved in the home.”
Unlike many of its competitors, MDLive offers a broad spectrum of services, including nutrition advice and mental health. Patients can opt to chat with a therapist on the platform. In this regard, the company competes with Regroup Therapy and Breakthrough, startups that are solely focused on bringing the shrink’s couch online.
With a fresh round of capital, MDLive is rapidly hiring, and it expects to overtake its competitors in the space in the next few years.
“The capital we’re raised will help us expand our enterprise infrastructure for 2015 and beyond,” said Parker. “Pioneers get all the arrows and settlers get all the land. We have received our share of arrows, and now we’re in the best position in the telehealth space to capture a chunk of land.”