Telehealth was on the rise before COVID-19 hit, but now it seems more popular than ever. What does that mean for the future of North Carolina’s telehealth startups?
First, What Is Telehealth?
Telehealth, or telemedicine, broadly refers to care delivered remotely, especially through virtual platforms. Picture joining a Zoom call to chat with your doctor about your cold symptoms. Or just sending a picture of a worrying skin rash to your dermatologist. Proponents of telehealth believe it can help patients receive faster, more efficient and more affordable care while also saving healthcare costs.
North Carolina Is A Breeding Ground For Telehealth Startups
North Carolina has a long history of producing health care, biotech and telehealth startups. Talent pools from North Carolina universities, combined with the proximity of large hospitals and healthcare systems, have turned North Carolina into a breeding ground for health-related partnerships and startups. For example, TeleHealth Solution was founded in 2017 by two physicians who met at Atrium Health. Since then, the Charlotte-based company has expanded to 13 states.
We’re seeing big bets on telehealth startups from established industry players.
While funding may have slowed for some startups this year, telehealth companies are attracting steady investments.
Heal, a telemedicine startup that provides virtual doctors’ visits and house calls, received an additional $100 million of funding in July from the healthcare company Humana. According to Becker’s Hospital Review, Heal plans to use this money to expand into new markets, such as Charlotte.
Their example tells us it’s not just venture capital firms that are betting on the success of telehealth. In 2019, Humana was the ninth-largest U.S. healthcare company by revenue. The largest U.S. healthcare company, UnitedHealth Group, is also investing in telehealth startups. In June, Denver-based telehealth startup DispatchHealth received $135.8 million in a round of Series C funding led by Optum Ventures (Optum Ventures was established by Optum, which is a part of UnitedHealth Group). In fact, Optum Ventures was created specifically to back digital health companies.
Will North Carolina Residents See More Telehealth Options?
Yes, but the road will likely be bumpy. Telehealth holds promise for many consumers and companies. Patients want more convenient services, and insurance companies want care to be delivered at a lower cost. Plus, everyone wants to stay safely distant during the pandemic. All these factors make telehealth options more attractive to invest in and use.
However, it also faces some roadblocks. Lack of reliable internet access, especially in rural areas, is a major barrier to delivering telehealth services to North Carolina residents. Additionally, experts from UNC explain that telehealth services will require both patients and physicians to adjust to changing expectations of what health care looks like. Will its adoption mean its best use? Or will its rapid introduction include hiccups of sub-optimal care? For now, no one has a definite answer to those future questions.
For more information on how North Carolina businesses have already benefited from telehealth use, check out our article on telehealth revenue opportunities. And if you’d like some inspiration, check in on how Lyft and FitBit have already begun using digital health to help both patients and companies.