HealthTap, a platform that began as a question-and-answer service where patients can send in health questions to verified doctors, will now help victims of natural disasters and terrorist attacks.

On Wednesday, the telemedicine startup launched a new service, HealthTap SOS, which it plans to license to municipalities and insurance firms around the world, announced founder and CEO Ron Gutman, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. 

In the event of an earthquake, hurricane, or tsunami, for instance, residents of an affected area will be able to text, call or video chat in real-time with one of HealthTap's network of 85,000 doctors. Meanwhile, the company will aggregate data based on these interactions (i.e., common injuries) pushing it back to relief forces, as well as to the government and to global media outlets.

"When you deploy without observations and data, it's very wasteful," Gutman told Inc. ahead of the announcement. He's confident that his technology, which is priced depending on the risk-level of a particular area, will help to save thousands of lives in future.

The SOS feature uses the same software technology that has catapulted the six-years-old company to success. Initially, the startup launched with a simple consumer product: Patients can subscribe to HealthTap for $99 a month, and receive on-demand care via text, audio or video chat, from doctors with more than 141 different specialties.

To date, HealthTap has raised $35.5 million in venture capital, from high-profile investors including Mohr Davidow Ventures and Khosla Ventures. 

HealthTap's diversity of patient tools sets it apart from competing tech companies. It partners with hospitals, licensing its management software for a fee, and it helps corporate clients to manage their employees' health benefits: Workers can receive daily reminders to take a pill, search the database for in-network physicians, and get their health questions answered online and on-demand, among other features. One major corporate client is Flex, the supply chain giant with more than 200,000 global workers, though Gutman notes that selling to hospitals is his fastest-growing branch of business.

Gutman was inspired to launch HealthTap SOS when Flex solicited his help during a  flood in Chennai, India in December of 2015, where many Flex employees were injured or trapped in factories.

 "The one thing that remains reliable in these kinds of situation is the phone," Gutman recalled.

"We were shocked at how many thousands of physicians were able to help, beyond the doctors that were already standing by. In less than three hours, we were fully deployed in Chennai," he said. 

Of course, building out a company that can manage everything from real-time video conferencing to tabulating hundreds of thousands of patient records for a hospital has been a logistical headache. And, if the company's Silicon Valley indication didn't tip you off, Gutman notes that the majority of his nearly 100 staffers are engineers--including the head of sales.

Gutman acknowledges mounting concerns over the security of healthcare technology systems, but insists that his software is just as tight as that of any of the "large public companies." In the early stages, HealthTap went through the extensive SOC 2 Type 2 certification process with the AICPA (American Institute of Certified Public Accountants).

"My mantra for my team is doing good while doing well at scale," Gutman says, looking ahead to the remainder of 2016. "It's not just about building a company. It's about helping people."

Published on: Jan 20, 2016