"Even the term ‘concierge medicine’ we think is problematic. Our best shot might be ‘personal online doctor.’ 'Telehealth' is not the right word."
St. Louis, Missouri-based startup SteadyMD announced new funding to the tune of $2.5 million this week. It’s the first major outside investment in the firm, which says it wants to “make high-quality, high-attention concierge health care available and affordable to millions of Americans.”
The idea behind SteadyMD is to pair patients who have specific health needs or goals with primary care providers who have a particular passion or expertise in those areas. While a number of them are fitness-related—the company has categories for bodybuilding, strength training, functional fitness, running, and triathlon training—there is also a “general health” option and specialists for diabetes care and LGBTQ health needs.
The specificity is a key asset, according to SteadyMD co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Yarone Goren. “For people who are crossfit athletes, or runners, or lifters, this is part of their identity. We connect them with a doctor that’s of their kind,” he told Healthcare Analytics News™ earlier today. “It’s important both from an emotional and a clinical point of view.”
The company has a small and growing stable of MDs who provide a 1-hour video appointment with patients, followed by continued on-demand access to that doctor’s advice via video calls, texts, and phone calls. Now, that might sound like “telehealth” or “telemedicine,” but those words are noticeably—and intentionally—absent from SteadyMD’s website and announcements.
For one thing, Goren said, the company is aimed directly at consumers, and those terms don’t register particularly well with the consuming public. For another, he considers the “tele” prefix anachronistic, like calling a modern movie a “film.” And the telehealth that most people are familiar with, he said, often resembles an online visit to an urgent care facility, which is counter to his company’s goal of building sustained doctor-patient relationships.
The right description might be hard to find.
“Even the term ‘concierge medicine’ we think is problematic. Our best shot might be ‘personal online doctor.’ Something that implies an ongoing relationship between doctor and patient. A doctor-friend. We’re having trouble trying to communicate that, but to me ‘telehealth’ is not the right word,” he said.
There’s another big difference between SteadyMD and traditional telehealth: It’s entirely a consumer service. It doesn’t accept insurance, which Goren believes is an advantage. Doctors spend hours daily hammering away on their computers just to get paid for a patient visit, he said. Removing that element from their lives makes the service attractive and helps them provide better care.
He said about 2 doctors per day contact the company to see if they can work for it, but that the company is very careful about who it recruits, hires, and trains. That’s for good reason.
“We have this massive operation in which we license our doctors in all 50 states,” he said. “No one else had done that, everyone’s afraid to do it. The licensing issue is our opportunity, and also the pain we have to work through.”
And that’s major. The workflow for one of the company’s doctors is a radical departure from a typical primary care physician’s. By operating entirely as a consumer service, he thinks SteadyMD is “coming in through the side door,” operating as an addition to the existing healthcare industry rather than competing within it. Good, continuous relationships with a single doctor could save the system money down the line, he proffered.
Still, he’s not fully comfortable with the idea of someday integrating into the industry as-is. While he said SteadyMD is “open” to someday accepting insurance, they’re also “skeptical” and “fearful” of whether that would undermine the types of relationships they’re trying to foster. For now, the service is subscription-based and entirely out-of-pocket for patients.
“Either we’re really, really brilliant or we’re crazy, and I’m not sure which,” Goren said. “This is not our first rodeo. This is my 3rd venture-backed startup, it’s [co-founder] Guy Friedman’s 2nd. We’re doing this all very carefully and methodically.”
The financing round was led by Pelion Venture Partners. Additional funding came from CrossCut Ventures, M25 Group, Service Provider Capital, and Hyde Park Venture Partners. Goren said that the money would primarily go towards marketing to new customers.