Chattanooga startup broadens telehealth platform

Chattanooga startup broadens telehealth platform

WeCounsel rebranded as VisuWell as virtual health services expand

January 14th, 2018 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

Harrison Tyner, CEO of Chattanooga health care technology startup WeCounsel, talks about the company's tele-counseling services during the Gig Tank Demo Day at the Chattanooga Theater Center in Chattanooga.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

A pioneering online video counseling business started seven years ago in Chattanooga is expanding its healthcare services, rebranding itself and looking to become a major national player in the growing field of telemedicine.

The former WeCounsel announced last week it has taken on the new name of VisuWell and expanded its virtual care platform for health organizations in a variety of health specialties. As part of the expansion, the 22-employee company also is relocating its headquarters from Chattanooga to the Nashville suburb of Franklin, although it will keep its IT operations in Chattanooga.

"We believe that health care is moving to a remote-care emphasis," said Sam Johnson, a health care industry tech veteran who was named to head WeCounsel last summer. "In the past, everything had been done on site and you had to go through your doctor for a lot of services and checks that could be done remotely online."

New medical and monitoring devices are becoming better and more affordable to make remote medical assessments, treatments and counseling possible via the web.

"There were not a lot of technology changes that needed to be made (at WeCounsel) to enable a multi-tiered, multi-organizational enterprise to use our technology so we got our heads down last fall and got our product ready so we can serve a much bigger market," Johnson said. "A hospital wanting to do more telehealth services for not only psychiatry but also primary care, assessing and treating strokes or other injuries, specialty care services — all of the variety of care that hospitals now do with telemedicine — we have rolled up into a scheduling, user rights and user control back-end dashboard."

Johnson, a health care industry veteran, founded Relatient in 2012 and built the patient outreach and messaging platform to include more than 20,000 subscribers before selling the business last summer to Austin Ventures and then joining WeCounsel. As CEO of the Chattanooga-based firm, Johnson has worked to reposition the company from an online network for private behavioral and mental health therapists to become a broader telehealth platform for a variety of health care providers at major health enterprises.

Insurance reimbursements of virtual treatment has been mixed. A dozen states, including Tennessee, have adopted parity laws that require the same reimbursements for virtual care as an in-person visit, and this year Medicare is planning to offer similar reimbursements for covered medical services, whether delivered online or in person.

The VisuWell technology enables any provider group or hospital to add virtual patient encounters to their care delivery model. Additionally, VisuWell will serve provider networks of all sizes to bring on-demand capabilities to the areas of specialty referral, emergency department consults and remote patient monitoring in ways that both reduce cost and improve the efficiency of many patients' care.

The company now provides a virtual care platform for health organizations with any specialty mix.

VisuWell bills itself as "smart and affordable" and claims "simple is better."

Patients are increasingly utilizing direct-to-consumer telehealth offerings. But Johnson said they would prefer to receive virtual care from their own trusted provider.

"New reimbursement models and care quality initiatives are driving the need for more frequent patient interaction," he said. "Telehealth represents an opportunity for provider groups to better meet the needs of today's patient while using existing resources more efficiently. As we see telemedicine volume increasing by almost 100 percent per year, our turnkey platform will allow provider groups to meet rising demand and enable modern care delivery under their own brand."

MedOptions, a virtual care provider that serves the long-term care community, currently uses the VisuWell platform to deliver care across 22 states in more than 100 facilities.

"Our care contracts require that we are present in many geographical locations, some rural in nature, and that we provide the same level of care that could be delivered on site," MedOptions Chairman Ed Mercadante said. "After all is said and done, VisuWell has allowed us to quickly become the nation's largest remote care delivery provider for skilled nursing and assisted living centers."

VisuWell said its technology works on any web-enabled device and includes custom workflow options and online self-service schedule availability along with enabling on-demand provider directories.

"We know that transportation challenges, work schedules and lack of child care are among the top reasons people miss doctor appointments," Johnson said. "With VisuWell, the office can connect patients with an available provider online, improving patient experience and satisfaction, and improving revenue opportunities."

At Relatient, Johnson partnered with Uber to provide non-emergency transportation for patients to and from doctor visits, reducing missed appointments by more than 40 percent.

"Our vision now is to continue becoming a dominant tech player," Johnson said. "The company, over time, has toyed with being a provider network I'm shifting that focus to becoming a tech platform that enables many provider networks."

Founded in 2011, WeCounsel started as an online network aimed at allowing patients to connect with therapists via videoconference.

After a business pivot in 2016, the cloud-based, telemedicine platform secured $3.5 million in Series A funding. Johnson said WeCounsel spent millions of dollars to develop and promote its software technology, which he hopes to now capitalize upon with VisuWell.

Former WeCounsel CEO Harrison Tyner is the only one of the original founders still with the company.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340.