For most businesses, a paying customer is a good customer. But Naples orthopedic surgeon Dr. Michael Havig learned that his own practice, oddly, was turning away patients actually willing to pay for medical services.
These were people — including some area small business owners who were friends of his — who wanted to pay his office directly for a visit instead of using insurance. But because the office didn’t have an established system for this, these potential patients weren’t able to make appointments.
“Ask any doctor or health care facility if they take cash and they’d say, ‘Why wouldn’t we?’” Havig says. “But I learned that a lot of practices, my own included, are sometimes turning folks away who want to pay cash.”
Over two decades practicing in Naples, Havig has seen an increasing number of patients take on more personal financial responsibility for their health care. They might have a high-deductible insurance plan or can’t afford health insurance as a small business owner or independent contractor. Or they may be young and healthy enough they feel the high cost of insurance isn’t worth it.
Whatever the reasons behind why a patient would want to pay cash, Havig wanted to give patients a way to do it. The software platform he created to provide that for his own office led to a new business venture: HealthMe.
Launched in January 2019, the online health care marketplace concept creates bundled services with suggested prices for care based on typical insurance payouts. The goal is eventually to have a public site where patients can search for and compare services.
“What we’re trying to do is create an Amazon for health care.”
“What we’re trying to do is create an Amazon for health care, if you will,” Havig says. “We’re trying to give patients the ability to shop for health care via a digital marketplace like they shop for everything else.”
Havig has big plans for HealthMe. The company, currently with some 100 users, expects to double sales in 2020 over 2019 and has more than 300 doctors either in the process of coming on board or in the pipeline. (Havig declines to disclose specific revenue figures.) It’s mainly working with doctors in the Southeast so far, but expects to have a national and even international reach. “The goal is to get into the thousands of doctors in the not-too-distant future,” he says.
The company just closed a seed funding round of $500,000 — money that will help it grow its team and user base. It was also recently awarded $20,000 at the 2020 Florida Early Stage Capital Conference organized by Space Florida and the Florida Venture Forum. Havig expects that money to get HealthMe through the next 12 to 18 months, but he knows the company will require more money down the road to continue to reach desired milestones. He anticipates launching a Series A round of funding in the late second quarter or early third quarter of 2021 to raise additional capital. “It’s been a long process, but we’re getting traction now,” Havig says.
HealthMe provides the bundles and pricing guidance, but individual doctors can ultimately set their own prices for services. Self-paying patients who go to Havig’s own website, for example, find that a new patient evaluation costs $216 and a single shoulder, knee or hip care visit that includes a physical exam and X-ray if needed costs $270.
The patient pays in advance through the HealthMe platform, and that money goes into an escrow account. When the patient arrives at the office, the staff enters their redemption code, and the provider is paid electronically within 72 hours of treating the patient. HealthMe makes money by charging a “technology fee” for each transaction.
“One of the headaches with health care is how much time, energy, money and staffing it takes to collect from commercial insurers,” says Havig. “This simplifies the payment process. We’re giving doctors prices so they can access a market of patients they’re currently ignoring. And by doing that we’re giving patients better access to transparently priced health care bundles so they know their costs in advance.”
Though the advantages might seem obvious, educating doctors about the need for and benefits of this type of platform is a core challenge in the early going. “One of the responses we get is they think it’s too simple,” says Havig. He’s spoken frequently about it at medical meetings and events, and word of mouth has helped woo clients. “Once I get a practice or medical group online, they tell their colleagues,” he says.
“This shouldn’t be a radical way of doing business,” Havig adds, “because it’s how we purchase everything else in our lives.”