By ministerial decree for the 2018 social security financing law, France starts deploying telemedicine both for doctor-patient consults (teleconsultation) and ‘telexpertise’ (between health professionals) starting on 15 September. The latter will be defined in stages by 2020. For instance, from 2019 it will be deployed for long-term conditions (ALD), rare disease patients in sub-dense areas or in long-term care homes or inmates. “In this context, they agree to define the scope of these acts and their rates as well as their methods of implementation and billing.”
The expanded use of telemedicine in Texas–controversial and delayed by the state medical society, despite its use in distance medicine and prisons–is slowly starting to change rural health in the state. SB1107 passed the Texas legislature in 2017, removing the previous requirement for an in-person medical consultation. Texas, like many Western states, has an acute shortage of primary care doctors in 184 of 254 counties, according to the state health service.
Where telemedicine fills that gap is in areas such as emergency rooms in rural hospitals. In Van Horn, population 2,000, with the next hospital 90 miles away, telemedicine enables the ER to operate two trauma rooms and for the state, have a doctor there well within 30 minutes away which is the state requirement for a basic-level trauma facility. The ER connects with an office building in Sioux Falls, SD to a nurse and doctor on immediate call to help oversee care via the Avera eCare telemedicine system.
Universities have also worked to diversify telemedicine use in other settings. Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center has pioneered its use in ambulances and schools. The regional TexLa Telehealth Resource Center helps anyone looking to start a telemedicine project. By 2020, the University of Texas will have telemedicine fully implemented on campus. Houston Chronicle
Worth your time over a long coffee is David Doherty’s lengthy analysis of a recent article published on the CNBC website on the ‘failure’ to date of what was supposed to revolutionize healthcare, the telemedicine ‘video visit’. Mr. Doherty counters point-by-point that the concept of telemedicine is already out of date–that the future of healthcare is with mobile devices, such as the EKG-taking KardiaMobile. He points to the distrust of large telemedicine companies such as Doctor on Demand and American Well as being heavily wedded to health insurers (the prevalent business model), selling/trading patient information, and breaking the individual doctor-patient relationship.
Mr. Doherty sees the future of telemedicine enabling individual doctors to better serve their patients on several levels–video consults, monitoring, and via high-quality apps–seamlessly. But the insurer-employer-practice model is hard to break indeed, as American Well, Teladoc, and Doctor on Demand–all of which started with a DTC model–found out. And reimbursement is improved, but discouraging. mHealth Insight
Two international telecare/telehealth/telemedicine M&A deals made the news this last week.
Sweden’s Doro AB acquired Welbeing, headquartered in Eastbourne UK. Welbeing (formally Wealden and Eastbourne Lifeline) is a telecare provider of home-based personal alarms which supports about 75,000 residents in local systems. Their revenue in last fiscal year (ending 9/17) was £7.6 million (SEK 90m). Doro operates in the UK and about 40 countries, with a core business in mobile phones specially designed for older adults. Their Doro Care solutions provide digital telecare and social services for older adults and the disabled in the home. Doro is paying SEK 130 million (£11.1 million) for the acquisition of Welbeing, equal to eight times estimated EBITDA for the financial year 2017/2018, with 85 percent cash and 15 percent in Doro shares with a bonus based on financial performance. Release
Making a few headlines in the US is telemedicine leader Teladoc’s purchase of Barcelona’s Advance Medical for a hefty $352 million, giving Teladoc a major international footprint especially valuable for its corporate clients and major payers. Advance Medical provides complete telemedicine services in 125 countries in over 20 languages. Even more valuable is their knowledge of local healthcare delivery systems, global expert medical opinion, and chronic care. The acquisition also gives Teladoc an international network of offices and a significant entreé with international health insurance companies. Mobihealthnews, Seeking Alpha (Teladoc investor slideshow)
VA Secretaries may come and go (or never get there), but their initiatives stay. With much fanfare last year, then-Secretary David Shulkin announced the ‘Anywhere to Anywhere’ telehealth and telemedicine program [TTA 3 Aug]. This program will use VA practitioners to provide virtual patient care across state lines when a veteran cannot make it to a VA hospital or clinic. The Department of Veterans Affairs published the proposed rule last October [TTA 3 Oct 17] with the Final Rule published in the Federal Register on 11 May.
