28 April 2017

GP care continuity and additional income goal of new telehealth launch

General practice Technology

A few weeks back there was some controversy when Dr Sicknote relaunched as Qoctor and promised robot-generated script notes, referrals and even scripts.

The launch underlined the issues emerging around the spectrum of services which can be automated and save doctors’ and patients’ time.

The key controversy though was not so much that Qoctor was proposing algorithmic solutions to very basic clinical problems, it was that Qoctor was yet another start-up that’s ultimate outcome would be to degrade the continuity of relationship that a patient has with their regular GP.

Like Babylon in the UK, which already has more than 300,000 subscribers, it is attempting to centralise the low-hanging fruit of GP consults by saying they are simply transactional. But even in a simple transaction, a GP with a good patient relationship can make vital judgments and assessments which can affect the lives of their patient.

At today’s Australian Telehealth Conference, a telehealth start-up called Welio announced that it was going into pilot stage of its platform. The approach of the Welio group is simple, and  very different to  Doctus, Qoctor, Readycare, and a host of other centralised telehealth start-ups and the burgeoning after-hours providers. The group is aiming its product squarely in the middle of improving the continuity of the GP-patient relationship by providing a platform that is free for all GPs to use, which will seamlessly begin to monetise all those telehealth consults which in the past have gone unpaid, and is being rolled out as a GP-to-existing patient service only, at least for now.

According to Welio’s Chief Medical Officer, Associate Professor Jared Dart (who is a practicing GP and medical centre owner ) the platform has been built for use within the Australian context as both GP and patient-centric.

“You can’t have one without the other”, Professor Dart told TMR. “If you are in the end facilitating a GP to have a better relationship with their patient, making them more efficient and helping them monetise something that until now has been hard to monetise, then you are facilitating patient-centred care as well, and overall better health outcomes.

“A system that in any way attempts  to disintermediate the GP in healthcare, as many of the other telehealth start-ups seem to be trying, is one that will in the end degrade the fundamental quality of healthcare in the country”, he said.

The Welio platform has been developed with the close support of Microsoft, which is providing infrastructure, including the robust Skype for Business, as the video component of the system, and all the cloud infrastructure. Welio is also the first fully HIPAA-compliant telehealth platform in the country, which makes it the most secure.

Welio is also being rolled out in a different manner in parts of southeast Asia, mainly to create much better access to healthcare where the people have good mobile and internet access but very limited healthcare access, especially outside major urban areas.

On the surface Welio is surprisingly simple, which is what CEO Darren Magick wants.

“Essentially we are a secure robust video platform for GPs which is fully mobile, highly secure, seamlessly makes most GP telehealth consults monetisable, and simplicity is what’s needed to start with,” he told TMR.

“We are trying to be GP-led in how we roll out in Australia. That’s why we are starting with a small pilot, but will roll out iteratively quickly as we get feedback from our users. Our users are everyday GPs who are wanting to make their patients’ lives easier. We are looking for a sweet spot where a GP determines when and how their patient needs a teleconsult versus a face-to-face session.”

Welio is in dialogue with doctors’ groups about the product in order to make sure it not seen in the same light as some of the other medical startups.

Eventually, the system may include more bells and whistles, in particular sophisticated artificial intelligence and machine learning modules which can, in certain instances, further increase the efficiency of a GP.

“But we intend on bringing the GP community with us on this journey if we go there,” Mr Magick said.

“We have it all because we have Microsoft backing us and they have some of the leading edge solutions the areas of AI, machine learning and medical chat bots in the world, but all the solutions in the world aren’t going to help a patient if a doctor doesn’t believe it’s helping them. They need to be leading the introduction of this technology with their patients, not some disconnected entrepreneur with smart ideas but a lack of understanding of how vital continuity of GP patient relationships are in our system.”

The Welio system does have the ability to be Uber-like, in that if a patient’s GP is not available on call, it can by algorithm default to the next-best available GP in an area. Technically that GP doesn’t even have to be in the area, the way the system works. They just need to be turned on and be the most-suitable next-available doctor on the system.

But to start with, Mr Magick says that Welio won’t be using that functionality, as enticing at it seems.

“It’s somewhere we think we need to eventually go, but only with the correct permissions from the patient’s GP and the patient themselves. The reason is that one of the biggest issues in take up of telehealth at the GP level is you still have to wait to see a doctor. Ideally, telehealth at this level will, one day, be on demand. But this is tricky territory and clearly we need to understand the dynamics better to ensure we don’t actually start disconnecting healthcare professionals from their patients.”

Welio starts today enrolling and registering GPs and practices for their system. You can do that at welio.com. The initial pilot will only be 60 GPs, but Mr Magick says that the order in which you register will be the order you get the service as the pilot evolves and he’s expecting the pilot to move very quickly.

The system is free to use. Doctors and Weilo get paid mostly via a cut of a private fee, which will start as low as $25.

You can watch the Welio informational video HERE.

 Disclaimer:

The author helped in various ways with concepts and planning in the Welio business. He thinks it’s a great idea and supports it’s roll out in the sense that he feels it may result in better healthcare overall across the country. The Medical Republic may also be paid at some point of the development of the business in some manner, advertising for example, if the business succeeds.

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