It took a pandemic to bring healthcare into the connected economy. Prior to the pandemic, a consumer’s ability to access a doctor through an attached device was minimal. In 2018 the American Hospital Association advocated the expanded use of telemedicine, noting that the practice needed additional research before it could treat many disease conditions. That year, approximately 25 percent of US consumers had access to healthcare and their doctors through a connected device. In 2019, doctors began to familiarize themselves with the technology. 77 percent stated that they had used telemedicine, but only sparingly, 1-2 times a month.
Enter a global pandemic. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had reported that telemedicine use had increased 154 percent when the pandemic became a serious health concern in late April 2020. Now 41 states are actively pursuing new regulations to keep the connected version of health care going after the pandemic subsides.
While the pandemic may have sparked the expanded use of telemedicine, it certainly seems like it will stay here. Patients have discovered the ease of visiting the doctor from home rather than driving to a facility, parking, and then waiting in a room with other sick people to be seen. However, beyond simple convenience, other elements of telemedicine are being expanded to make it a more attractive health option. How Ferguson Hill, CEO of an integrated virtual care provider Doctor on callKaren Webster recently said the connected health economy cannot stop with telemedicine as the icing on the cake.
Founded in 2012 as a telemedicine company, Doctor on call is now moving to include more services. In May it announced Merger With Big rounds, a platform that guides patients to medical care and helps them manage insurance and payment problems. The combined company can offer more than just a video advisory platform; it can also provide patient care and wellness services.
“We have a very robust mental health practice and a very robust primary care practice,” Ferguson told Webster. “And now, with our merger with Grand Rounds, we have a concierge who can get you a medical report. It gives you a healthcare navigation through the full spectrum of your healthcare questions, whether it is what a patient’s deductible is, what the best place for hip replacement surgery is, and how much it costs. “
Ferguson said that in addition to offering a comprehensive health experience on Doctor On Demand, other services have become part of its business model. One of the top additions has to do with payments and price transparency. Doctor on Demand provides its services through employers and health insurance companies and also offers them to private individuals. In all cases, Ferguson says, the consumer knows the fees and can pay for them through a number of payment options, including Venmo and PayPal. This price transparency is the key to maintaining customer loyalty and improving the consumer-friendliness of the entire telehealth system.
“So we all went to the doctor and paid a co-payment and then got a bill for several hundred dollars two months later,” he said. “Healthcare shouldn’t work like that. There shouldn’t be any surprise bills. I mean, if you made a payment every time you shopped on Amazon and then received an invoice for a different amount a few months later, would you continue shopping there? You wouldn’t think about it. You would not be inclined to participate in this type of activity. “
Location, location, location
Everyone knows the frustration of having to wait days or even weeks for a doctor’s appointment. Additionally, customers who live in rural areas where a doctor’s visit can take hours could skip addressing issues they deem minor. Ferguson says its platform eliminates this and provides another reason consumers stick with the telehealth system.
Additionally, he says, in today’s mobile and home-based world, people are moving around the country more than ever. Before telemedicine platforms, moving a family to another state or city usually meant leaving their GP and finding a new one. Now, says Ferguson, patients can keep the doctor of their choice on the platform regardless of where they live, helping them achieve more consistency in their health care. This aspect of Doctors On Demand is an integral part of the company’s self-image.
“We definitely see ourselves as a national primary and behavioral health practice,” he said to Webster. “And you know, this is really a new concept for most people because health care has traditionally been a very local thing. With us, you can go to the same doctor over and over again, whether you live in Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, New York or wherever. This national primary care and behavioral health brand is really what we ourselves see as a wearable product for the consumer. “
When asked about the move of telemedicine into the preventive care arena, in addition to providing critical care and services to the sick, Ferguson said that change in the entire medical system is imminent but will likely take time, perhaps up to five years . He says employers are currently driving change because they see an 8 to 10 percent increase in health claims annually and they are not getting enough for their health expenses. The result is employers getting on the wellness train asking for better solutions – something that often drives innovation and growth for companies like Doctor On Demand. Still, changing payments will be vital, and with Medicare being such a large part of the system, it could take some time.
“The biggest opportunity for our healthcare system is to find ways to reform payment models so that providers are incentivized to keep patients out of hospital, medication and chronic illness,” he concluded. “And those are the things that traditional doctors aren’t paid for, but what drives the behavior is the economic incentive structure. So you need payment reform to give vendors an incentive to encourage people to live healthier lives. I think every doctor wants to do this and great doctors do it anyway. But as long as you have a system that encourages activities to provide care, prescribe medication, and perform surgery because that’s the only way to get paid, that’s what you will get. “