PhillyInc: Health-care start-up focuses on connecting rural patients with psychiatrists

Posted: August 16, 2012

Business plans dreamed up by entrepreneurs in the area's health-care sector often have me reaching for the Physicians' Desk Reference or WebMD.

The jargon can be a challenge for someone who spends more time reviewing income statements than Medicare diagnosis and procedure codes.

But every once in a while, I encounter a start-up company that can describe itself in three words rather than three pages.

How's this for succinct? "Online doctor's office."

That's what 1DocWay calls itself, although what it does is narrower than the first image that probably came to mind.

1DocWay is one of three winners of a business-plan competition sponsored by Independence Blue Cross called the IBX Game Changers Challenge. The region's dominant health insurer wound up receiving 150 entries to its six-week contest designed to focus on new ways to improve health and wellness in the region.

The other winners were:

QuickSeeMD, a smartphone application that seeks to reduce emergency-room visits by linking patients to more appropriate and often less-expensive alternatives for health-care services.

Kitchen Cred, an after-school program that hopes to teach middle- and high-school students how to cook healthy meals.

Each winner receives a $50,000 grant and up to three months of office space in a Center City business incubator called Venturef0rth. In addition, they'll get mentoring from Wharton Entrepreneurial Programs and a consulting session with the punctuation-happy ?What If! Innovation Partners.

But it was 1DocWay that really caught my attention. It was begun by Samir Malik, who recently took a leave of absence from his graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School to work on his business full time.

In an interview, Malik said the company focuses on connecting patients in rural areas who need psychiatric services with psychiatrists through secure video chats using broadband Internet connections for two reasons: The need is severe, and reimbursement is more favorable than it is for the same services provided in cities.

So far in 2012, more than 700 sessions between doctors and patients have occurred over 1DocWay's turnkey system, Malik said.

His three-employee company intends to use the $50,000 grant from the IBX Game Changers contest to improve 1DocWay's technology, which Malik called "good, not great," and to bolster its sales efforts, which involve calling on hospital administrators as well as rural clinics.

Malik is a tested veteran of similar competitions. Earlier this year, 1DocWay won a $10,000 Wharton Venture Award, as well as second place and $15,000 in the Wharton Business Plan Competition. It also participated in business accelerator DreamIt Ventures' New York session in summer 2011. Malik pitched his business case to a Silicon Valley audience at a DEMO Enterprise Disruption event in January.

With its latest win, 1DocWay would appear to be on the fast track. It remains to be seen whether the gravitational pull of New York (where the firm has a small office) will lure it from Philadelphia (where it also has a small office).

The Philadelphia region prides itself on its "eds and meds" sector, and 1DocWay would seem to be a good example of the kinds of start-ups that can emerge if small amounts of money are available at crucial times of development.


Contact Mike Armstrong

at 215-854-2980 or marmstrong@phillynews.com, or @PhillyInc on Twitter. Read his blog, "PhillyInc," at www.phillyinc.biz.

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