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New Mobile App Improves Doctor-Patient Communication

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A new app developed by Lisa Serwin, CEO of AppMedicine, is changing the way physicians and patients interact.

AppVisit allows patients and physicians to conduct e-visits on their smartphones and tablets. Physicians can then offer medical advice, prescribe medication or request an in-office visit. Serwin walks listeners through the AppVisit process and discusses the future of AppMedicine.

How it works

“So let’s say you wake up with an unidentified rash on your body. There’s a standard of care that many physicians go through when you have a rash. They want to know how long you’ve had it; what does it look like; what does it feel like. You answer those questions which your doctors can customize for you ahead of time, take a photo of the rash, hit send and send it in to your doctor. Your doctor can then take a look at this very structured information, which is the information they want to know in order to make a diagnosis and determine what it is you have. Or if they are not sure, they can you some more questions or ask you for a photo, and ideally keep you out of the office.”

Q. I think this would be wonderful for the patients. I’m just wondering how the doctors would feel about that. They can be reached at any time. What’s the feedback from the doctors?

A. “Actually very enthusiastic. Our poor doctors currently in the United States take about 200 million phone calls each year—First of all, at no charge, and many of those at 2 in the morning. With AppVisit, they can get notified a way in which they choose. They get to care for their patients, but more efficiently, a little more effectively, a little less stress on their time. And they’re able to charge if they, in fact, make a diagnosis. It’s a way for them to get compensated for much of what they’ve been doing for us for free in the middle of the night."

Q. Let’s talk a little bit about the business aspect. How much does the App cost? How much does each visit with the doctor cost? Does insurance cover it?

A. “The App is free for both doctors and patients to use. For certain physicians who are fee for service, those are doctors who charge per visit or per procedure, the doctor sets the fee with the patient. The patient pays the physician, and the physician pays us a small transaction fee. For much large organizations that are out here in California, where we have a huge burst which is what we call concierge care, where you pay an annual fee for access to your physician, they often don’t charge the patients, so in that case they pay us based on usage or a flat monthly fee."

Q. How many doctors are currently using AppVisit?

A. "We just launched the product. We have over 20 physicians using it currently of varying specialties. We have pulmonology, psychiatry, ophthalmology, general internists, primary care, and pediatrics. So we’re really covering a wide range of specialties.

Q. How many patients have downloaded the app?

A. "We’ve had a couple thousand.  We’ve had over a thousand app visits go through our system. And more if you count messages that go back and forth between the provider and the patient."

Q. I would imagine that there are quite a few areas of medicine that this really works for. Are there any that It really doesn’t or you’re still trying to work it into specific fields of medicine?

A. "So far we haven’t found one where it doesn’t work. There are certainly specialties that lend themselves more obviously: Dermatology being one, ophthalmology or optometry being another, any place where a photo is required lends itself quite naturally. But you’d be surprised. We have a psychiatrist using it. He’s actually using it to train primary care physicians to better check on the mental health of their patients. In rural areas, as you know, there’s often a shortage of particular specialties, and so one of the things we can do with AppVisit is with these structured care pads train primary care physicians and have them contact their patients more frequently since they’re often the first line of defense, and refer them to the specialists as needed.  So we’re actually finding it does quite a bit, including things frankly that didn’t occur to us when we started.”

Q. Is there a way for patients to check this out? It sounds like your doctor has to be using this for you to use it.

A. "You can certainly go to our website to take a look at what we’re doing, but we do start with your doctor. That’s actually one of the things that differentiates us from what other folks are trying to do. We believe that when push comes to shove it’s not so much that you’re going to be comfortable getting care through your phone—although, ultimately, I think you will be—we want you to get care from your doctor, the one who knows you and the one who you know. So we start with your doctor. Once they register you, you download the app just like any other from the Google Store or ITunes and you’re free to start using it."