Virtual Patients Enable Physicians to Expand Their Practice

When Queen recorded "I Want It All" in 1989, the English rock band likely had no idea the rant of that song-"I want it all, and I want it now"-would decades later become the unofficial rallying cry of demanding consumers. But it has.

When Queen recorded “I Want It All” in 1989, the English rock band likely had no idea the rant of that song—“I want it all, and I want it now”—would decades later become the unofficial rallying cry of demanding consumers. But it has. And consumers, it appears, continue to get all that they want.

The latest evidence is the expansion by HealthTap of its virtual health service. What began in 2011 with the company’s information module, where consumers could get answers to medical questions from either existing content or by posting their own question for physicians to answer, has now grown into an engagement module: Concierge.

“Now patients everywhere can connect 24 x 7 for consultation with their own doctors who have license to use HealthTap,” explains Ron Gutman, HealthTap CEO. “And doctors are making money from this.”

Maybe physicians are now getting it all, too.

Prime Growth

In mid-2014, HealthTap introduced Prime, its communication model that enabled patients to connect and interact with physicians 24 x 7 using any mobile device or web connection to get advice and, when appropriate, prescriptions to medications. Several months later, Prime morphed into Concierge.

“We took what we created with Prime and added a scheduling system, allowing doctors to provide virtual care to their own patients,” Gutman says.

But what physicians are likely most enthusiastic about is the ability to get reimbursed immediately for their services. Patients upload their credit card, and at the end of the consultation they’re charged $44.

“Before HealthTap, if doctors consulted with patients by phone, that was not covered by insurance,” Gutman says. “Now, physicians can finally get paid for the consultation they provide to their patients.”

Concierge also has a feature that comes free with the platform, where physicians not only prescribe medication but also create check lists. Gutman explains that if a doctor prescribes a treatment, the system can help the doctor create and send reminders to the patient to take their medication on time, or to do certain things or avoid certain things without the doctor having to spend more time on that.

“It’s fantastic for the doctor because the doctor can now stay in touch with patients after the visit, and continue providing the service at zero effort.”

And at zero cost to the physician.

Benefits Recognized

Ankush Bansal, MD, is a hospitalist and board-certified internist who has been using the HealthTap platform since its inception. As a hospitalist, he only sees patients in the hospital. But HealthTap has enabled him to maintain his outpatient medical skills while taking care of patients he otherwise wouldn’t have access to.

“I can see patients while they’re at home or at work, and I can treat them for conditions in their early stages, so hopefully they don’t end up in the hospital,” Bansal says. “[HealthTap] has broadened my ability to practice medicine. And with the direct billing to the patient it makes it a lot easier for me as a physician because I know I’m getting compensated for the time and advice I’m providing.”

Bansal says that the HealthTap platform can enable primary care physicians and specialists to broaden their practices as well.

“Especially with the Concierge service, it allows them to see their own patients between office hours or at night or on weekends, and also to bring new patients into their practice,” he explains. “If they see that there’s a patient on HealthTap who lives in their general vicinity, they can say, ‘I’ll help you with this issue, but since you don’t have a physician, I’ll also be glad to see you in my office for continuity of care.’”

There’s also a very short learning or comfort curve associated with HealthTap, Bansal explains. It takes about 4 or 5 patient consults for a physician to feel comfortable in terms of the limitations of what they can and can’t diagnose. In other words, what is safe for the physician to treat without being able to put hands on the patient?

Getting Started

Bansal recommends that physicians with their own practice and panel of patients get started with HealthTap’s information module.

“Just start by answering the general questions that patients all over the world ask,” he says. “That will give you some comfort in the online world as far as providing advice.”

The next step is sign up for Concierge, whereby the physician can expand his or her existing service to current patients 24 x 7. There will be a built-in comfort level because the physician has already developed a relationship with the patient. As they become more accustomed to that, they can start adding on patients from the Prime section where they’ll engage patients anywhere in the world who want to speak with a physician.

“That will enable them to grow their practice.”