US startup Grand Rounds has set up an online platform that enables patients to more easily obtain a second opinion from a medical specialist. The company recently raised $40 million in a second funding round.

eHealth: online platform helps patients obtain expert second opinion

A personal experience prompted Lawrence Hofmann, a doctor specialising in interventional radiology, to found Grand Rounds, whose company mission is to “provide access to the right people and obtain a high quality diagnosis when your condition is critical,” even if the specialist for that particular medical condition lives at the other end of the country. Because of his own expertise Lawrence Hofmann was able to save the life of his son who had suffered over-exposure to bilirubin, a toxin that destroys the liver, and then contracted a condition of the spinal cord. A bone marrow transplant would not normally have been considered as a treatment for this condition and yet this was the technique to which the father resorted in order to save his son’s life, an unlikely outcome if he had not been a highly qualified physician. Hence his firm conviction that not only medically qualified parents ought to be in a position to save the lives of their children. The idea behind the startup is therefore to give ordinary people access to expert advice as a complement to the standard US health system. Over a thousand specialists are now working with Grand Rounds.


A range of supplementary medical services

Along the same lines as Medexo in Germany, San Francisco-based Grand Rounds offers a range of services via its web platform. One service puts doctors and patients in contact with each other to arrange ‘Visits’ (i.e. consultations), another enables patients to benefit from expert ‘Opinions’ – advice in writing within just a few days of making a request, while a third service is designed to reassure the friends and family of a hospital in-patient by requesting the doctor in charge to obtain the advice of leading medical experts in the field (a service the company calls a 'Stat'.  Grand Rounds is aiming its services at companies, which are asked to pay $6 -10 (€4-7) per month per employee. Where people use the service on a private basis, it is not covered by the US national health insurance programme (Medicare) but some medical insurance companies will reimburse the costs. This is clearly a highly desirable approach, given that the fee for a second medical opinion averages around $7,500 dollars (€5,400).

Quality of care a concern in the US

In two out of three cases, recourse to Grand Rounds-listed experts has resulted in the original treatment prescription – or even the basic diagnosis – being altered, claims Lawrence Hoffman’s co-founder and company CEO Owen Tripp, who alleges that inappropriate surgical procedures have been carried out in as many as 40% of the cases the company has dealt with. Grand Rounds services thus clearly respond to a real need in the United States, as also evidenced by the great interest investors have shown in the initiative. So far Grand Rounds has raised a total of $51 million (€37 million) to finance the project. This desire to improve the quality and also reduce the cost of medical care provided to US citizens is currently a key social and political concern, as demonstrated by the passionate debates around the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka ‘Obamacare’, which was passed by the US legislature in 2010.

By Lucie Frontière