Many people avoid seeing a doctor because of the time or expense involved in the process. This is especially true for people who live in rural or low-income areas; although there’s no question that for most people, access to healthcare is anything but convenient
But advances in technology combined with a recent easing in regulations are making it easier for people to be treated via mobile devices for a variety of medical issues. At the same time, more doctors are coming on board with the idea of treating patients remotely.
As evidence of the growing industry of telemedicine, look at investor interest levels. Global communications and consulting firm Mercom Capital Group’s research shows that globally, telemedicine and remote monitoring companies raised $660 million in venture capital funding across 86 deals in 2016. This compared to $93 million being invested in 46 global telehealth deals just three years prior.
As more states lift regulations, the telemedicine space is poised to become even bigger in coming years. In May 2017, Texas legislators approved SB 1107, a bill that eases some of the state’s more restrictive requirements for telemedicine. The law allows a doctor to provide telemedicine services without first having an in-person consultation.
In the U.S. alone, telemedicine companies will soon be able to legally compete in all 50 states.
Some of the bigger players in the space include San Francisco-based Doctor on Demand, which provides a mobile app providing access to doctors, psychologists and other healthcare providers; the now-publicly traded Teladoc, a New York-based company promises to deliver on-demand health care anytime, from almost anywhere via mobile devices, the Internet, secure video and phone and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based MDLIVE, which provides online and on-demand healthcare delivery services.
Your own doctor, right at your fingertips
One Texas startup claims to be taking telemedicine a step further. Rather than connecting patients to a doctor they have never before spoken to, Austin-based Medici says it can connect patients to all of their existing doctors (including primary care physicians, pediatricians, nutritionists, mental health professionals and even veterinarians) via text or video through an app.
Founded by South African native Clint Phillips, Medici raised $24 million in 2016 and is growing globally. It has launched in the U.S. and South Africa with plans to be in 20 countries by the end of 2018. In January 2018, 30 million South Africans will be invited to use Medici.
“There’s a number of companies providing a patient with a call center doc,” Phillips said. “But there’s no context or records involved. Medici allows patients to speak to their own doctor.”
Physicians like Medici, according to Phillips, because it is not actively trying to take patients from their practice but rather offer them another way to be treated. It is HIPPA compliant and provides malpractice insurance so that doctors can feel safe treating patients remotely, according to Phillips.
Currently, more than 1,000 providers in North America have downloaded the Medici app. The company’s revenue comes from charging doctors a fee for every encounter they have via the application.
Recently, Medici also made it possible for providers to connect with other providers – based on feedback from insurance companies wanting to cut down on unnecessary visits to hospitals, for example.
It recently hired the former head of products from UnderArmour “to bring global thinking and scale” to its business, according to Phillips. Medici is also piloting its app in hospitals, home health and individual practices.
“There are more and more things you can do on the app every month as we improve our roadmap,” Phillips said.
Because of advances in telemedicine, people can avoid having to drive more than an hour just to get a refill, Phillips notes. Some physicians even have the option of working from home from time to time, allowing for a more flexible schedule.
A doctor’s perspective
Dr. Tina Carroll-Scott, medical director of South Miami Children’s Clinic, said she discovered the Medici app earlier this year. When it first opened, the clinic primarily served uninsured patients in an underserved neighborhood. Eventually, Scott helped many patients get insurance so that she could help provide them with continuity of care.
But she still found that many of her patients would go a hospital emergency room to be treated after hours.
“Early on, I started giving out my cell number and having people communicate with me that way,” Scott recalls. “But that wasn’t HIPPA compliant so I started researching ways to protect myself that would allow me to still provide access to them.”
That’s when she came across the Medici app.
“Now I have something safe and secure that gives them the same access I had been giving them for years,” Scott said. “It’s been wonderful and the patients are using it.”
Scott especially likes the video conferencing aspect of it because it gives her a way to see her patients at home.
“When you see them in the environment in which they live, I can glean a lot more information than I could when they just came to the office,” she said. “It’s given me additional information such as that they might not have electricity that has been very valuable in making sure they get the type of healthcare they need.”
Patients do things like upload pictures of rashes, for example, rather than going to the ER.
“I’m able to diagnose things via video so that they understand I should be their first avenue before going to an urgent care or the ER unless it’s a true emergency such as respiratory distress,” she said. “By communicating first with me via the app, I can advise them whether they need to be seen right away or if the issue can wait until the next day.”
One patient with cerebral palsy who had severe asthma was able to save a trip to the doctor by using the video conferencing capability on the app.
“I exported the visit to my electronic record,” Scot said. “And the mother didn’t have to hassle with bringing her wheelchair-bound child in. I just hope that moving forward, legislation works in our favor. We really need to move forward for getting reimbursements for physicians so more people will want to join the bandwagon.”
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