The start-up out to revolutionise healthcare

Phoebe Netto chats to WellOne, the newbies on the health SME block.

Starting any new business comes with risks and unknowns. But starting a business that is pioneering a new concept with plans to revolutionise the allied health industry? That is a whole new level of risk.

WellOne is an Australian start-up setting out to do just that, with the ambitious goal of plugging the giant hole created by the increasing cost of healthcare and private health insurance.

The company was founded by allied healthcare practitioners Neill Cullen and Hew Gibbs and digital marketer Chris Bates, after discussions with patients about the difficulty in accessing quality, timely and affordable healthcare.

For a small annual fee, WellOne members can download an app and access discounts with partnered healthcare providers instantaneously. Members receive up to a 40 per cent discount on all initial treatments and 15 per cent on subsequent visits – no limits, no questions asked.

Hew Gibbs, WellOne“It sounds so simple but involving so many individual healthcare disciplines requires a big investment and a hardworking, committed team,” explains WellOne co-founder Hew Gibbs (pictured left).

“And yes, there is definitely an element of risk when you are bringing a new offering to market, but we know that the need and demand exist and WellOne meets that need.”

As healthcare costs continue to grow faster than incomes and health insurance premiums are on the rise year on year, an alarming one in 16 Australians is delaying seeking specialist healthcare.

For example, up to 34 per cent of adults delay seeing a dentist due to cost.

Hew adds, “Sadly, even people who actually have health insurance increasingly face affordability problems when it comes to paying for healthcare, which leads them to also cut back on care.

“What ends up happening is a health issue which may have been prevented or cured at the outset becomes a more serious problem for the patient both health and cost wise. People should not be skipping a recommended medical test or treatment, or deciding against seeing a health practitioner because the cost is prohibitive.”

WellOne’s mission is to simply connect patients with quality allied healthcare professionals.

“It is a win-win. Health practices partner with WellOne to give members a discount, and we bring patients who may have otherwise held off getting necessary treatments to their practice,” says Hew.

WellOne is not an alternative to private health insurance. For example, it doesn’t cover hospital and ambulance. What WellOne does is provides a much needed option for people who aren’t able to afford health insurance or who find the cost of allied healthcare too high.

WellOne can also be used in conjunction with health insurance; members can receive the WellOne discount and still claim a private health insurance rebate.

“We feel the potential rewards justify this level of risk. And our experience in allied healthcare and marketing means we are able to run this business well.”

WellOne is trading within an emerging market in Australia. In its simplest terms, it is a buying group. Members join to access discounts at allied health professionals, who in turn benefit from their patronage.

Similar programs in the US have been very successful. WellOne’s founders have left long term jobs, and made significant financial investments to get to this point.

A nurse holding up a full needle of fluidWellOne has recently launched in Melbourne, and over the next three to six months it will be launching in Sydney and then the rest of Australia as it grows its practitioner base.

The feedback has already been impressive with members saving their joining fee after just one or two treatments, and practices are enthusiastic about growing their referral source and offering quality healthcare to more people.

In fact, WellOne now has a waiting list of practices in other states. But the company is being strategic in how it grows.

“We always knew the demand for our service would be strong and it would be easy to sell people on the idea. That was never going to be difficult. But we want to make sure we are growing organically and not at a faster rate than we are able to adapt our systems and processes to address issues quickly,” says Chris Bates, co-founder of WellOne.

“It would be easy to ride off the popularity of our business but it would mean our members and partnering practices would also experience our growing pains. It is important to us that this doesn’t happen.”

If it seems as though WellOne is exactly what the Australian healthcare industry needs, that’s because it is.

The company’s founders, while very aware of the possible perils they may encounter along the way, believe such a venture is well worth the risk in a sector undermined by rising premiums and diminishing participation.

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