'It’s a human right to have access to doctors': Giannis Antetokounmpo invests in telehealth company

·6 min read

Giannis Antetokounmpo is currently in Greece, playing for the Greek national basketball team in early stages of the International Basketball Federation’s EuroBasket tournament, Europe’s premier basketball competition. His brothers Thanasis and Kostas are on the team, also, and youngest brother Alex was part of the training camp roster.

Through Greek news conferences and social media posts, it is clear how much fun the two-time NBA most valuable player is having playing with his brothers for his home country. He’s a global superstar and a folk hero whose visage is on the team plane.

Yet he has never forgotten how his journey began, shaping the steps he’s taken since – which currently includes the investment in and advocacy for a telehealth company called Antidote Health.

“Affordable health care for all, no matter where you are from – race, circumstance, location,” he said of why he got involved with the startup company. “Having access to affordable health care for all. It’s something that growing up we didn’t have, me and my family obviously being an immigrant illegally in Greece we weren’t able to have that.

"I could see it in my mom and dad’s eye that they were terrified when I was like 'oh, my stomach hurt.' Or, I have a headache or whatever the case may be. Or dad, 'my hand, my wrist hurt.' They were terrified. They were like what are we going to do? We have to find a way to treat this ourselves, you know? But just being able to allow all those people that don’t have healthcare, that don’t have access to it, to give it to them, put it in front of them.

“I believe you leave the world in a better place and at the end of the day that’s what I want to do. I want to create the opportunity for people to reach their true potential and if I can help a little bit in that I can be happy.”

Antetokounmpo spoke with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel just before heading to Greece to train for EuroBasket, and he said that living through the global coronavirus pandemic further illustrated that feeling and a desire to do more to give back.

“Not everybody has access," he said. "I’m fortunate to be able to play in the NBA when I was 18 and now I’m 27. I can go to the doctor. I can send my kid to the doctor. I’m able to have access. But there’s so many millions of people in the U.S. and all over the world, but more in the U.S., that do not have that luxury like us. A re we going to turn a blind eye to that? Or are we going to do something about it? This is me doing something about it.

"I’m not a health expert but I believe in people. No matter if you’re rich or poor, people are important, and at the end of the day what are we going to do about it? This is me doing something about it.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo (second from right) with brothers (L-R) Kostas, Alex and Thanasis attend "Rise" premiere in June. Alex is the only one of the brothers to not play in the NBA.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (second from right) with brothers (L-R) Kostas, Alex and Thanasis attend "Rise" premiere in June. Alex is the only one of the brothers to not play in the NBA.

It’s why Antetokounmpo was doing the interview, among many others as he was introduced as a seven-figure investor and spokesman for New York-based Antidote Health.

Founded in 2021, the telehealth company has been raising seed funding to build an artificial intelligence-based virtual health maintenance organization (HMO) to give uninsured and underinsured people a chance to connect with doctors via virtual chatbots and video calls.

Antidote’s hope is that it can provide similar services to other healthcare providers without the need of insurance through one of those providers.

Dr. Nick van Terheyden of ECG Management Consultants, which is part of the Siemens Healthineers Company, noted that telehealth services don’t address other issues such as access to reliable internet, smart phones or space for private conversations, but there is a definite advantage to its use.

“If you can provide people with ready-made access in underserved communities and you can satisfy the challenges of resources, the technology, smart phone and so forth, you’re broadening access,” van Terheyden said.

“I think there’s plenty (of evidence) to recommend it, but it is not a clear (cut), hey, this will solve the problem.”

A one-time primary care visit via the Antidote website is listed at $49, and a primary care package is available for $55 a month that includes 12 visits in a year and assistance with out-of-pocket drug costs. An individual also can purchase a primary care visit for someone else for $49.

It is important to note that in some states, physicians and nurse practitioners must be licensed in that state to diagnose and treat a patient in the state.

Antetokounmpo is an investor in Antidote, with the company saying he put a million dollars into the company. It’s part of a burgeoning portfolio for the Milwaukee Bucks’ superstar, who has invested in WatchBox, Wave Sports + Entertainment, Alt (a digital sports trading company) and the Milwaukee Brewers among others.

A study by Rock Health noted that in 2021, $29.1 billion was raised in digital health. That number has slowed in 2022 but is still expected to be larger than funds raised in 2020.

“It’s definitely a land rush but we’ve seen that before with the internet boom of the late ‘90s and you saw the same fallout and there’s no question you’re going to see the winners and losers (of telehealth companies),” van Terheyden said.

He noted major tech companies taking big steps into health care, such as Amazon’s $4 billion purchase of primary health care organization One Medical.

“Health care is great business," van Terheyden added. "And if you think about it as a business as opposed to actually a service the community – I personally don’t – but if you think about it in that context if you’re taking 18% of the economy and it’s flowing through health care, that’s a great business relatively resistant to downturns.

“I think telehealth is a clear winner.”

What made this particular investment a bit different from some of his others, however, is Antetokounmpo wanted to put his face and voice behind the service. Other than a select few interviews following his first brand investment in Ready Nutrition in 2020, Antetokounmpo has not spoken publicly about his investments.

Why the change?

“Because I lived it,” Antetokounmpo said. “I didn’t have health care until I was 18, until I got to the NBA and I was able to go to the doctor, talk to the doctor. I wasn’t able to do that. It’s a lot of people not able to do it. I’m not the expert. I’m not the expert in this, but I care about people. And I believe it’s a human right to have access to doctors, to talk to somebody to tell them about your issues, to tell them about what you’re going through mentally, about your struggle. It’s a human right, so everybody should have that access.”

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo invests in telehealth company Antidote