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Health startup AccuRx exploded during COVID-19 as doctors flocked to its free software – but new fees mean officials could soon pull the plug

Health startup AccuRx exploded during COVID-19 as doctors flocked to its free software – but new fees mean officials could soon pull the plug

Dr Greg Gulbransen takes part in a telemedicine call with a patient while maintaining visits with both his regular patients and those confirmed to have the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at his pediatric practice in Oyster Bay, New York, U.S., April 13, 2020. Picture taken April 13, 2020. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

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In March, just as Britain was beginning to feel the impact of COVID-19 and weeks before Prime Minister Boris Johnson dragged the country into lockdown, local health startup AccuRx worked quickly to revamp its product.

On top of an established doctor-to-doctor SMS platform, the firm rolled out a new video chat option, allowing practitioners to easily communicate with patients, without any need for a face-to-face appointment — and all for free.

The pivot saw a “crazy” surge in demand, AccuRx CEO and cofounder Jacob Haddad told Business Insider at the time, as the virus forced patients to keep away from doctors’ offices, and the firm more than doubled its presence in surgeries across the country, from 40% to around 90%.

Doctors raved about its products publicly on Twitter. “Thank you @accuRx for developing such an impressive tool for us in general practice. It’s been brilliant!” wrote one based in the Midlands.

But in September, those same doctors were disappointed to learn AccuRx was going to split its offering in two: the new premium “Plus” package would come complete with video calls and other new features, while the “Lite” version would remain free — but lose all the flashy new features it introduced in the spring.

Free couldn’t last forever.

“Your usage has increased, and we’re privileged we’ve been able to help. But our costs have gone up too,” the firm wrote in a blog on its website. “We now need to move to a more sustainable model so that we can continue to support you.”

Between now and March 2021, AccuRx and its army of doctors will be lobbying England’s 135 local CCGs (clinical commissioning groups) to fork out the cash required to keep its services on board.

Since being founded by Entrepreneur First alumni Jacob Haddad and Laurence Bargery in 2016, the firm has gone from strength to strength, and won plaudits among medical professionals for its easy-to-use software, which proved a challenger to established, well-funded players like Babylon.

“Seeing as this is such an essential part of telemedicine, I do trust that our CCGs will support the software,” said Dr Simon Hodges, a GP based in Watford. “[It] will be hard to work without it.”

“In my opinion, they’ve made themselves almost indispensable,” said Dr Nicola Decker, a GP based in North Hampshire. “The NHS is a big organisation, it’s clunky, and it’s hard for us to be as fast and agile as a startup like AccuRx,” she added. “The range of things this bottomless pot called ‘the NHS’ must fund is unbelievable, but there are many great opportunities.”

Speaking to Business Insider in the wake of its announcement, CEO Haddad said doctors had been “very, very understanding”, and that the firm remained in talks with CCGs up and down the country.

“It would make a lot of sense and save a lot of stress if we were able to move forward,” he said. “But there are often barriers put in the way … There isn’t a budget line for innovation.”

Despite the platform’s evident popularity among practitioners, it remains to be seen how strong AccuRx’s presence will be six months from now.

“No decisions have yet been made as to whether it will be AccurRx or any other provider that we will be using going forward,” a spokesperson for the Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland CCGs told Business Insider. “Any final decision will be subject to the completion of a formal approval processes.”

Likewise, a spokesperson for Bristol, North Somerset, and South Gloucestershire’s CCG said they were “reviewing providers of video consultations services to determine how we can best support practices to continue to provide these services”.

CCGs in London, Liverpool, and Oxford declined to comment.

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