December 16, 2016
How Telemedicine, AI Are Transforming Care
by Chuhan Wang
It is exciting to see consumer-centric digital health companies providing broader access, better quality of care and greater efficiency.
Dr. David Dantes, a retired ER doctor in his 70s, still manages to work six hours a day starting at 6:30 am and sees about 20 patients per day. His lifetime of medical experience would be ending if he hadn’t joined a telemedicine platform earlier this year. Meanwhile, after a long day of flu-season patients, Dr. Linda Anegawa also uses a telemedicine system to talk to three more patients who couldn’t meet in person. As a doctor on a virtual platform, she’s been able to build amazing trust with many patients who keep coming back for her.
Both Dr. Dantes and Dr. Anegawa are Stanford-trained physicians who believe in providing quality care and convenience to patients. Primary care is often not accessible for seniors and busy patients, and a visit to the ER can be traumatic and expensive. Telemedicine can solve these pain points by bringing care to patients wherever they are and whenever they need it, while smoothing out the logistics of scheduling and traveling, so doctors can focus on their top priority of delivering care. Similarly, health AI holds the promise of increasing efficiency in the care process for improved care outcomes and better time management.
Telemedicine – Bringing Top Quality Care to Patients Conveniently and Efficiently
Telemedicine is not new. There are a large number of companies including Teledoc and other well-funded private companies such as American Well, MDLive and Doctor on Demand that offer telemedicine solutions. Many of the hurdles facing these companies are related to lack of focus on physician quality and low utilization due to patient education, and rolling out services through employer insurance programs doesn’t help. Multiple research and studies have shown that only two out of every five consumers have heard of telemedicine. Utilization rate is even lower at less than 5% across the industry and less than 2% in many companies.
If telemedicine truly delivers on the promise of bringing quality care and convenience to patients, why are adoption rates so low? This past summer, I conducted a survey with 561 participants across the U.S. and found that although 95% of respondents have never used telemedicine, 57% are interested in trying if key concerns could be addressed. Topping the concerns is the quality of physicians, which suggests that telemedicine providers with high-quality physician networks are much better positioned to have high adoption and utilization rates.
PlushCare (GGV portfolio company), the telemedicine platform where both Dr. Dantes and Dr. Anegawa operate, has addressed this issue by building a physician network that only includes doctors from the top 50 medical schools in the U.S. This patient-centric approach with an emphasis on physician quality is seeing a dramatic uptick in both adoption and repeat visits.
See also: Telemedicine: Fulfilling the Promise
Now that we’ve outlined the needs and primary adoption barrier of consumers, let’s look at what motivates doctors to use telemedicine, because ultimately doctors are the key to the quality of the service. Beyond the scheduling flexibility, companies like PlushCare also offer a suite of tools to help doctors operate more efficiently — from handling the back-end administrative work to streamlining the front-end patient visits — so doctors can focus on what they do best and enjoy doing the most, delivering care to patients. That’s why we see physicians like Dr. Dantes bringing his years of experience back to practice through telemedicine, and others like Dr. Anegawa taking online patient visits beyond her practice.
A common misperception about telemedicine is that the primary target audience is either those who live in rural/underserved areas, or millennials who seem to do everything online. In reality, telemedicine has much broader applications for consumers beyond these groups. Most telemedicine users fall in the age of 35 to 45, with busy work and travel schedules and families with multiple kids. Telemedicine can provide a hassle-free way of seeing a doctor with a lot of flexibility in time and location.
The use cases can even be extended to schools, which are often understaffed with onsite medical professionals, or nursing homes when the seniors have acute symptoms. Instead of sending the patients to ER or waiting for a family member, telemedicine can address many of the problems within 10 to 20 minutes and involve family in the discussion in a three-way call. Most importantly, the convenience doesn’t need to come at the cost of quality.
AI – Doctor’s Silver Bullet to Boost Productivity and Improve Outcome
While telemedicine drives the much needed efficiency to healthcare by simplifying logistics around the care process, health AI targets the care process directly to increase productivity. At the current stage, health AI may not be able to displace doctors and originate treatment plans independently, but it’s more than ready to help doctors allocate time more efficiently depending on individual patient needs, and keep tabs on patients post-visit to improve outcomes and lower readmission rates.
For example, start-up company Lemonaid Health provides a “traffic light” system using an AI model developed by physicians to do the first round of screening on patient cases. Cases are categorized into three pipelines upon screening: “Green,” or straightforward, cases account for 80%; “yellow,” or complex, cases account for 15%; and “red,” or extreme, cases account for the remaining 5%. This categorization allows doctors to spend less time on straightforward cases and focus on patients with more complex situations.
Another example is Carbon Health, which leverages AI to examine and triage patient cases pre-visit through a chatbot interface. Based on the complexity of the cases, Carbon’s AI assistant books an appropriate amount of time for the visit and shares the pre-visit synopsis with the doctor so he or she can dive right into the problem during the visit. The AI assistant also follows up with patients post-visit to keep track of key indicators and resurface cases to the doctor when anomalies are detected.
See also: It’s Time to Embrace Telemedicine
I am excited to see consumer-centric digital health companies that are providing broader access and better quality of care, and bringing efficiency to the process. Consumers are increasingly engaged in issues about their health and are expecting healthcare tech improvements. Meanwhile, tech innovators are continuously disrupting the status quo. I believe consumers are at the forefront of these changes, and innovators behind consumer-centric digital health companies can win big in this market.
If you are a healthcare founder making solutions to transform consumer experience, I’d love to talk to you.