A new service aims to keep visits to the doctor at a minimum by setting up virtual visits via phone and the Internet, allowing physicians to not only choose when they're available for patient consultations, but to do so at a minute's notice.
Doctors on Demand, uses interactive voice response (IVR), speech recognition and e-mail to address what it calls a growing problem: the high cost and lost productivity of doctor visits.
The service has its own pool of licensed physicians to connect with patients.
Doctors on Demand Health Networks, a privately-held company based in Beverly Hills, screens and then signs up accredited physicians for the service. According to David Gonen, COO of Doctors on Demand, hundreds of physicians have so far signed up to take part in the service, and they can set their availability status at any time via phone or the Internet.
"Let's say a patient cancelled and the doctor has an hour or an hour and a half of free time, they can set themselves as available and not waste that time," Gonen said. "Then, as soon as they're busy again, they can turn their availability off. Then our systems will find the next doctor who [is available]. It's an on-demand fluctuating pool. It's a very dynamic system."
The service also automates physician billing, scheduling and other back-office functions. "It's not like a static call center-type system. We've digitized the entire office from start to finish," Gonen said.
New patients sign up over the phone, filling in a virtual questionnaire using IVR technology that records their contact information, health record and current medical issue. Once the information is in the system, physicians who've received notice that the patient would like to speak to them can first listen to their medical history as well as the medical notes from other doctors who've seen the patient in the past. "We're basically doing [a] search for the doctor and then we connect them in minutes," Gonen said.
The service has been in public beta for six months, and launched officially late last week.
Federal law mandates that every patient must first see their prescribing doctor and then visit them at least once a year in person. It also requires that the service route each new patient to a licensed doctor in their own state.
Doctors on Demand is deploying the service directly to consumers at a charge of $35 for each physician call, and is targeting large employers and health care plans, which could include the service as part of a co-pay plan. That, Gonen said, could save companies money by reducing doctor's office and emergency room visits.
The IVR technology automatically searches for an available physician who matches the patients' preferences for language, specialty, location, and fee. After the consultation, the doctor can dictate voice notes for a patient's medical record.
The physician gets an easy, flexible way to earn income on their own schedule and patients get a easy, quick way to reach a doctor, Gonen said.