Technically, it preempts state and local regulations around telehealth. “VA is exercising Federal preemption of conflicting State laws relating to the practice of healthcare providers; laws, rules, regulations, or other requirements are preempted to the extent such State laws conflict with the ability of VA health care providers to engage in the practice of telehealth while acting within the scope of their VA employment.”
It was widely supported by ATA, the American Association of Family Physicians, American Medical Informatics Association, Federal Trade Commission, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), and many other industry organizations. It also enjoys wide Congressional support.
There is plenty of room for growth. Only 1 percent of VA’s veterans used Home Telehealth, while 12 percent used other forms of telehealth. They will be doing so with few suppliers: Medtronic, 1Vision/AMC Health, and Care Innovations. Iron Bow/Vivify Health was found to not have tablets which met the US production qualification. This Editor wonders how the current three suppliers will fare.
This telehealth program will be located in the apparently newly named Veterans Health Administration Office of Connected Care. mHealthIntelligence.com
Accenture’s 2018 Consumer Survey on Digital Health indicates that the tipping point may be here, sort of. Some key findings:
- Consumers had high rates of favorable acceptance and likeliness to use AI-enabled clinical services: home-based diagnostics (66 percent of respondents), virtual health assistants (61 percent), and virtual nurses to monitor health conditions, medications and vital signs at home (55 percent), which may be good news for the future of telehealth services.
- The 2,301 respondents already are using mobile and tablet health apps (48 percent). 44 percent are using patient portals for to fetch their health records, primarily to get information on lab and blood-test results (67 percent), to view physician notes regarding medical visits (55 percent), and their prescription history (41 percent).
- Wearables are being used by 33 percent and favorably viewed by over 70 percent as beneficial in understanding their health condition (75 percent), engaging with their health (73 percent), and monitoring the health of a loved one (73 percent).
Virtual care seems to be leading the way over wearables and remote patient monitoring–and after-hours care, patient follow-up, and patient education are leading virtual care.
- 25 percent had received virtual care services in the previous year, up from 21 percent in last year’s survey. 16 percent are taking part in remote health consultations, compared with 12 percent in 2016. 14 percent are participating in remote monitoring, up from 9 percent in 2016.
- 47 percent state that given a choice, they would prefer a more immediate virtual medical appointment over a delayed in-person appointment.
- For after-hours care, 73 percent said they would use virtual care for after-hours (nights and weekend) appointments.
- 71 percent said they would use virtual care for taking a class on a specific medical condition. 65 percent would use virtual care for a follow-up appointment after an in-person visit.
- Most respondents said they would also use virtual care for a range of additional services, including discussing specific health concerns with medical professionals (73 percent), in-home follow-up after a hospital stay (62 percent), participating in a family member’s medical appointment (59 percent), and being examined for a non-emergency condition (57 percent).
Telemedicine’s still-sluggish adoption in health systems revealed in survey of health system executives
Sage Growth Partners, a Baltimore Maryland-based healthcare research and strategy firm, released a study surveying US C-level executives and service line leaders at a variety of larger health systems (integrated delivery networks (IDNs), academic medical centers (AMCs), community hospitals, and specialty hospitals) on their telemedicine use. It combined initial/exploratory qualitative interviews (total N=65) with online quantitative surveys (completed N=98) taken 2nd Quarter 2017.
Have we reached a tipping point? The findings indicated that just over 50 percent (56 percent) had developed in-house telemedicine systems or were already working with vendor/s on implementing telemedicine in their organizations. The study’s definition of telemedicine was broad, inclusive of any technology and programs that connect providers and patients not physically at the same location when care is provided.
But many of the findings are dismaying:
- Budgets–limited at best. Most (66 percent) had budgets under $250,000 per year 34 percent committed over $250,000 with most under $100,000, but three-quarters believe those budgets will increase next year.
- What it’s used for: Emergency use (29 percent), remote patient home monitoring (21 percent, and non-emergency cases (20 percent).
- How many vendors do they want to deal with?: One is quite enough–54 percent prefer a single telemedicine solution across the continuum of care (however defined), with 31 percent accepting two solutions.
