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TECHCRUNCH

A new startup wants to help you figure out if your medical issue requires a visit to a doctor’s office, the ER, or can be handled over a telemedicine service, while also providing you with some basic information about the problem and its severity. Nurse-1-1, the latest company from former RunKeeper co-founder Michael Sheeley, is launching today to offer a quick, affordable way to get answers from physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and registered nurses via chat.

Sheeley, a serial entrepreneur, sold his shopping app Kickscout to Mobee in 2014, and later worked on a food ordering service before starting Nurse-1-1 around two years ago.

The idea for the startup emerged from an experience he had after the birth of his daughter.

“My daughter was born with a congenital heart defect,” Sheeley explains – a health crisis that involved her having open heart surgery, he tells us. “I was sitting next to her for a week while she was recovering in the hospital….and I was Google searching everything and anything I could to learn about her condition,” he says.

But the more he read, the more confused he became, as it can be hard to parse health information found online.

He ended up connecting with his wife’s friend, a nurse practitioner, over SMS text messaging, in order to ask some of the questions that he hadn’t asked the doctors at the hospital.

“I was having these conversations with my friend, Kim, and I didn’t have to worry about it being a treatment; I didn’t have to worry about it being a prescription; and I didn’t have to worry about interrupting her busy day,” Sheeley says.

That nurse practitioner, Kim Liner, now works at Nurse-1-1 along with Meri Clare, RN; an ER doctor from Boston Children’s Hospital, Igor Shumskiy, MD; and a former marketing exec for TripAdvisor, Steve McAveeney, among others. The team is currently based out of Harvard University’s Innovation Lab.

The team opted for texting instead of calls, after doing some customer research. They found that most people preferred to communicate asynchronously – like through text messages. When offered the choice between phone calls, video chat or texting via the Nurse-1-1 website, patients choose texting at a much higher rate.

The startup also found that, often, what people first want to know when they have a health concern is what level of care they should get.

Ahead of today’s launch, the texting service was tested with over 1,200 patients and received interest from 190 nurses, who have since joined its platform. It’s free to end users if the patient’s provider is signed up on Nurse-1-1. (None have yet – but discussions are underway, Sheeley says.) Otherwise it’s $12.50 per chat.

This is much less than video visits with doctors, which typically go for around $49 or have co-pays of around $30 per visit.

“The triage industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. When you call your doctor late at night and get that phone call back, it’s usually a third-party service calling you. They charge $15 per call to these clinics and it’s very low quality,” Sheeley explains. “Our business model is to charge clinics only $12.50 per call…if your provider is on the platform, that money is charged to them, not to [patients.],” he notes.

When your provider is not available, the money customers pay, minus a $2.50 processing fee, will go directly to nurses instead.

In the future, Nurse-1-1 may generate referrals to telemedicine providers, allowing it to earn referral fees, too.

Already, the company found that many of its customers are moms or moms-to-be, asking questions about pregnancy, kid’s ailments, colds, flus, and the like. They’re trying to figure out if they should visit an urgent care now, or see a doctor in the morning, for example.

The service works both via the web and through an iOS app. It’s HIPAA-compliant, and data is encrypted end-to-end.

Nurse-1-1 is immediately available across the U.S. because it’s not actually prescribing or diagnosing. The company hasn’t raised outside funding, but may look to do a seed round in the near future.