Buoy Health Raises $37.5M to Help People Accurately Self Diagnose and Receive the Right Care

It took one rotation in the ER of a major Boston hospital for this former med student to realize that a disproportionate number of people who came to the ER based on flawed, online self-diagnosis while patients who needed to be in the hospital often stayed at home. As good as Google is, “Dr. Google” is not the best physician. Recognizing this troubling dynamic, Andrew Le took a sabbatical from med school to launch Buoy Health, an AI-powered digital assistant that helps patients accurately self-diagnose and access appropriate care. The company has helped over 9 million people understand their symptoms and seek relevant care options whether it’s telemedicine, primary care, behavioral health resources, etc. There’s been a surge in demand for the digital solution during the pandemic and the platform has saved countless valuable hours for healthcare practitioners that are overwhelmed because of COVID.

Boston TechWatch caught up with Cofounder and CEO Andrew Le, MD to learn more about the company, its future plans, the impressive traction during the pandemic, and recent round of funding. Founded in 2014, Buoy Health has raised a total of $66.5M across five rounds and was founded.

Who were your investors and how much did you raise?

Cigna Ventures and Humana led the funding round and were joined by Optum Ventures, WR Hambrecht + Co, and Trustbridge Partners. Series C closed with $37.5M raised.

Tell us about the product or service that Buoy Health offers.

Buoy Assistant has helped more than 9 million users make more informed decisions about their health and where to seek care. Buoy used this expertise to launch the first COVID-19 assessment that both helped users understand their symptoms and locate care in their communities. We’ve helped half a million people with this platform during the pandemic, saving more than 29,764 medical professionals’ hours, or 1,240 days. The company has also launched Back with Care™, an employer platform that provides health resource navigation, risk assessment, and personalized guidance for the transition back into the workplace for employers and employees across the country.

What inspired the start of Buoy Health?

Prior to starting Buoy, I was on track to become a neurosurgeon. It was during my last year of medical school at Harvard when I had my first rotation in the emergency room of a major hospital in Boston. I saw how many people came to the ER with online self-assessments, and how wrong their assessments often were. People who should have stayed home were coming in; more tragically, people who were especially sick were waiting at home and getting worse.

Around that same time, my dad had a mini-stroke and didn’t go to the hospital. When I asked why he didn’t call me or my two sisters, who are both doctors, he said that he thought we were busy. When I asked why he didn’t search online to figure out what to do, my dad said that he didn’t trust what he’d find online.

That emotional tipping point led me to take a sabbatical from school, 3 months before graduating, to start Buoy with 3 other people in the Harvard Innovation Lab. Since then, everyone at Buoy has been obsessed with this belief that the front door of health care, the online self-assessment, is broken, and that we will be the ones to fix it.

How is Buoy Health different?

Buoy helps people get to the right care at the right time by serving as a navigation sidewalk for all the possible front doors. Buoy can serve up the most relevant care options at the right time providing a personalized experience for consumers: think telemedicine, primary care, behavioral health resources, etc.

Our technology is helping to bridge the knowledge gaps surrounding medicine and treatment options, demystify what’s covered by insurance, and create a seamless experience for consumers.

What market does Buoy Health target and how big is it?

Buoy works with self-insured employers and health plans in the United States.

What’s your business model?

Buoy operates on a per member per month or per employee per month basis with our paying customers – so the patient/consumer/employee never pays a dime. Anyone, even if they don’t work for or are insured by one of our partners, can use the free buoy.com assessment – and we still recommend options based on their geography and symptoms – just not as detailed if we don’t have a linkage to their insurance/employer. In addition, anyone can use buoy.com anonymously if they’d like.

How has COVID-19 impacted the business?

In the midst of COVID-19, we continued to innovate while expanding the business. As one of the first digital health companies in the U.S. to respond to the pandemic, Buoy launched a publicly available platform to help Americans understand their potential COVID symptoms and seek care in their community. As a result of our early action, Buoy has saved more than 29,764 medical professionals’ hours, or 1,240 days, during the pandemic.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts partnered with Buoy to support state residents when they make decisions seeking COVID-19 testing and care during the pandemic. Soon after we launched a similar partnership with the Commonwealth of Virginia.

COVID-19 also inspired us to launch Back With Care™, an employer platform that provides health resource navigation, risk assessment and personalized guidance for the transition back into the workplace for employers and employees across the country. With numerous tech companies and large healthcare organizations launching consumer-centric offerings to tackle this issue, we remain committed to humanizing the healthcare journey and assessing the COVID-19 risk in connection with getting back to physical offices.

What was the funding process like?

Growth since our Series B funding last year has been exponential, and especially with the pandemic and advancement towards the adoption of digital health solutions, the need for navigation tools like Buoy has been on the rise.

What are the biggest challenges that you faced while raising capital?

Learning how to deal with “no” a lot, picking yourself back up, and going into the next meeting with the exact same enthusiasm I had when I started

Learning how to deal with “no” a lot, picking yourself back up, and going into the next meeting with the exact same enthusiasm I had when I started

What advice can you offer companies in Boston that do not have a fresh injection of capital in the bank?

Have a frank conversation with your leadership team and then the entire team. Make them understand the situation you’re in. Make a plan for how you’re going to survive through this difficult time. Create bull-base-bearish plans and track your financials on a week-to-week basis. Create decision dates where you have to determine which path you’re on and then execute on that plan. Hold tight to grit and perseverance.

Where do you see the company going now over the near term?

Series C proceeds will help to further build out our IP with respect to artificial intelligence and other technologies, as well as grow the Buoy team. The fundraise will advance Buoy’s clinical and insurance-based navigation capabilities to help move the individual to a more consumer-friendly healthcare journey.

We also plan to hire for positions across the board – likely a 75% increase in employees over the next year. If you’re interested, check out open positions on our website.

What is your favorite restaurant in Boston?

Hot Pot Buffet.

You are seconds away from signing up for the hottest list in Boston Tech! Join the millions and keep up with the stories shaping entrepreneurship. Sign up today