98point6, a telemedicine startup whose platform pairs clinicians with AI to provide text-based care, today closed a $119 million venture funding round. The company says it will use the proceeds to further invest in R&D and expand its practice as employers, health plans, and retail partners increasingly rely on remote care during the pandemic.
As with other virtual health-focused platforms, 98point6 says it’s seen a rise in demand for its service with the spike of COVID-19 infections, which has pushed millions of businesses and consumers into lockdown. Between January and April, when 98point6 created medical resources and clinical workflows based on U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, there was a 200% increase in traffic, 40% of which was COVID-related. And since the end of 2019, membership has grown 274%.
98point6 appointments take place digitally via apps for Android, iOS, and the web. The company offers a personal plan and an employer-sponsored plan, the latter of which covers dependents aged 1 year and up. Some individual health plans are accepted, but customers who lack them pay $20 for the first year (and $1 per visit) and $120 for the second year, in addition to outside-app costs like prescriptions and visits to referred physicians.
Patients fill out a profile with their personal information (identity and contact details), care preferences (pharmacy and preferred care provider), and coverage details. Next, 98point6’s chatbot-like automated assistant solicits answers to health questions and information about the person’s symptoms, all of which it relays to licensed, board-certified medical professionals.
98point6 says that the majority of medical interviews on the platform are conducted by the assistant, which taps natural language processing to enable the patients to express themselves in plain English. The assistant can understand short phrases like “my head hurts” or even multiple descriptive paragraphs, helping to foster a natural dialogue even in the context of machine interactions.
The platform learns from each visit, becoming more perceptive each time it’s used. According to 98point6, AI determines the most relevant information to gather from the patient, also in a natural dialogue format. On the backend, the AI is trained to ensure that physicians are presented with material related to each patient’s complaint.
Clinicians can respond in-app using a secure messaging tool, where they can text, exchange photos and videos, or refer more complicated cases to in-person physicians or specialists. At the conclusion of each virtual visit, patients get a personalized care plan outlining any necessary prescriptions and lab work. Subsequent notifications alert them when said prescription is filled or lab results are ready.
Currently, 98point6 services all 50 states, up from 40 in 2018. It’s been a slow but steady rollout since 2015 — because each jurisdiction has its own telemedical regulations, and federal regulations prohibit for-profit companies from practicing medicine directly, 98point6 has to set up subsidiaries in each state that comply with local laws.
98point6’s terms of service make clear that it’s not intended to replace an emergency room or primary care physician, and that humans — not AI — are behind the diagnoses. Its dozens of full-time doctors, most of whom are based in the company’s Seattle headquarters, treat conditions that don’t necessarily require a trip to the office, namely acne, allergies, asthma, back problems, cold sores, eye infections, sunburns, and sexually transmitted diseases.
98point6 has competition in CirrusMD, Heal, Pager, Kry, HealthTap, RubiconMD, SnapMD, Mfine, Pager, K Health, Doctor on Demand, and dozens more telemedicine providers. But its business model and client list of over 200 employers, health plans, and retail partners — which includes organizations such as Seattle Children’s Hospital, TAG, Sur La Table, KinderCare Education, and Office Basics — help it to stand out from the crowd. According to CEO Robbie Cape, a former Microsoft executive and the founder of the family organizer maker Cozi, 98point6 serves more than 3 million people across over 240 commercial partnerships. Just last month, Sam’s Club partnered with 98point6 to offer members $1 telehealth visits.
“98point6 has experienced tremendous growth over the last year as more companies recognize an undeniable need for on-demand, digitally enabled primary care that can serve as a high-quality, accessible and affordable care option for their members,” Cape told VentureBeat via email. “98point6 replaces the delays and high cost of navigating the complex healthcare system with a highly scalable service that meets the needs and preferences of every single healthcare consumer.”
98point6’s latest round of funding was co-led by L Catterton and Activant Capital with participation from returning investors including Goldman Sachs. It brings the Seattle-based startup’s total raised to $248 million following a $43 million financing round in April.