To put it simply, TimelyMD was ahead of the curve. The telehealth company, which focuses its services on the higher education market, significantly scaled its reach less than a year before the pandemic introduced most of the world to remote care.
Today, TimelyMD serves more than 800,000 students in 200 schools nationwide with mental health and medical care. It offers 24/7 mental health and medical care services, partnering with 500 providers.
Co-founded in 2017 by CEO Luke Hejl, the company ranked No. 7 on Inc. magazine’s 2022 list of fastest-growing companies in the Southwest. A $60 million investment from JMI Equity, a software-focused firm, is allowing it to continue to grow even as the pandemic loosens its grip on society.
A TimelyMD survey found that nine out of 10 students say there is a mental health crisis on their campus, and 75 percent of university presidents say they want to continue to invest in mental health services. When viruses or events can trigger medical or mental health crises, virtual care options can help an organization meet increased demand without new hires that may be unused when the need bottoms out.
At Abilene Christian University, the university was having trouble keeping its clinic staffed well enough to serve its students’ growing needs. College students are looking for immediate access on their schedule (often at odd hours), and it is hard to offer that kind of service in a brick-and-mortar clinic.
Hejl, an ACU graduate, approached his alma mater about providing a solution to a problem that existed on campus and many others faced. “We were willing to give it a shot based on the fact that they have the relationships with clinical mental health providers that we were dealing with a generation that was open to the telehealth options,” says Phil Schubert, the school’s president.
Hejl was born in Austin with an entrepreneurial spirit that manifested itself in many ventures, including a rabbit breeding operation that took advantage of the short gestation period for the furry pets. With a degree in advertising, he worked in several agencies before joining a startup medical education company called Doctors in Training that quickly dominated the market. He later joined the digital marketing agency Social Factor, where he became CEO.
In 2015, he attended a virtual care panel at South by Southwest in Austin and learned about the potential for remote care years before it became popular. Around 75 percent of what a primary care physician does can be done virtually, and with increased comfort in video calls, he saw a niche market poised for growth.
Hejl reached out to a couple of friends from his days at ACU, and they began to research the issue. After a year of research, he co-founded TimelyMD in 2017 with Chief Strategy Officer Chris Clark and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Alan Dennington.
The team decided on higher education after speaking to students and parents about their struggles to effectively receive care without the safety net that helped provide for their physical and mental health. “It’s about our desire to serve a population,” Hejl says. “As a young person, there wasn’t an easy solution for some of the challenges that they faced. There weren’t always resources available.”
Hejl and his co-founders also found that there were often long waits or negative perceptions about on-campus clinics, even when the clinics provided quality care. If a student walked across campus and couldn’t get an appointment, they might not walk back. Opening an app on their phone and seeing a provider at all hours was much more convenient.
Hejl wasn’t a natural-born fundraiser, but he and the team believed in their product and made it happen. They worked with schools to implement a plan that added to the on-campus health services rather than replaced them. They developed care coordination teams that helped connect to resources and support on campus and set them up with a clinic or pharmacy if they needed to visit a location.
The service launched in the spring of 2018 and added mental health services in the fall. The 24/7 nature of the care was crucial for growth, as 40 percent of TimelyMD’s appointments are after hours.
“It’s important for us to help these medical clinics and counseling centers and administrators that we’re talking to on campuses to understand that we truly are working to build a partnership with their campus, not take over how they take care of their students,” Hejl says.
The pandemic was a catalyst for TimelyMD as campuses looked for ways to provide remote experiences for their students, and the company saw massive growth. Focusing on higher education proved to be an effective way to attract funding and providers who had a passion for serving students, primarily when most mental health issues manifest.
Today, TimelyMD employs 130 full-time employees and many more contract providers and has a presence in community colleges, private universities, and a growing presence in four-year public schools around the country. Half a million community college students have access to TimelyMD, which represents about one in 10 students enrolled in a public two-year school.
Schools push the service out as a benefit of the medical fee or as a low-cost option. In the last 12 months, Schubert says there have been 1,000 medical appointments and 500 counseling sessions at ACU.
“It’s enabled us to feel a whole lot better about our ability as a community to provide the care that students need because we have a partnership that goes well beyond what we’re able to provide and have a much more effective way of meeting the demand, especially when it ebbs and flows,” Schubert says.
Looking ahead, TimelyMD is focused on serving the higher education population, despite requests to move into the employer market and other segments. In a telehealth sector that has become very crowded over the past two years, it is focused on growing the product within its niche.
“There are a lot of shiny objects that come our way about populations that we could serve. We have always been passionate about specifically serving our student population, and some of the other shiny object populations that come our way could have been great opportunities for us, but they also could be a significant distraction,” Hejl says. “I’m not saying those are things that we would never do, but I think to truly be the market leader in virtual care for students requires an enormous amount of focus.”