Throughout the history of modern medicine, there are three common themes among the innovations and technologies developed to improve the practice. 

First, they’re typically born from a need. The stethoscope, for instance, was invented in 1815 by a French physician who couldn’t hear his patient’s heartbeat using the typical practice of placing his ear on the chest. 

Second, new technologies are typically developed by the physicians themselves. In a list of 40 of the most well-known, impactful medical inventions, only a handful were invented by non-physicians. 

And finally, the purpose of the inventions—from the stethoscope to the CT scanner—is to increase the physician’s ability to care for patients and produce positive health outcomes. 

It’s this long-standing tradition of innovation in the medical field that RelyMD, a new Raleigh-based telehealth company, seeks to continue. 

At its core, RelyMD is a way for Emergency Room physicians to communicate with patients in need of expert medical evaluations, prescriptions and advice via a secure, HIPAA compliant, live video platform. 

But RelyMD is more than just the technology and platform that enables the communication between patient and doctor. It’s the execution of a long-standing theory that effective medicine can be practiced virtually—through telehealth—without losing any of the benefits of in-person care. Many experts theorize that when executed well, telehealth can simplify healthcare and increase positive health outcomes by making quality healthcare more affordable, accessible and efficient. 

Though these technologies aren’t yet widely prevalent or pervasive throughout the US healthcare system, RelyMD co-founder Dr. Bobby Park and his team are betting they will be and that RelyMD will be one of the companies leading the charge.

In just over a year since its founding, the Raleigh startup has acquired big local clients like Rex UNC Hospitals and Capitol Broadcasting Company (ExitEvent’s parent organization) and early adopters like HQ Raleigh. It has the big vision of making telehealth ubiquitous in North Carolina, and then beyond. 

And as Park describes it, “it’s only a matter of time before telemedicine and virtual health are a normal thing. Who wants to drive across town when we can see anyone with a phone line or smartphone within 10 minutes for $10 a visit?” 

Founded by brainstorming physicians 

RelyMD was founded in 2015 by Wake Emergency Physicians, PA (WEPPA), an independent group of roughly 100 emergency room physicians who staff nine emergency departments in Wake, Johnston and Granville counties. They collectively saw over 300,000 patients in 2015. The group began discussing the ideas behind RelyMD in 2012 to solve what they saw as a gap in the healthcare system—a lack of affordable and efficient methods of receiving emergency care for non-acute needs.

At that first meeting on the topic, Dr. Park, an Emergency Room physician, recalled a recent incident in which his sister called him as she was heading to the ER with her daughter, who had cut her hand. Using FaceTime, he was able to see that stitches weren’t necessary and all the cut needed to quickly heal was a good cleaning and bandage. His colleagues cited similar stories. They realized they were onto something. 

Their early plans for RelyMD happened to also coincide with health insurers’ switch from paying for the number of healthcare services providers deliver (or a “fee-for-service” model) to paying for the quality of care (or a “value-based care” model). In addition to this shift within the healthcare industry, the Affordable Care Act and other regulations also began to incentivize providers to move toward value-based care models. Experts had identified telehealth technology as a tool to better serve patients and integrate the new care models into their healthcare systems more seamlessly. 

Funding to those companies began to spike in 2014, with large rounds going to Doctors on DemandSpecialists on Call and MDLive. In 2015, funding to telehealth companies hit $400 million according to CB Insights.

It’s for these reasons and because they “felt very strongly that healthcare needs to be simplified,” that Park and his colleagues felt best suited to build the startup. It only helped that they had extensive experience in practicing emergency medicine and access to 100 potential on-call doctors. 

Shortening wait times, diagnosing illness more efficiently 

It took three years for the WEPPA doctors to develop the platform’s protocol and technology, and ready it for launch in January 2015. WEPPA co-developed the RelyMD platform with TCS (now Comtech Telecommunications Corporation) a telecommunications firm based in Maryland. WEPPA also relied heavily upon member physician Dr. David Kammer, a former Apple and Microsoft software developer. Kammer now serves as the company’s director of technology. 

In addition to Kammer, RelyMD employs roughly six full and part-time non-clinical employees who maintain the product, business and sales side of the business. The roughly 100 WEPPA physicians are the businesses’ founders, investors and co-owners and they also staff the clinical side of the business. 

WEPPA treats RelyMD as if it was a 10th ER, contracting its services to RelyMD just as it does the other ERs. Park, who was recently named one of Triangle Business Journal’s 2016 “Health Care Heroes”, serves as co-founder and director. As RelyMD was Park’s brainchild, he was the natural pick to lead it—the other WEPPA doctors confirmed his position through a vote. He continues to practice medicine and see patients through RelyMD.

RelyMD isn’t likely to tackle them all though, Park says. He’d rather share his team’s knowledge and expertise with other doctors so they can create their own companies and products around their specialties. 

As for the future, both Cox and Park believe it’s only a matter of time before telehealth is the norm. Park says he envisions a not-too-distant future when a sick child’s first request is, “Hey mom, dad, I’m sick. Can you give me the iPad to see Dr. Park?”