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It touches on multiple facets of public health. Andrew Brookes—Getty Images/Cultura RF

This Startup Wants to Be the OpenTable for Urgent Care

Apr 19, 2017

People are increasingly forgoing the traditional hospital ER and leaning on urgent care centers to treat minor medical problems like colds, ear infections, stomach bugs, and sprains. Urgent care centers—a $17 billion industry—usually let patients see doctors within an hour to get a necessary prescription or treatment for non-life threatening medical issues.

But the challenge these centers face is routing would-be patients to their facilities instead of them going straight to the ER. Enter Solv, a startup launching to the public today that wants to make booking urgent care appointments as easy as reserving a table at a restaurant through OpenTable.

The company is debuting with $6.25 million in new funding from Benchmark Capital, led by Uber and early OpenTable investor Bill Gurley, as revealed first to Fortune.

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Founded by former Trulia executives Heather Mirjahangir Fernandez and Daniele Farnedi, Solv is an online service that lets users search for a nearby urgent care facility, access reviews and information about the center, and book same-day appointments. When booking an appointment through Solv, users can type in their insurance information or scan their insurance card, and Solv will tell them whether a particular center will accept their coverage.

The service also lets users know the cost of out-of-pocket payments for specific treatments. For example, a flu shot may cost $15 but a treatment for pink eye might be closer to $100.

Then, when Solv users visit the urgent care facility, they can check in on an iPad at the front desk using their mobile phone number to save time. Currently only available in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, Solv makes money by selling booking software to urgent care clinics. This software lets clinics see reservations, access patient data, and operate the iPad check-in system. ZocDoc also lets you book appointments with doctors, but does not focus on urgent care.

Solv plans to launch in additional U.S. cities in late 2017.

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Urgent care centers are steadily increasing in number, growing to an estimated 10,000 U.S. locations from 8,000 locations three years ago. Because of this growth, it's also an industry that's the target of acquisitions. This week, private equity firm Warburg Pincus invested $600 million for a majority stake in East Coast urgent care operator CityMD. In 2010, Humana bought urgent care giant Concentra for nearly $800 million.

Fernandez predicts urgent care centers will continue to grow and that they will need Solv's software to help manage customers and draw more business in. The service ensures that customers don't have to wait hours in waiting rooms, and provides the ability to book appointments on their phones. Fernandez said that 80% of the people who use Solv are in front of urgent care doctors within two hours of booking.

Gurley bets that this experience will be part of what he calls the "consumerization of healthcare." "The healthcare provider needs to start acting like a business owner and caring about the customer experience," said Gurley. "Attention to the customer experience by providers has been absent."

That outlook has been tougher to implement in practice. Furthermore, a number of startups that are tackling the health care industry have stumbled. Health insurance upstart Oscar Health is reportedly bleeding money and had to scale back its ambitions due to expenses from the Affordable Care Act. Once valued at $9 billion, embattled blood testing startup Theranos was forced to exit the blood testing business completely amid regulatory scrutiny and pending lawsuits.

Gurley acknowledged that disrupting the health care industry is challenging, but that it's absolutely necessary. Whether the healthcare system agrees—and is willing to take steps to improve—is far from certain.

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