Minute Clinic Cofounder Heads Up Health Care Start-Up

Minute Clinic Cofounder Heads Up Health Care Start-Up

Zipnosis offers a fast diagnosis for common ills.

Jon Pearce thought there was a better way to handle simple medical problems than spending long waits in a doctor’s office or an urgent care clinic. So he conceptualized an online business through which patients could make “e-visits” to get treated for minor health problems more quickly and easily.

Called Zipnosis, the newly formed company allows patients to report symptoms through a software-guided interview on its Web site. A patient who has a bladder infection, for example, is asked how often he urinates and whether there is blood in his urine.

It takes about five minutes for patients to fill out the online questionnaire and about three minutes for one of several nurse-practitioners to review it. After it’s reviewed, the software e-mails the nurse’s diagnosis back to the patient, along with prescriptions that can be sent to any pharmacy. This not only eliminates the typical wait time in a doctor’s office, but it also frees up physicians to focus on patients with critical problems. Cost to the patient: $35 per “zip.”

“We can make a clinician five to 10 times more efficient doing a zip than doing an in-office visit,” explains Pearce, Zipnosis’s chief operating officer and an MBA student at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.

A zip doesn’t always result in a diagnosis. Zipnosis’s online platform tackles only minor health problems, like bronchitis, ear infections, and skin conditions. If patients exhibit signs of major problems, or if their symptoms raise questions, they are advised to go see a doctor.

Pearce came up with the idea for Zipnosis along with his friend Dr. Steve Claypool, with whom he previously worked at Minneapolis-based medical-documentation software company ProVation Medical. Claypool is now Zipnosis’s chief medical officer. The two tapped Dr. Conrad Barski to develop the technology platform and serve as the company’s chief technology officer.

The entrepreneurs also scored a coup when they lured Rick Krieger, cofounder of fast-diagnosis pioneer Minute Clinic (now a subsidiary of Rhode Island–based pharmacy giant CVS Caremark), to lead the company as its CEO. Krieger has participated in the founding of seven successful start-ups; most recently, he was entrepreneur in residence at the University of Minnesota Venture Center.

While Zipnosis has e-medicine competitors, none offer the mobility that Zipnosis does, Pearce says. It works with almost any Web browser and a handful of smart phones. The process is also more streamlined than competing services that require patients to schedule visits in advance, be part of a certain health care network, or type messages back and forth with a doctor.

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Zipnosis completed an external round of financing last March. The rest of the funding for the company came from its four-person management team.

Beginning in November, Zipnosis began testing its model with the Twin Cities Pipe Trades union, offering “zips” to the members of this construction union and their families. Twin Cities Pipe Trades, which was attracted to Zipnosis’s model as a way to keep health care costs down, has about 6,500 members. If this beta test goes well, it could help open the door to the larger Twin Cities market for Zipnosis in early 2010.

Zipnosis has virtually no overhead costs (no central offices, for instance), the company says, suggesting that it should be able to turn a profit instantly and expand quickly.

“This could become global,” Pearce asserts.