Like many of the other companies and concepts transforming the industry, Heal was born out of an unsatisfactory interaction with the healthcare system. In late 2014, Desai and his wife, Dr. Renee Dua, spent hours in the emergency room with their 7-month-old son waiting for a doctor to weigh in on a rash – which, by the time the doctor got around to seeing them, had already disappeared. Frustrated and exhausted, Dua wondered why there wasn’t a way for the examination to take place at home.
cofounder and CEO of Heal
Desai took that idea as a challenge and, within a few months, had created the first version of the Heal app. It’s one of the few A-list health tech plays that passes the elevator pitch test: Heal coordinates on-demand house calls for any condition that’s treatable in an office setting. The visits usually occur within two hours of the request and cost either $99 (without insurance) or the amount of the user’s insurance co-pay (in markets, such as California, where Heal is in-network with many plans).
Heal marks Desai’s fourth venture-funded startup in the past two decades. It follows a six-year stretch running and growing online weight-loss coach FitOrbit. While Heal has exceeded all reasonable expectations so far – the company has coordinated more than 50,000 house calls – Desai is wary against complacency setting in.
“Changing healthcare is hard. It is a broken system so ensconced in its way that it is virtually impossible to make large-scale change,” he said in response to emailed questions. “Against that, the only thing that succeeds is steely-eyed, unwavering determination and stubbornness. The number [of house calls] seems minuscule compared to what we can do in the next three years.”
Still, unlike many of his peers, Desai isn’t exactly bullish on health tech. “Too many companies think ones and zeroes can replace doctors and human contact. Too many companies think the status quo can be changed,” he explained. “A tremendous amount of work is needed to bring healthcare and technology together in a way that has a meaningful impact on the U.S. healthcare system – which, by the way, Time just rated worst in the developed world.”
To that end, don’t expect Desai to cash out or pursue a new venture anytime soon. Asked about his plans for Heal, he responded, “To do for healthcare what Amazon has done in its space – nothing less. For me personally, it’s to build Heal to that greatness, to be a loving and attentive father, and maybe one day to run for office.”