- Has it changed the ‘standard of care’?: Yes for stroke, according to 70 percent surveyed. 75 percent believe it will potentially change the standard of care for behavioral health/psychiatry, followed by neurology (53 percent), primary care (52 percent), and cardiology (48 percent).
- What about direct-to-consumer telemedicine?: The top must-haves are EMR integration, appointment scheduling, and store-and-forward messaging (60+ percent). What’s surprisingly not so desired: store-and-forward of images (47.9 percent–so much for home wound management) and vitals capture (45.9 percent–so much for connecting devices to telemedicine).
Perhaps it’s this Editor looking at the ‘glass half-full’ with a ‘Gimlet Eye’, but here we are in February 2018 still having this discussion at the executive and service line levels. The progress has been glacial at best on starvation budgets, yet telemedicine vendors are multiplying. What is also not promising: these executives’ preference for enterprise solutions which preclude small, innovative companies from getting past the pilot or trial phase. Another barrier: the insistence upon EMR (EHR) integration, which sounds appropriate except that Cerner and EPIC are ‘walled gardens’. Defining Telemedicine’s Role: The View from the C-Suite (PDF, free download from Sage). Also Clinical Innovation + Technology and Global Healthcare
InTouch Health launches a three-way collaboration on virtual acute care with Jefferson Health, Mission Health
Telehealth provider InTouch Health announced a five-year joint partnership with Asheville, North Carolina-based Mission Health and Philadelphia-based Jefferson Health to develop 10 new models in virtual acute and outpatient care. These use cases are not “typical telehealth” and include stroke, sepsis, and acute heart failure.
It’s an interesting expansion of the telemedicine/telehealth acute care model, especially if it extends to outpatient care. InTouch is building upon several years of separate work with each health system. In this joint development arrangement, the health systems will share information and with InTouch Health. What is also interesting that working with both systems allows InTouch to test virtual care access and whether it increases care coordination in diverse settings. Jefferson is an urban university hospital based in Center City Philadelphia, while Mission serves an economically mixed suburban and rural area. According to the release, this is to “ensure the care pathways and supporting technologies improve patient access and quality of care and are applicable across markets and geographies.”
Jefferson Health has worked with InTouch for nearly a decade, using the InTouch telestroke program for its 30 hospitals in the Jefferson Neuroscience Network. Mission Health is using their telestroke, telepsychiatric, tele-hospitalist, and tele-neonatology programs. The InTouch programs include virtual platforms, clinical workflow solutions, and software.
There is no mention here of using new telehealth partner Vivify Health [TTA 19 Dec] for their Managed Kit and BYOD, but to this Editor the most likely place for their systems would be integration into outpatient care. Outpatient service could also be furnished by their new home-based video consult services acquired through their purchase earlier this month of TruClinic.
Since 2003, InTouch has rounded up over $26 million in funding through a 2010 $6 million Series D. The fact that their funding has been conservative (compared to the over $158 million Practice Fusion raised in a dozen years before their acquisition earlier this month by Allscripts) and have managed to make several acquisitions in that time either indicates excellent cash flow from existing business or undisclosed sources of private financing. Release. Mobihealthnews.
Babylon Health’s ‘GP at hand’ not at hand for NHS England–yet. When will technology be? Is Carillion’s collapse a spanner in the works?
NHS England won’t be rolling out the Babylon Health ‘GP at hand’ service anytime soon, despite some success in their London test with five GP practices [TTA 12 Jan]. Digital Health cites an October study by Hammersmith and Fulham CCG (Fulham being one of the test practices) that to this Editor expresses both excitement at an innovative approach but with the same easy-to-see drawback:
The GP at Hand service model represents an innovative approach to general practice that poses a number of challenges to existing NHS policy and legislation. The approach to patient registration – where a potentially large volume of patients are encouraged to register at a physical site that could be a significant distance from both their home and work address, arguably represents a distortion of the original intentions of the Choice of GP policy. (Page 12)
There are also concerns about complex needs plus other special needs patients (inequality of service), controlled drug policy, and the capacity of Babylon Health to expand the service. Since the October report, a Babylon spokesperson told Digital Health that “Commissioners have comprehensively signed off our roll-out plan and we look forward to working with them to expand GP at Hand across the country.”
