Startup HealthTap gets $24M to treat ‘demand shock’ of new Obamacare patients

Fast forward to 2014 and it might be harder to get an appointment with your doctor, thanks to an influx of up to 30 million new patients expected to enter the health care system under the Affordable Care Act.  But Palo Alto-based HealthTap believes its online health community for doctors and patients can help offset the impending avalanche of demand – and it just raised $24 million more to prepare.

The Series B round, which was led by Khosla Ventures and included current investors Mayfield Fund and Mohr Davidow Venture Partners, brings the company’s total amount raised to $37.9 million. In addition to the new funding, the startup added a new board member: former Square COO and Khosla Ventures’ newest partner Keith Rabois.

Since launching in 2011, the site has created a network of more than 38,000 physicians who answer anonymous patient questions on a wide range of health issues. As the health system readies for a “demand shock” of new patients in 2014, HealthTap CEO and co-founder Ron Gutman said his site can help alleviate some of the pressure.

“We’re putting in a technology multiplier that can enhance the number of patients every physician can serve,” said Gutman. “We’re using technology to clone the physician to make him available to more patients.”

Instead of rushing to the doctor each time they have a question, HealthTap enables patients to quickly reach a doctor online. If they just have a non-urgent, general question, they can ask a free question of the entire network (or search the site’s deep repository of questions and answers). And if they want more personalized, specific feedback, they can message individual doctors for $9.99.

Companies including American Well and Sherpaa also use technology to more efficiently connect patients and doctors (although those companies support video chats and phone calls, not just text messaging), but they work through employers while HealthTap goes straight to consumers.

To date, HealthTap has focused on building out its service with new products – from features that let users access peer-reviewed medical research to those for discovering and rating doctors. But Gutman said the new funding will enable the team to significantly expand the team with business development, marketing and data science staff.

A key goal for the business team will be new partnerships with other apps and health companies, Gutman said, adding that about 1,000 developers and companies are already on a waiting list to access their API. And he added that another focus will be hiring more data wonks to parse the site’s data and package it in more valuable ways.