Pager, the doctor-on-demand service, has partnered with Weill Cornell Medicine amid a shift in the Manhattan startup's strategy. The firm will begin referring patients to the system's specialists when treatment can't be provided in a patient's home or office.
The deal gives Pager's patients a straightforward path if their condition is best treated by a primary care doctor or specialist and allows the company to tap into Weill Cornell's specialty-referral center, which the system uses internally to direct patients.
The move comes as Pager shifts its attention to creating partnerships with health systems and insurers that will pay to use Pager's technology for its ability to engage consumers and facilitate follow-up contact. That's not the structure in the Weill Cornell deal, however, which is merely a clinical relationship.
The company previously marketed itself primarily to consumers, who enjoyed the ease of summoning a doctor using Pager's mobile app.
“In 2016, we're focusing on trying to bring value to the rest of the health care industry, especially health systems and health plans,” Gaspard de Dreuzy, Pager's co-founder and chief executive, told Crain's in an interview.
Pager charges $200 for an in-person visit and $25 for a phone consultation. It also works directly with employers, including Uber and Spotify, providing in-office visits and flu shots to staff members.
It recently debuted a text-based chat service that allows patients to discuss symptoms with a nurse. That clinician can either facilitate a Pager visit or recommend a trip to the ER or a specialist, which in New York likely will mean a Weill Cornell doctor. For those physicians, the agreement will generate new referrals and provide another entry point for patients to become connected to New York-Presbyterian.
“We recognized that startups like Pager are giving patients the type of access they want,” said Dr. Adam Stracher, director of the primary care division of the Weill Cornell Physician Organization. “We felt that this would be a good partnership for us to provide care to patients who might access care in different ways than our traditional model.”
“For us, this is staying current with digital times,” added Stracher.
Pager's in-home visits are among a new crop of convenient alternatives for patients frustrated with the short hours and long wait times for physician appointments. Others filling that role include urgent-care centers such as CityMD and retail clinics housed in corner drugstores.
Those options have drawn criticism for fragmenting the way patients receive care, perhaps driving up health costs when a single practitioner isn't leading the effort to make sure patients undergo only tests and procedures that are medically necessary.
“The goal at the end of the day, with Pager, is to keep people out of the hospital. If we can do that efficiently, we can lower the cost of care, and we're going to be asked by our partners to be paid on that,” de Dreuzy said, hinting at a future where Pager could be accountable for patients' outcomes.
Pager is one of a number of successful digital health startups in the New York City area. Such companies received $656 million in 11 deals during the first quarter of 2016, with health insurer Oscar raising $400 million and cancer-research company Flatiron getting $175 million, according to data released this month by StartUp Health Insights. That's more than six times the amount raised by local digital health companies through nine deals during the year-earlier period. In July, Pager got $14 million from Ashton Kutcher's Sound Ventures and Maryland-based New Enterprise Associates.
As the company prepares for expansion in California and Florida, where it is in talks with large insurers, it is abandoning its former plan to build its own network of providers. Instead, it is opting to link up with medical groups and health systems.
“The model of owning our own network is not where we're going in the future,” said Sander Duncan, Pager's vice president for business development and strategy. “The world we're describing is one in which we're a pure-play technology company. That's the model you're going to see announced in new markets going forward.”