Re capitation, why ‘GP at hand’ use is tied into a mandatory change of GP practices has left this Editor puzzled. In the US, telemedicine visits, especially the ‘I’ve got the flu and can’t move’ type or to specialists (dermatology) are often (not always) separate from whomever your primary care physician is. Yes, centralizing the records winds up being mostly in the hands of US patients unless the PCP is copied or it is part of a payer/corporate health program, but this may be the only way that virtual visits can be rolled out in any volume. In the UK, is there a workaround where the patient’s electronic record can be accessed by a separate telemedicine doctor?
Another tech head-shaker: 45 percent of GPs want technology-enabled remote working. 48 percent expressed that flexible working and working from home would enable doctors to provide more personalized care. Allowing remote working to support out-of-hours care could not only free up time for thousands of patient appointments but also level out doctor capacity disparities between regions. The survey here of 100 GPs was conducted by a cloud-communications provider, Sesui. Digital Health. This is a special need that isn’t present in the US except in closed systems like the VA, which is finally addressing the problem. The wide use of clinical connectivity apps enables US doctors to split time from hospital to multiple practices–so much so on multiple devices, that app security is a concern.
Another head-shaker. 48 percent of missed NHS hospital appointments are due to letter-related problems, such as the letter arriving too late (17 percent), not being received (17 percent) or being lost (8 percent). 68 percent prefer to manage their appointments online or via smartphone. This preference has real financial impact as the NHS estimates that 8 million appointments were missed in 2016-2017, at a cost of £1bn. Now this survey of 2,000 adults was sponsored by Healthcare Communications, a provider to 100 NHS trusts with patient communications technology, so there’s a dog in the hunt. However, they developed for Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust a digital letter technology that is claimed to reduce outpatient postal letters by 40 percent. Considering my dentist sends me three emails plus separate text messages before my twice-yearly exam…. Release (PDF).
Roy Lilley’s daily newsletter today also engages the Tech Question and the “IT desert” present in much of the daily life of the NHS. Trusts are addressing it, junior doctors are WhatsApping, and generally, clinicians are hot-wiring the system in order to get anything done. It is much like the US about five to seven years ago where US HHS had huge HIPAA concerns (more…)
Deals of the day: American Well partners with Philips for global telehealth apps, gains $59 million partnership with Allianz
The large partners with the large, adding a global dimension. Telemedicine provider American Well and Philips announced today a global alliance to integrate American Well’s patient-doctor video consults with a range of Philips’ healthcare monitoring program. First up will be adding American Well consults to the Philips Avent uGrow parenting app. This is an Apple/Android app that presently tracks baby feeding, weight, and sleeping patterns, tying into Philips baby monitoring products such as an ear thermometer and babycam. The second stage with American Well involves their mobile telehealth software development kit (SDK) to integrate video consults into other Philips’ digital health solutions and the Philips HealthSuite Digital Platform. Philips also announced that uGrow will include voice activation with the ever-trendy Amazon Echo and the Philips Avent smart feeding kit to automatically monitor the time, volume and duration of a baby’s feeds. Philips release
American Well’s second global deal of the day is with insurer Allianz’s digital investment fund, Allianz X. The latter, funded with a $59 million investment, creates another partnership dedicated to developing a digital product that combines wearable sensors, remote monitoring, and virtual visits. The goal is to widen patient access, lower cost and improve healthcare quality. As part of the deal, Allianz X will be joining American Well’s Board of Directors. Allianz is not well known as a health insurer in the US, but is active in the international health insurance area for individual expats and employers with international employees. Release, Mobihealthnews
When will we get there? And what needs to happen? Telemedicine provider Avizia surveyed both consumers and healthcare professionals earlier this year, and the results are not encouraging. For the huge investments made by telemedicine and telehealth companies, along with providers and payers, the key finding here is that only 18 percent of the 403 consumers surveyed in March had even used telehealth.
Of that 18 percent (N=72), it’s been a positive experience:
- On a 1 to 10 scale, with 10 signifying a “great experience,” 62 percent of consumers who used telehealth ranked their experience a 10, 9, or 8.
