It makes sense that telemedicine startups are seeing a surge in interest from customers and investors. With patients sheltering in place and healthcare workers struggling to provide safe and effective Covid-19 care, visiting a doctor's office is the last thing anyone wants to do right now.
Telemedicine has always been one of the offerings from Circle Medical, a five-year-old San Francisco-based primary care practice with two brick-and-mortar health centers. Co-founder and CEO George Favvas estimates that 90% of Circle's practice took place in person with an app-based telehealth option offered as a followup after patients had established care with a doctor.
That was before shelter in place took hold.
"We basically flipped the model on its head," says Favvas. Since the pandemic struck, face-to-face appointments have largely been replaced by device-to-device ones, even for some first-time patients. Favvas estimates that 90% of Circle's patients are now checking in entirely by video with extremely rare in-person appointments out of respect for everyone's safety and the continued flattening of the curve. "We wanted to contribute to the solution and not contribute to the problem," he says.
Investors are betting that this may the moment telemedicine takes off. Circle Medical just announced a seven-figure investment from Decathlon Capital Partners. (It already had $12.5 million in funding with contributions from Y Combinator, Collaborative Fund, Tencent Holdings, among others.) As Inc.'s Kevin J. Ryan reported, other telehealth startups, such as 98pPoint6, TytoCare, and SteadyMD, have landed new funding. Ryan also cites a report from Grand View Research that estimates telehealth's growth going from $41 billion in 2019 to $155 billion in 2027, a spike no doubt accelerated by the current crisis.
"50% of our visits now are video visits," says Matthew Sakumoto a UCSF Medical Center urgent care physician and a fellow of clinical informatics, a subspecialty that focuses on information technology and health. (UCSF is affiliated with Circle Medical but Sakumoto does not work with the startup.) Anecdotally, Sakumoto says, patients and providers are liking telehealth check-ins, especially since the Covid crisis "pushed providers and patients in that direction out of necessity," he says.
Sakumoto speculates that in the future, doctors may still have a full clinics but use in-person visits for only the most essential things in their practices. That might be a physical exam, an explanation of a diagnosis, or the development of a long term treatment plan. "You can only do so much over the phone," he says.
That hybrid approach would favor places like Circle Medical, which has pushed both its offices and its software. Flipping his business on its head in a matter of weeks has clarified many things for Circle Medical's Favvas. "We're servicing people who are sheltering in place and have needs," he says. "But we're also going through the same things ourselves. We're also cooped up at home with our kids, not getting sunlight. Going through the same things that our patients are going through, gives us a greater sense of empathy."