Curai Health nabs $27M to build out text-based primary care services

Entrepreneur Neal Khosla believes virtual primary care, powered by artificial intelligence, can help address healthcare access issues throughout the country.

The average American waits two to three weeks to see a new physician, and patients increasingly turn to Google with their healthcare-related questions rather than a doctor, he said.

Khosla and Xavier Amatriain, who built Netflix’s recommendation engine, co-founded Curai Health in 2017 to provide a chat-based primary care service that is available to any consumer 24/7. The company also recruited MDLive’s former chief medical officer, Sylvan Waller, M.D., to join the team as CMO.

The company, based in Palo Alto, California, closed a $27.5 million in series B funding led by Morningside Ventures. Previous investors General Catalyst and Khosla Ventures, the firm founded by Khosla’s father, Vinod Khosla, also participated in the round. The company has raised $57 million to date.

Previously available only direct-to-consumer, Curai Health is looking to build out enterprise partnerships with payers, employers and public-sector organizations, according to the company. Curai Health aims to partner with enterprises that want an affordable primary care option for everyone in their organization, especially those with people who can sometimes struggle to access care such as hourly employees, gig workers and those with high-deductible health plans.

"Primary care should be just that—primary—to every single person, but without drastic innovation, the current system will only create more scarcity, higher costs, and a sicker population,” said Khosla, who also serves as CEO at Curai Health

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“AI has the power to scale the care provided by a finite number of physicians so that it can meet the demands of a global population. We’ve dedicated countless hours to in-depth clinical and technical R&D to ensure our system gets smarter, more efficient, and increasingly cost-effective after every patient encounter. We aren’t interested in the 10% to 20% cost savings that most virtual care platforms aspire to deliver. We’re working toward 10 and, eventually 100x, care-delivery cost reductions," he said.

Curai Health plans to use the funding to expand its platform to additional states. It's currently only available in California but plans to expand to half of the U.S. by next summer.

To date, more than 350,000 patient visits have occurred on the Curai Health platform, with its AI achieving nearly a 90% diagnosis accuracy rate, according to the company.

The company's patient care teams are led by U.S. licensed physicians and medically trained clinical associates, who are both supported by artificial intelligence. The AI works as part of the care team, sitting alongside providers, making suggestions and automating more low-value tasks, Khosla said. It also will listen and learn from each patient encounter, ensuring it gains a greater understanding of medical language, symptomatology and condition diagnoses.

For clinicians, the AI decision support tool can help with charting, prompting questions for patients before they start a visit, and pulling important information into a patient’s medical record.

The company has developed what Khosla calls the first "learning healthcare system" that creates a sustainable and scalable primary care model that can meet the demands of a growing global population.

"It's a virtual primary care service, available in chat-based form, and it uses AI and machine learning to continually get better to help physicians in decreasing the cost of delivering that care, improve the patient experience, and provide decision support during the encounter," Khosla told Fierce Healthcare.

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The company's virtual primary care services can serve as a safety net for healthcare access, he said.

Even though primary care is considered critical to maintaining a healthy population and controlling costs, access remains a huge issue. In the U.S. alone, there will be a shortage of nearly 122,000 physicians by 2032, and the cost per visit has steadily risen.

Avoidable emergency visits account for almost $8.3 billion annually, and a backward focus on treating, versus preventing, chronic conditions results in approximately 90% of the U.S.’ annual $3.5 trillion health expenditures going to chronic condition management.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated primary care challenges by creating an expected $15 billion shortfall for primary care practices, Khosla said.

While there will always be certain healthcare encounters that require an in-person visit with a physician, a virtual care platform can help amplify the limited number of physicians available today, Khosla said.

"We're proposing a different version of the world where patients start by accessing healthcare through their phone. It's a transformation that's happened in basically every other industry. There is obviously a huge role for in-person care to play but it is secondary to getting people access to healthcare first," he said.

Curai Health's services are not replacing brick-and-mortar primary care doctors, but largely provide access to care for those consumers who have not used the traditional healthcare system, according to Amatriain.

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"Many people don’t have a primary care doctor, so they go to urgent care. They wait too long to get care, and there's a high cost to the system down the line," Amatriain told Fierce Healthcare.

Curai Health is among a crop of digital health companies trying to disrupt primary care. On-demand text-based primary care platform 98point6 raised $118M in series E funding in October, tech-enabled primary care startup Carbon Health recently secured $100 million in funding and K Health, which developed a chat function that uses AI to suggest potential diagnoses for consumers who enter symptoms, closed a $420 million round.

Babylon Health, which was last valued at $2 billion during a fundraise in 2019 and has raised more than $600 million to date, offers a digital healthcare app for AI-powered diagnosis and video appointments.

Established telehealth players such as Doctor On Demand, MDLive and Teladoc also have rolled out virtual-first primary care offerings to payer and employer customers.

While many telehealth companies focus on providing virtual primary care visits, Curai Health is leaning heavily toward AI to drastically reduce the cost of care.