- Consumers who used telehealth appreciated time savings and convenience (59 percent), faster service and shorter wait times to see the doctor (55 percent), and cost savings due to less travel (43 percent)
Modern Healthcare also sponsored the outreach to healthcare professionals who are subscribers, locating 444 respondents whose organizations currently use telehealth or telemedicine.
- They are most interested in telehealth’s ability to expand access or reach to patients (72 percent). Barriers are reimbursement (41 percent), program cost (40 percent), and clinician resistance (22 percent)
- Their #1 use cases are for stroke and neurology (72 percent), followed by behavioral health (41 percent) and intensive care (20 percent).
What’s unsaid in this write-up? Consumers and clinicians clearly have differing expectations on how they want to use telemedicine. Consumers are largely using it as an alternative to an in-person visit for less serious medical needs. Clinicians use it for very serious situations–stroke, neurology, mental illness, ICU. Perhaps this is why the takeup of telehealth among consumers is low.
Mike Baird, CEO of Avizia, is quoted in the release as saying “Health systems are investing in telehealth, even as uptick is slow among consumers, because they understand the potential of the technology to impact patient care in a profound way.” But as a Grizzled Pioneer in this field said to this Editor in confidence, how many of these companies have the revenues and patient investors to enable them to stay alive till they get to the Promised Land–and how far is it? Closing the Telehealth Gap (white paper requires free registration and download), Becker’s Hospital Review
- NewYork-Presbyterian, Walgreens (Duane Reade) and American Well: Kiosks located in private rooms at select Duane Reade drugstores (left above) connect to NYP OnDemand using American Well telemedicine and Weill Cornell Medicine emergency medicine physicians. In addition to the live consult, the patient can send select vital signs information to the doctor using a forehead thermometer, a blood pressure cuff, a pulse oximeter, and a dermascope for a high-resolution view of skin conditions. Pediatric emergency physicians are available through NYP OnDemand weekdays between 6 – 9pm. Prescriptions are e-prescribed to the patient’s preferred pharmacy. The first kiosk opened this week at 40 Wall Street with additional locations to open in 2018. NYP OnDemand telemedicine consults are also available to NY area residents through the Walgreens website. American Well release, Healthcare IT News, MedCityNews
- H4D (Health for Development): French doctor Franck Baudino wanted to reach those who live in what the French term ‘health deserts’ in their rural areas. Over the past nine years, he developed a booth-type kiosk connecting to a live doctor and with vitals instrumentation. The Consult Station is fully equipped with a wide range of vitals instrumentation, including vision, audio, eye, and blood glucose, functioning almost as a remote doctor’s office. In France, to gain access, all users need do is pop in their carte vitale. Reportedly the kiosks can treat 90 percent of common illnesses. Prescriptions are printed out in the booth. Consult Stations are now in France, Italy, Portugal, Philippines, Canada, Belgium, UAE and were recently cleared by FDA as a Class II device. ZDNet
Editor’s note: This inaugurates our new series of ‘OnePerspective’ articles. These are written by industry contributors on issues of importance to our Readers and are archived under ‘Perspectives’. For more information on contributing an article to our OnePerspective program, email Editor Donna.By: Gigi Sorenson
The shortage of mental health professionals in the U.S. is becoming more acute for two reasons: 1) more health professionals are encouraging their patients to seek treatment, and 2) more people now have health insurance due to the Affordable Care Act. A December 2016 assessment showed that over 106 million Americans live in areas where there are not enough mental health providers to meet the need. Because of this provider shortage, as well as the stigma attached to behavioral health treatment, roughly half of mental illness cases go undiagnosed or unaddressed.
However, telehealth could fill much of this gap, and the beginnings of this trend are already evident. A growing number of psychiatrists and psychologists are using video and audio teleconferencing to treat patients remotely. Patients have access to this “telemental health” either in clinics and medical centers or, in some cases, through their Internet-connected personal devices. Studies of telemental health have found that it is effective for diagnosis and assessment in many care settings, that it improves access and outcomes, that it represents a portable, low-cost option, and that it is well-accepted by patients.
VA Program Sets the Pace
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) began to deploy telemental health in the early 2000s, and the VA now has the largest and most sophisticated such program in the U.S. In 2016, about 700,000 of American’s 22 million veterans used VA telehealth services. In 2013, 80,000 veterans used telemental health services, and over 650,000 veterans took advantage of those services in the previous decade.
