Sir Richard Branson gets behind telemedicine

Originally posted on MedCity News

Richard Branson: 'subsidy junkie'.

Telemedicine startup Doctor on Demand has always been surrounded by celebrity folks in one form or another, but today it supplemented the cast of characters with celebrity entrepreneur and investor Sir Richard Branson. It not only marks Branson’s first investment in telemedicine, but it also raises some intriguing questions about the longterm plans of a company that owns mobile phone and employer wellness businesses.

Branson took part in Doctor’s $21 million Series A round. The telemedicine company also landed big fish Comcast as a customer, which will provide the service to more than 100,000 of its employees.

In a statement that reminded me of Mark Cuban’s statement when he invested in Validic “I believe in personalized medicine,” Richard Branson had something similar to say about his investment in the mobile health company.

“I invested in Doctor On Demand because I believe that mobile technology will improve the system for patients, providers, employers, and insurers,” Branson said. “It will enable a more efficient utilization of resources and a reduction in the overall cost of healthcare provision.”

Branson is a big believer in employer wellness programs. Among the companies in his Virgin group is Virgin Pulse, led by CEO Chris Boyce. Telemedicine as a sell for employers seems to be rising as companies view it as an efficient way for their employees to see a doctor easily and reduce unnecessary healthcare expenses. Another telecommunications company with a mobile channel – Verizon — launched a telemedicine video consult service earlier this year.

In addition to Branson’s thoughts about the company as an investment opportunity, it could be that Branson and Doctor on Demand see in each other a useful partnership in the longterm that could for offer a way for Virgin to offer telemedicine to its Virgin Pulse and/or Virgin Mobile customers. It could also offer help Doctor on Demand to expand beyond the U.S. where it has a presence in 46 states through 1,400 doctors.Virgin also has that airline. Maybe passengers could get access to a doctor 30,000 feet up.

Venrock led the round and Shasta Ventures also participated after investing in a $3 million seed round last year. Other investors in the company include Lerer Ventures and athenahealth CEO Jonathan Bush.

Talkshow host Dr Phil McGraw is credited with conceiving of the startup and serves as its adviser, though there were plenty of variations on the non-emergency video consultation model already such as Teladoc and Sherpaa Health. His son Jay McGraw, the co-founder, is also the executive producer oftabloidesque TV show The Doctors. Today’s alarmist lede, for instance, screams “The Doctors shares what you need to know about the alarming Ebola virus outbreak in the U.S.”  Former U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle is on the board of directors.