Telehealth has been touted as a way to even the playing field of health care disparities, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic that’s highlighted the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on minority communities.
The dearth of a large-scale approach has given rise to a “hodgepodge” strategy that shows promise in addressing persistent gaps in who receives quality health care, and why. Digital medicine is seen as one way to democratize the system, offering access to anyone with a smartphone and an internet connection — especially in rural areas where doctors are harder to find.
However, even as the COVID-19 crisis has led to a significant rise in adoption, at least one startup executive voiced concerns that telehealth solutions have yet to catch on — especially with potential investors — in ways that will move the needle in the direction of health equality.
“It’s kind of ironic because it takes a pandemic to force digitalization,” Mario Anglada, the CEO of Latino-focused platform Hoy Health told Yahoo Finance in an interview.
The company has still struggled to find investor support for its bilingual digital medicine solution — even as the virus hits the U.S. Latino community particularly hard.
Hoy Health launched a telehealth platform in the middle of the pandemic, aiming to help Spanish speakers check their symptoms and determine if there’s a need for a coronavirus test. Ready to pivot to meet the demand, Anglada thought there would be robust support.
But there was not.
“Investors are looking at shopping a deal,” Anglada said. A volatile stock market certainly didn’t help matters, even as Wall Street clawed back from the grim days of March.
“We’ve seen a very interesting movement of investors who said, ‘Listen, I would love to invest in you, but the reality is there’s a lot of really prime deals that I can tap into and deploy my capital there,’” he explained.
So while the company needs capital to meet the demand on the client side, that same capital is nowhere to be found.
“It’s a bit frustrating…where you’re the perfect fit for the solution but everybody’s trying to create artificially lowball offers,” Anglada said.
A startup’s hard slog
Prior to the outbreak, a conversation with one Hoy Health client settled on a couple of million dollars at a predetermined valuation. However, as COVID-19 became a crisis, the same client came back with an offer that was only one-third of the original sum, Anglada added.
Hoy Health then tried crowdfunding in order to raise money to offer the platform for free, but that didn’t work. So it now charges $49 per visit.
However one major breakthrough was a partnership with the Hispanic Medical Association — where doctors have partnered with Hoy Health to provide telehealth services. The first states to have services available were California, New York, Texas as well as Puerto Rico.
The company first saw interest from migrant support groups, but “we’re starting to slowly see it tick up,” Anglada said.
That includes federally qualified health centers (FQHC) who are asking for help to transition to virtual visits, and health insurers looking for ways to manage their members remotely.
“So it’s all across the board, retailers, insurance providers, federally qualified health centers, individual practitioners,” Anglada said.
The company closed a deal with Dallas-based health provider serving low-income populations in May, connecting them virtually to patients through the platform Hoy had already built. The arrangement builds on the existing services Hoy already provides— including prescription delivery and a chronic management kit that includes a scale, pulse oximeter and blood pressure cuff.
The only thing missing to push the full service platform forward is sufficient funding to scale.
“Everything is built on the cloud on purpose. In order to be able to massively scale,” Anglada said.
While he waits for interest from investors to grow, Anglada said the company is focused on saving up from its revenue streams in order to eventually redeploy the capital to grow incrementally. He likened it to the transition from adolescence to teen-hood.
“You’re about to grow, you’re in that awkward teenage years…about to be adults but we’re not there yet,” Anglada said. “ But we have everything ready to be that.”
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