For 13.8 million working Australians, dedicating the time to see a health professional can mean navigating traffic, conflicting appointments, pushing back errands or other commitments.
On a mission to disrupt this routine are entrepreneurs Dr Patrick Aouad and Daniel Mann, who joined forces five years ago to transform a Starbucks in Sydney’s Balmain into a medical clinic that would go on to provide 40,000-plus COVID-19 vaccines.
Now, the duo is pitching to investors to digitise healthcare and offer employees a quicker way to access professionals such as doctors, dietitians, psychologists and more from one centralised platform – CU Health.
Having raised $3 million to date, the co-founders have launched a Series A funding round on VentureCrowd to look after the startup's existing team of healthcare professionals, manage product maintenance and grow its corporate client base.
Speaking with Business News Australia, Aouad explained the latest raise, which went live on 19 May, would help the Sydney-based company secure a fresh $4 million in funding, of which more than half has already been secured through a SAFE note.
“We haven't raised capital since 2021. We get other forms of capital through our research, development and commercialisation grants and different government grants. But in terms of a capital raise, I've secured another $2.5 million on a SAFE note. That's currently live and was mainly from high-net-worth individuals - $50,000 or more to become a shareholder,” CU Health CEO Aouad explained.
“We want to finish this round off with VentureCrowd so that more people can have access before we close it off. This round will be the last time we go to private investors. Beyond this, it would be institutional. We’re looking to raise up to $4 million in this round altogether.
“The capital is going toward serving our customers, looking after our team with runway whilst we're onboarding new corporate clients, new populations of employees and also new members through the direct consumer side.”
Founded in 2019, CU Health offers users a dashboard that monitors healthcare appointments, curates well-being content and oversees specific health goals, like quitting smoking, running a marathon or reaching a healthy target weight.
Upon signing up, the platform asks users to complete a ‘health check’ that looks into an employee’s current behaviours, habits, physical activity level, diet, sleep, medication and more.
The service currently has around 20 healthcare professionals available to process patients, with an additional 150 on standby who have registered their interest to be on CU Health as the platform continues to grow.
“The service is built so that every person can customise their own well-being based on their needs and their stage and age in life. That varies from person to person, but a really important thing for any good service - particularly one an employer is providing - is that needs to be customisable for the employees so that they can get value out of it,” Aouad explained.
“You can chat with health coaches and they can help you…it’s like a healthcare concierge in terms of information, upcoming appointments and any other advice you need. You can get prescriptions through the service; those are always overseen by a GP.”
There are rising concerns about how telehealth providers give out prescriptions following media reports that Australian startups Eucalyptus and NIB-backed Midnight Health were not holding video calls or checking a patient’s identity prior to sending out weight loss medication.
Since that news was published, Midnight Health co-founder and CEO Nic Blair said it was expected the Medical Board of Australia's guidelines would evolve as technology changes the way patients access care.
"We are supportive of any updates that are made in the interest of improving patient safety and will always adhere to them," Blair said.
"Through the continued improvement of our own internal processes, many of the consultations conducted across Hub.health, Youly.com.au and Stagger.com.au already adhere to the real-time consultation requirements, so we welcome this change overall."
The Medical Board of Australia currently states that prescribing or providing healthcare for a patient without a real-time direct consultation, whether in-person, via video or telephone, is not good practice and is not supported by the board.
Aouad confirmed CU Health does not give out prescriptions based on users filling out a simple questionnaire, and instead subscribes to a structure that is more in line with traditional medical practice.
“We've got a much more traditional medical practice [model] going on in the background that the user doesn't see. Our checks and balances revolve around having proper clinical governance so that nothing falls through the cracks and can be done safely. Whether it's headaches through to cancer screening, annual health checks and well-being plans.”
When asked if he noticed any patterns or trends in the types of services people were requesting, Aouad noted that mental health services were strong in demand.
“Mental health is a huge area of need. At any point in time, one in five appointments will be a mental health problem. At any time, one in three Australians has a chronic illness that needs maintenance management. We help manage those illnesses for people so that they're at their best at work and we partner with external healthcare providers to do that if they've already got them,” he explained.
“A lot of people are also interested in how to improve their diet and health. Some people don't want to necessarily see a doctor, but they may want to see a dietitian. The other service people love is our health coach and well-being plan, because it's not just about medical problems. It's about people's feeling of contentment and their sense of self.
“One of the problems with other offerings is they provide a one-size-fits-all solution. You might be forcing a square peg into a round hole.”
The platform has already signed on ASX-listed online tradie marketplace HiPages, Spectrum Films, Norwood Football Club, Finder, Aura Group, Cobden & Hayson, Vantage Strata, and accountancy firm The Practice.
CU Health is also in the thick of trialling its platform with Medibank (ASX: MPL), Greening Australia, Judo Bank and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).
“Behind the scenes at a bigger level, we're working with private health insurers and looking at ways in which we can partner and see synergies there. We've also soft-launched direct-to-consumer. Whilst our core business is to uplift organisations with our health and well-being platform, we also provide it to anybody,” Aouad added.
“CU Health’s software itself can be licensed internationally, which we have not made available yet. Because we're a tech-enabled health and well-being company, all services need to be provided within the jurisdiction that the healthcare professionals cover.
“Australian healthcare professionals generally are covered to look after Australian citizens or residents and look after them under our particular legislation, but we do provide certain services to Singapore. Whenever we expand to overseas market, we need local partners on the ground to help us as well.”
For Aouad, the current focus lies on improving the service Down Under, especially for those who live in remote areas where quality healthcare can be hard to come by or afford.
“Regionally, there are problems. A lot of people can't afford access to dieticians, psychologists, even GPs because the gaps are going up. It's about centralising all of that expertise through our platform. To get that right, we're very much focused on Australia for now,” he said.
“It's harder to get in services that are close by or local…people want convenient access to really good quality services. We're working with the broader healthcare community in Australia to create a model of care that expands or bridges that pre-existing model,” he says.
“Currently, every Australian adult is in our target market until we work through how we can offer the services to kids. It's a very large market for us to work with, but we're not in any way looking to disrupt what regular practices, but rather provide channels for them to practice differently and connect people that may not have access.”
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