The VA system has trained more than 4,000 mental health providers in evidence-based psychotherapies for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health conditions. It has expanded the use of telemedicine at its 150 medical centers and its 800 outpatient clinics. It is relying increasingly on telemental health to serve its beneficiaries, partly because nearly half of the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan live in rural areas. Mental health professionals are often unavailable in these regions, and it can be difficult for these veterans to travel to metropolitan areas where VA clinics and medical centers are located.
Telemental health can address these issues.
Other attractive features of the service are replays of the consult, a free interactive symptom checker, and a health record for your test results, activity levels and health information.
While the FAQs specify that the “practice boundary” area is south of Talgarth Road and Cromwell Road in Fulham, and north of the River Thames, it is being advertised on London Transport (see advert left and above taken on the Piccadilly Line) and on billboards.
Reviewing the website FAQs, as telemedicine it is positioned to take fairly routine GP cases of healthy people (e.g. colds, flu, rashes) and dispatch them quickly. On the ‘can anyone register’ page, it’s stated that “the service may however be less appropriate for people with the conditions and characteristics listed below”. It then lists ten categories, such as pregnancy, dementia, end of life care, and complex mental health conditions. If anyone is confused about these and other rule-outs, there is a support line.
Babylon Health is well financed, with a fundraise of £50 million ($60 million of a total $85 million) in April for what we profiled then as an AI-powered chatbot that sorted through symptoms which tested in London earlier this year. This is a full-on telemedicine consult service with other services attached.
Now to the American view of telemedicine, this is all fairly routine, expected, and convenient, except that there’d be a user fee and a possible insurance co-pay, as more states are adopting parity for telemedicine services. We don’t have an expectation that a PCP on a telemedicine consult will take care of any of these issues which Babylon rules out, though telemental health is a burgeoning and specialized area for short and long-term support. But the issues with the NHS and GPs are different.
First, signing up to ‘GP at hand’ requires you to change your GP to one in that program. US systems are supplementary–a telehealth consult changes nothing about your other doctor choices. This is largely structural; the NHS pays GPs on a capitation basis.
mHealth Insight/3G Doctor and David Doherty provide a lengthy (and updated) analysis with a critical view which this Editor will only highlight for your reading. It starts with the Royal College of GPs objections to the existence of the service as ‘cherry-picking’ patients away from GPs and creating a two-track system via technology. According to the article, “NHS GPs are only paying them [Babylon] £50 a year of the £151 per year that the NHS GP Practice will be paid for every new Patient they get to register with them” which, as a financial model, leads to doubts about sustainability. Mr. Doherty advises the RCGPs that they are fighting a losing battle and they need to get with mHealth for their practices, quickly–and that the NHS needs to reform their payment mechanisms (GPs are compensated on capitation rather than quality metrics).
But there are plenty of other questions beyond cherry-picking: the video recordings are owned by Babylon (or any future entity owning Babylon), what happens to the patient’s GP assignment if (when?) the program ends, and patients’ long-term care.
Oh, and that chatbot’s accuracy? Read this tweet from @DrMurphy11 with a purported video of Babylon advising a potential heart attack victim that his radiating shoulder pain needs some ice. Scary. Also Digital Health.
Elsewhere in the Caribbean, a report from the Bahamas tells us that that the Princess Elizabeth Hospital A&E department is now covering Fresh Creek Community Clinic in Andros and Marsh Harbour in Abaco (the ‘family islands’). According to Edward Stephenson, a healthcare consultant in the Caribbean, telemedicine has been established privately in Turks & Caicos, Haiti, Dominican Republic and St. Vincent. The VA’s Home Telehealth program was established in Puerto Rico and the USVI, although in what present condition after two hurricanes is unknown. The University of the West Indies has had a telehealth program for Trinidad and Tobago since 2004 and works with The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto in a program that includes that country as well as the Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
ATA has had a long-standing Latin America and Caribbean Chapter (ATALACC) which also is affiliated with the University of Arizona’s well-known Arizona Telemedicine Program–which in turn is affiliated with Panama’s Proyecto Nacional de Telemedicina y Telesalud. Readers’ updates welcome on this subject!
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.