How many times have you gone to the doctor’s office, only to be told within the first 10 seconds that the solution to your ailment is rest and a round of antibiotics? You probably wonder why you needed to bother going to the office at all; the doctor could have just as easily diagnosed you over the phone. Ringadoc, a San Francisco-based startup that just raised $750,000 in a seed round of funding led by Founders Fund and Peter Thiel, lets a bevy of remote doctors diagnose you over the phone. And soon, the startup will make it easy for your primary doctor to do the same. Think of it as the fast food of health care: Instead of waiting around in an office, you can get a diagnosis and prescription in just a few minutes.
Ringadoc CEO Jordan Michaels got his first taste of the health care system while he was a pre-med student in college. "I saw firsthand the difference between public and private health care. I got disgruntled with the field, and thought, do I really want to spend my years going through med school and then getting into this system that’s a little bit broken right now?" he says.
In 2010, Michaels founded Ringadoc. He had a couple dozen doctors in California answering the phones. Today, the startup employs approximately 100 doctors in a number of states—and Michaels has officially decided to forego medical school to focus on Ringadoc full time.
The service is more expensive for many insured patients than just going to the doctor—the most popular plan is $89.99 per year and $29.99 per call, with three free calls per year. But it’s potentially a bargain for the uninsured, who may choose to wait out an infection rather than go into the doctor—and potentially end up with an expensive ER visit as a result. "People without insurance are the ones utilizing ERs and urgent care centers. That reverberates through the entire health care system," says Michaels. "One of the nice things about Ringadoc is that we can serve as a front gate towards needing to go to ER and urgent care centers."
There’s always the chance that a doctor diagnosing you over the phone could mess up. But Ringadoc doctors go over your medical history and electronic medical record (the startup is working out of the offices of EMR company Practice Fusion) before diagnosing you, and they won’t prescribe any controlled substances or dangerous medications. They stick to the simple stuff, like antibiotics and flu medication.
Michaels estimates that Ringadoc currently has 1,600 registered users, not all of whom use the service regularly. But, he emphasizes, Ringadoc hasn’t yet done any direct-to-consumer marketing (it will soon). And in the coming weeks, the startup plans to launch a new service that allows doctors to use Ringadoc technology in their own practices.
"Basically we are going to focus on leveraging doctors’ free time, to help them monetize it and provide more availability for their patients. It’s a tool that doctors can use with their own patients to be available more often and be more efficient with their time," explains Michaels.
But don’t worry: Ringadoc won’t replace in-person doctor appointments anytime soon. The startup is aiming for the in-between space—when you really don’t feel like going to the doctor, but know you still need some kind of medical attention. The service is, in other words, just aiming to make health care a little less annoying.