One night in 2014, late in the wee hours, Dr. Renee Dua experienced the frustration that some of her own patients have endured—waiting on pins and needles in an emergency room for the attention and care of a doctor. The Los Angeles nephrologist’s infant son had fallen ill with a severe cold.
“We waited for nearly eight hours in the E.R.!” Due tells Free Enterprise. “In that time, my son had settled down and started to get better.”
Fueled by a new compassion for what patients of all ages go through everyday—waiting sometimes for hours on end in doctor’s offices, hospitals, and urgent care centers to find out why they’re ill and how they can get better—Dua and her husband, Nick Desai, a tech entrepreneur, resolved to bring healthcare back home.
“After [our] agonizing experience, I saw the problems in our healthcare system with utter clarity and was determined to create a solution,” Dua says.
Together, in March 2015, the couple launched Santa Monica, Calif.-based Heal, a startup anchored around a mobile app of the same name that dispatches a licensed physician direct to patients in their comfort zones—in the privacy of their homes or offices. Dua serves as Heal’s chief medical officer and Desai is CEO.
The company’s mission: to provide people with in-home access to high-quality, personalized urgent, primary, and preventative medical care delivered by licensed physicians, minus the wait. Heal doctors arrive at patients’ homes and offices in two hours or fewer after they’re dispatched through the app.
The company’s licensed physicians are available, seven days a week, any time between 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., for anything a patient might require during a traditional office visit. Appointments cost $99 or an in-network copay for most insurance plans.
Fresh off of a $26.9 million Series A funding round, Heal is now available in the following areas of California: Los Angeles County, Orange County, San Diego, Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, and the Peninsula down to San Jose. Several additional locations throughout the Golden State are also in the works, Dua says.
We caught up with the busy doctor and mom of two to ask her about the business lessons she’s learned, what entrepreneurship means to her, and what we can expect from her company in the future. The Q&A with Dua that follows has been edited for length and clarity.
What problems does your startup solve and how?
“We knew there was a huge opportunity for our company, as the average wait time for a primary care doctor appointment exceeds 18 days. Also, 80 percent of Americans delay or forgo going to the doctor because of lack of time and work responsibilities. Heal solves these problems by allowing patients to receive in-network care in the comfort of their own homes and at their convenience.”
How has Heal grown since launch?
“Within just a year of launching, Heal has cared for more than 10,000 patients to date and is in-network with Blue Shield of California, Anthem Blue Cross of California, Cigna Healthcare, Aetna, and UnitedHealthcare. In the next year, we hope to expand our geographical footprint and add additional medical service offerings.”
What surprises you the most about running an on-demand healthcare app?
“That there is a lot to be done to fix our fundamentally broken healthcare system, but we are working on it day-by-day. We are disrupting institutionalized medicine, which doesn’t happen overnight. We’ve had to educate consumers, doctors, and facilities on the wide-ranging, positive impacts of using an app versus the old-school ways of trying to schedule an appointment and waiting for days.
The app—and our service—is simply more convenient for most people. What turned out to be a business venture of on-demand doctor house calls has actually turned out to be so much more meaningful.”
What key business lessons have you learned on your journey launching Heal?
“First, maintaining a healthy work-life balance is so important and something I try to practice every day. Second, hire the best and pay them what they are worth. And, third, scale your company responsibly. Work only with investors that are truly passionate about your company and vision.”
What do the words “social entrepreneur” mean to you?
“They mean that you are passionate about solving a problem and you give it your best effort every day. I have turned my life experience as a wife, a mom, and a doctor into a business venture that is helping to transform the U.S. healthcare system.
We are radically improving how people receive primary, preventative, and urgent care by bringing back the house call doctor. Our doctors absolutely listen to their patients and give them their full attention, away from the distractions of a medical office or hospital. We’re making healthcare personal again.”