When it comes to routine ailments like soar throats, bladder infections, sinus infections and seasonal allergies, diagnosis and treatment are fairly standard.
So why should patients suffering from one of those ordinary conditions take time off from work, drive to the doctor’s office and sit in the waiting room when the outcome of an interaction with their doctor is often so predictable?
For patients who think that way, four-employee Minneapolis startup Zipnosis may represent the ultimate time-saver. For $25, the company offers patients asynchronous web visits with doctors, meaning each participant doesn’t need to be online at the same time. Patients are guided through a 5-minute interview on Zipnosis’ site that draws out their symptoms. Then the information is routed to a doctor or nurse who typically diagnoses the ailment, prescribes a medication or refers the patient to a physician for a physical exam within an hour of receiving the patient’s report.
Zipnosis scored a big win recently when it signed a one-year pilot agreement with Park Nicollet Health System, which will dedicate two health providers to answering patient queries through Zipnosis.
“They bring credibility to the table and that’s our biggest obstacle,” said 31-year-old COO Jon Pearce, who put his MBA on hold to start Zipnosis.
More than half of Americans looked up health information on the Internet last year, but just five percent communicated with their doctors via e-mail, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“This is a market that will certainly take off,” said Brian Dolan, editor of mobihealthnews, which chronicles the healthcare sector’s adoption of mobile technology. “It makes too much sense to allow, enable and incentivize physicians and patients to interact online for simple consultations.”
Zipnosis aims to be a big player in the emerging field of telehealth (also called telemedicine), broadly defined as delivering health services via technology, whether it’s the phone, videoconferencing or the web. While there are numerous direct and indirect competitors in the field — including Teladoc and Hello Health — Zipnosis has one advantage most others don’t: A big-name CEO and the connections he brings.
Zipnosis’ CEO is Rick Krieger, co-founder and former CEO of the company that became MinuteClinic, which was acquired for a reported $170 million by CVS in 2006. Pearce met Krieger through a University of Minnesota entrepreneurship program.
Zipnosis hasn’t needed Krieger’s connections to dial up big investment dollars yet. The company has so far taken in about $600,000 in funding from angels. Pearce wouldn’t talk about any future fundraising plans.
For now, the company’s focus is on expanding into new markets, based on the “blueprint” set by the Park Nicollet deal, Pearce said.
“If you do it right and can get in enough states, it can explode,” he said of Zipnosis’ model.
The company so far has been relying on online advertising, such as Google AdWords and promotion on Facebook. Zipnosis also plans to target self-insured employers, Pearce said.
Even though Zipnosis eventually hopes to make it big in the consumer market, starting with employers is a better route to scaling up, since employers are motivated to encourage online visits that reduce absenteeism and health spending, Dolan said.
“Once consumers have gotten familiar with the concept through work or their own physicians, direct-to-consumer plays will have a better chance of making it,” Dolan of mobihealthnews said.