Turning Patients Onto Webcams

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“Dear patient, you can now turn on your webcam”

Video consultation startup, HealthQuo, presents a business model that is both customisable and scalable. Is this the start of a new era where going to your doctor means going online?

The UK government has just announced plans for GP surgeries to open from 8am to 8pm in some areas to cater for demand from commuters, for example. But there was also a namecheck for health consultations by email and Skype, so clearly the opportunity for digital healthcare has been noticed. According to a report from Parks Associates, the number of US households using video consultations with physicians will grow from 900,000 in 2013 to 22.6 million in 2018. Harry Wang, Director, Health and Mobile Product Research, Parks Associates, says that emerging technologies are beginning to supplement traditional face-to-face visits with a doctor in a wide range of ways: virtual health kiosks and portals, remote consultations and telemedicine; underpinned by electronic personal health records.

In the US, this will drive revenue for video consultations to $13.7 billion in 2018. But only if entrepreneurs and innovators can successfully harness and leverage the opportunity. And that sometimes takes a radical new perspective. One intriguing startup is video health consultation business, HealthQuo. Its founder, Rodrigo Cuesta, told us his story and explained how he is turning video health consultations into a successful and scalable business model.

MC: Rodrigo, you are a doctor and technology entrepreneur. What problem does HealthQuo solve?

RC: I started med school when I was 19 and became a doctor 6 years later. Along that journey, I always wanted to mix health with my other passion – technology. And I noticed big, consistent problems in healthcare, no matter what the country.

Health services are mostly practiced as curative and not preventive. Of course, preventive care is cheaper and provides a better quality of life for citizens. Then, there is the distance between healthcare providers and patients. And of course there is the inexorable year-on-year rise in the cost of delivering healthcare.

Technology allows us to disrupt this status quo of healthcare, and that is how HealthQuo was born. We have created a platform in which patients can search for healthcare professionals and eliminate the whole process of “going to the doctor”: commuting, waiting areas, exposure to other sick people, etc.

I strongly believe that in the near future everyone will have an initial online consultation as a triage; because we know that 70% of day-to-day consults can be solved with a quick conversation. It will decrease the cost of care and increase the quality of the service.

Our startup is based in London which is a great city. We had big challenges starting the business; from money to legal issues; but now we’re recruiting doctors and allowing them to have their own personal “virtual healthcare office” and deliver ‘eVisits’ to anyone in the world.

“Telehealth is the tool that will allow us to have both better access to health professionals, but most importantly reduced healthcare costs…”

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MC: Telehealth has been around for a while. It’s known for its value proposition but unfortunately also for its flaws: it’s expensive and complex to implement at scale. How important clinically, and how big of a business opportunity, are new forms of virtual health consultation in reality?

RC: New generations have more access through technology to more services than ever. And healthcare is no exception. We have reached the point where care can be provided across the internet, where information is in your pocket on your smartphone all day long and where accessing that information is as easy as a click. Insurance companies and governments (i.e. both healthcare business models) are waking up to the fact that telehealth presents an opportunity for an exceptional increase in efficiency and decrease in costs.

We all want to live healthy and long lives. Healthcare is a trillion dollar market in which innovation has been slow over the past six decades. But technology is changing that, and if consumers and providers can open their minds to the opportunity, technology can completely change the landscape.

MC: The industry continues to say that innovation has to come from the bottom up, rather than top down. What do patients want or even expect from virtual care?  What do practitioners want from it? How do you meet these critical and complex requirements of supply and demand?

RC: Great question. With this technology, we have two types of clients – patients and practitioners – who expect very different things from virtual care. Patients want a platform that can solve their day-to-day issues conveniently, without spending more time than necessary, and most importantly cutting the effort and hassle of accessing the health service.

Practitioners, on the other hand, want a secure network in which information is protected and where they can get as much exposure to their patients as possible.

Being both a doctor and an entrepreneur, I strongly believe that we will never reach the end of the wishlist for either side – every day we get emails with different ideas as to how we increase the quality of the service from both ends. I believe that the key to success is listening to our users and transforming month by month based on their requirements, rather than whatever we might think the next step ought to be.

MC: What have been your biggest challenges so far?

RC: One of our biggest challenges is convincing both patients and professionals that this is a reality and can be done. Most love the idea but are still hesitating – I compare this situation to the birth of online banking. It’s entirely normal: it’s a process of change and change takes time.

The other big problem is finding cooperation from governments and other institutions around digital prescriptions. We are working every day on trying to help them see that ePrescribing saves money; but most importantly also avoids prescription errors and makes prescriptions legible. As a visionary, I see problems and work every day to change them; because I believe that there must be a change, and that with time it will come.

MC: What does the future look like? What are your plans for 2015?

RC: We have just signed a partnership with one of the biggest insurance brokers in the world (Pacific Prime) and we expect to provide services to 30,000-60,000 people worldwide under the deal. That’s why we are now recruiting doctors to help us meet future demand. For 2015, my wish is to provide lots of jobs for health care providers.

MC: If you could write the future of healthcare, what would it look like by the end of the decade?

RC: By 2020, I expect most healthcare business models to be focused on preventive care and the use of technology to increase efficiency in their services. Hopefully by 2020 we will see reduced rates of disease (especially chronic diseases) thanks to our preventive care model. Technology is part of our lives; we just have to apply it for the good of humanity.

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Nick Saalfeld is a corporate journalist and entrepreneur based in London, UK. He has written for seven years about health-tech for clients including Microsoft, Imprivata and Howareyou.com. He also co-founded Yoodoo, the online platform devoted to delivering behavioral change through learning experiences, with many applications in public health and clinical/pharmaceutical adherence. He is passionate about the opportunities technology brings to healthcare, particularly when as it becomes more usable and transparent to patients and clinicians.

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