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.

Telemedicine used in MS neuromodulation study at NYU Langone, with positive results (US)

MS patients in a small NYU Langone Medical Center-led pilot of neuromodulation and cognitive training using telemedicine supervision experienced significant improvement in complex attention and reaction time. Non-invasive transcranial direct current brain stimulation (tDCS) was added to a previously tested cognitive training program for MS patients. Telemedicine (real-time video) was used to deliver the training, monitor patients in the program and provide follow-up support.

The study control was a cognitive training (CT)-only group. According to the abstract, “after ten sessions, the tDCS group (n = 25) compared to the CT only group (n = 20) had significantly greater improvement in complex attention (p = 0.01) and response variability (p = 0.01) composites. The groups did not differ in measures of basic attention (p = 0.95) or standard cognitive measures (p = 0.99).” These results corresponded to the stimulation area in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, according to the lead researcher Leigh Charvet, PhD.

The current used in the tDCS unit helps neurons fire more readily, versus making them fire. The tDCS unit used was likely provided by NYC-based Soterix Medical, a developer of neuromodulation systems used in clinical trials. One of the study authors, Abhishek Datta, PhD, is their CTO.

The research is also promising in helping to deliver therapy to MS patients at home, reducing the travel need on both sides, and to develop analytics to optimize medication. In future, the researchers hope to expand the study group to Parkinson’s disease patients. MedCityNews, Neuromodulation (the official journal of the International Neuromodulation Society; abstract only, full study requires additional access)