Karl Thorpe speaks about Sentara Healthcare's use of the MDLIVE telemedicine solution at SHSMD Connections.
Oct 02 2013

Has Virtual Healthcare Finally Arrived?

More companies are thinking about how they can serve patients whenever, wherever.

Telemedicine is a concept that has been bouncing around in American medicine for a long, long time. In fact, the first case of croup in a child was diagnosed by telephone in 1897, according to the New Telecom Quarterly.

But telemedicine, also known as virtual care these days, has been a roller coaster of sorts. Enthusiasm for the concept has never been in short supply, but effective results have been.

In the 1990s, as the web came to prominence, the time for telemedicine's rise seemed perfectly timed. After all, it was during the '90s when WebMD was born, so the demand for 24/7 healthcare information was already established.

But dial-up Internet wasn't equipped to supply the virtual care revolution we were looking for. Today, high-speed Internet isn't such a daunting hurdle as 70 percent of American adults ages 18 and older have a high-speed broadband connection at home, according to a Pew Internet study.

At this year's SHSMD Connections, the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development's annual conference, two companies touted their virtual prowess during a panel sessions titled, "New Ways to Deliver Care."

Health in a Hub

Robbie Page, vice president of business development for HealthSpot, showed off his company's innovative HealthSpot telemedicine stations. Patients can step into the hub and consult with a doctor through a video conference. It is also equipped with medical equipment to take vital measurements. Additionally, there's a medical assistant on staff to provide assistance and sanitize the station after the consultation is over, Page says.

One HealthSpot Station can see roughly three visits per hour and one doctor can cater to roughly four HealthSpot Stations. So far, the company has even been successful in getting Ohio health insurance companies to treat Healthspot visits as they would an in-office visit, which means there's no additional out-of-pocket cost for opting for virtual care instead of face-to-face visits, Page says.

The company is currently running in emergency rooms and urgent care facilities, but Page says pharmacies would be the ideal location for their Healthspot stations.

"The real sweet spot would be the retail pharmacy location," he says. That way a patient can have a virtual consultation and walk out with a prescription for their treatment.

The Real Web MD

In an industry faced with a shortage of doctors and increasingly digitally savvy patients, Virginia-based Sentara Healthcare sought a more modern solution for its healthcare.

"Consumers expect to be engaged digitally, they expect to be engaged virtually," says Karl Thorpe, manager of strategic expansion for Sentara.

So the company turned to MDLIVE, a 24-hour, 7 days a week, online platform that allows patients to schedule doctor's appointments and conduct virtual consultations.

Thorpe played a commercial that showed a mother connecting with a doctor using MDLIVE to seek treatment for her sick son. Through a secure video conference, the doctor was able to diagnose her son with an ear infection and prescribe antibiotic treatment.

The convenience of MDLIVE's anywhere, anytime consultations means that patients don't have to endure the hassle of heading to the doctor's office. This is a huge timesaver and benefit for Sentara's patients as fitting into the doctor's office's schedule is no walk in the park.

"Finding time to set up an appointment with a doctor can be extremely time consuming," Page points out.

Sentara loved the MDLIVE solution so much that the company took an equity stake in the healthcare startup. So far, Page says that Sentara has received "high consumer satisfaction" from the MDLIVE solution.

Ricky Ribeiro