HealthTap Debuts Paid Private Medical Consultations Via Mobile Device

Web-based health tech startup HealthTap today unveiled new versions of all of its mobile apps, introducing a number of additional features. Perhaps chief among them is the company’s new paid premium features, which connect doctors and ordinary people via online tools to lower costs, and avoid long waits unnecessary visits, and represent HealthTap’s big play in terms of driving revenue from its services.

The Palo Alto startup first launched its mobile app in September 2011, and at the time offered a network of 5,000 partner doctors for patients to connect with. Now, that network has swelled to over 12,000 doctors, and continues to grow. HealthTap CEO and founder Ron Gutman believes the company has identified a pain point shared by just about every medical professional, and everyone seeking medical help.

After finding that most people don’t trust the health information they’re receiving, Gutman said he spied an opportunity, hence the impetus behind the startup. “We started asking people why they think the information they’re getting is so useless, and for the most part what people cited was trust,” he said. “There’s a lot of health information out there, with a lot of resources, and it’s very conflicting, if you look for something you get a lot of information from sources you can’t validate.”

HealthTap provides that kind of trust and clarity by assigning doctors scores, derived from both peer review and measures of how appreciative the community has been of their advice. Only other medical professionals can assign true evaluative scores about the knowledgeability and performance of other doctors on HealthTap; Gutman says that that’s because only they have the necessary perspective from which to judge medical proficiency. Patients and general users can, however, give “Thanks” to doctors on HealthTap, which ends up providing an indication of how helpful the community has found them.

So far, HealthTap has connected doctors and the general public via free questions and answers only, where both parts are publicly viewable and searchable. Now, however, the company is introducing its primary revenue model with paid features, including Private Health Conversations, wherein anyone can ask a specific doctor directly a question kept between them, thanks to HIPAA-compliant privacy measures normally reserved for banks and hospitals. Those consults cost $9.99 per question (doctors can also provide free access via codes), and come with a free clarification, plus up to $4.99 for follow-up questions. Revenue is shared between HealthTap and the doctors, with the “vast majority” going to the medical professionals providing the answers, but Gutman is quick to point out that even its fractional cut represents a huge potential opportunity in terms of market size.

“It’s not only cheaper than a co-pay, it’s also saving them half a day of going to the doctor and waiting in the waiting room. We discovered that 25 percent of doctor visits are actually just question and answer,” he said. “Even 25 percent of doctor visits is a lot. In the U.S., doctor visits, excluding medications, excluding procedures, excluding ER visits, is more than half a trillion dollars a year. 25 percent of that is a pretty significant market.”

HealthTap’s also putting a lot of time and effort into helping users track their own medical health, and the apps now support a sort of timeline view of all their activity, to which they can append photos and documents. They can then share that info on a case-by-case basis with physicians directly, effectively putting them in control of their own health record.

Gutman believes health care in general is ripe for disruption, and specifically in the area of providing ways for patients and doctors to connect via the mobile devices that we now all carry around with us. And he’s right that the industry is a juicy target in terms of market size, both at home and abroad; one 2010 study claims that by 2015, 500 million people worldwide will be using mobile health apps. With a micro-payments monetization strategy that looks very attractive compared to current private health care costs, HealthTap could be at the forefront of companies benefitting from that uptake in adoption.

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