SA-born chiropractor strikes it rich with telemedicine start-up

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A personal tragedy and an unlikely sequence of events led Johannesburg-born chiropractor Clint Phillips to found telemedicine firm 2nd.MD in 2010, reports BusinessLIVE. Last month, he sold it he sold it to listed health-care and employee benefits company Accolade for $460m.

In 2009, Phillips’s two-day-old daughter Gabi had a stroke that paralysed the right side of her body. Doctors said it was unlikely she would ever walk or talk properly. Not satisfied, Phillips embarked on a seemingly endless round of consults with medical specialists across the US.

Frustrated by the process, he hit on the idea of 2nd.MD, a tech platform that matches patients with experts, allowing them to canvass second opinions from leading specialists through virtual consultations.

The premise was simple: match patients with the best doctors in the country for their particular condition. That meant finding and persuading the top professionals across all 132 medical subspecialties in the US to participate.

Phillips began by compiling a database of 22,000 doctors – from a register of nearly 1m doctors – who he thought would qualify as experts. Then he set about e-mailing each of them, asking if they’d like to earn more money. “That went nowhere,” says Phillips.

“Then we realised that top doctors are really passionate about research and conducting clinical trials, and they want cases that fit with this passion and expertise. So, we tweaked (the correspondence) and asked them if they wanted to become part of an elite panel as a recognised specialist in their field.”

Next, BusinessLIVE reports, the business needed speed and efficiency – doctors needed to be able to conduct informed consults virtually. For that, 2nd.MD needed its own tech platform. So Phillips roped in his brother Brent, an IT professional, to build a “closed” environment that could provide access to the necessary medical records, as well as a secure virtual connection between doctor and patient as soon as they flipped open their laptops.

The report says Phillips initially positioned 2nd.MD as a consumer business, meaning the service was paid for by individuals outside the health insurance system. But he hadn’t budgeted for the fact that the platform would have to retrieve medical records from different doctors and institutions, and would require a nurse to manage the whole process. There were still additional costs to be absorbed.

He then tried a different tack, approaching one of his investors and offering 2nd.MD as an employee benefit, with the promise that a network of hundreds of doctors could be available within three days.

BusinessLIVE reports this found immediate traction, and 2nd.MD was subsequently repositioned as a corporate-facing business, with companies paying a monthly fee per employee. In time, 2nd.MD could start showing its clients the benefits of its network in tangible metrics, including workdays saved, levels of absenteeism and significant medical savings.

By the end of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was accelerating the adoption and use of telemedicine and virtual consults, 2nd.MD had already grown its network to include 800 doctors, across 132 specialities, available to 6.5m employees at some of the US’ largest companies.

The report says its growth caught the eye of listed health-care and employee benefits company Accolade. Accolade CEO Rajeev Singh said: “Bringing 2nd.MD’s world-class care team and digital approach with expert medical consultation into Accolade, and continuing to offer it on a stand-alone basis, will have an immediate and measurable impact for our customers, their employees, and the health plans we work with.”

BusinessLIVE reports that a few years ago, Phillips stepped aside as CEO o (he remained the company chair) to start his next business venture, Medici. Medici has a much broader and more ambitious aim: re-imagining and redesigning America’s fragmented and poorly aligned health-care system.

“We want to blend on-site with online in a remarkable way, because all these old institutions are based on real estate and fee-for-service insurance that are just outdated,” he says.

 

Full BusinessLIVE report (Restricted access)

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