Distance concierge medicine: telemedicine connects US doctors to Chinese patients

Another ‘burden shift’ in medical care. As we in the US wrestle with the issues of telemedicine, cross-state consults, and payment parity, companies are finding a niche in cross-border international virtual consults. A startup in NYC, Docflight, now connects Chinese patients to a claimed several hundred US doctors from prestigious medical centers: Dana-Farber Cancer Center, NYU Langone, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Massachusetts General, New York-Presbyterian, and others. Founded by Sally Wang, an attorney with a MPH, she developed the idea after negotiating the US healthcare system for her mother with breast cancer and considering how difficult it would be in China to do the same.

The patients pay an upfront fee of about $2,000 in what is essentially long-distance concierge medicine. Docflight first screens the patient, then recommends an appropriate specialist. Once matched, Docflight collects the patient’s medical records (machine translated then human reviewed) and schedules the consult time. The US doctor then advises their Chinese patient on health issues and performs a virtual visit, often with an attending Chinese doctor, and offers recommendations for treatment in an average 45 minute session. The doctors cannot prescribe, perform treatments or procedures. 

China has a burgeoning middle class and an aging population, which in combination with the hospital-based system of care in China means that individual patients receive little time with a physician, don’t have a personal relationship with one or more doctors, and don’t expect much of a personal relationship with their doctor. Their government is trying to swing the balance to a primary care model, but with 1.4 bn people that will take awhile. Telehealth and remote patient monitoring is one avenue being explored [TTA 12 Oct 16] but for acute care, a different model is needed. For the Chinese middle class, Docflight is an alternative to medical tourism, a time-tested safety valve for the affluent commonplace for patients from Canada, Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia to international medical centers, though Docflight will arrange such trips to the US.

It’s reasonable that healthcare crosses borders to increase access and overcome language barriers. We’ve previously profiled Mexico’s Salud Interactiva, which provides telephonic consults within the country plus select services through partners ConsejoSano (US) and Konsulta MD (Philippines) [TTA 16 Aug]. Dictum Health, an early-stage health tech company dual-headquartered in Dubai and Oakland, Calif., provides telehealth/telemedicine services long-distance to clinics in Costa Rica, refugee camps in Jordan, and oil rigs [TTA 19 Sep]. Crossing borders to burden-shift care and using technology to facilitate it is a trend to watch for in 2018. NBC News (video)Bold Global Media (video)Crunchbase  Hat tip to reader Jeanmarie Tenuto of Healthcare Technical Solutions.

Better’s fast fail, ending health assistance service 30 Oct

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Better.png” thumb_width=”150″ /]Better is sadly not. This two-year old service that provided personal health assistance, including a real, live health assistant, to guide members through health questions, the thickets of insurance claims, finding doctors and specialists, apps and more, announced earlier this week that it was ending operations as of 30 October. While it was announced via their Twitter feed on Tuesday, most of the industry learned of it through Stephanie Baum’s article in MedCityNews today. Better formally debuted only 16 months ago [TTA 23 Apr 14] and at the time this Editor felt that it was a service in the right direction, a kind of ‘concierge medicine for the masses’ needed when individuals have to direct more and more of their own care.

A solid start, as our Readers have seen, does not guarantee success, but this fast fail is still fairly shocking. A concern at the time was the pricing for the full service model at $49/month, which later became the family price (individuals were $19.99/month). CEO/co-founder Geoff Clapp was among the most Grizzled of Health Tech Pioneers; he had been a co-founder of Health Hero/Health Buddy from 1998 to its sale to Bosch Healthcare, a very long pull in telehealth, and he had spent much of his post-Health Hero time generously advising other startups. Yet despite the involvement of blue chip Mayo Clinic as a service provider, its financial backing from their investment arm and socially-oriented VC Social+Capital Partnership, it managed to raise only its initial seed funding of $5 million (CrunchBase).

So what happened? (more…)