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As the healthcare industry continues to play catch-up in today's world of instant connection, they're beginning to explore virtually connecting patients to providers through mobile devices.
One telemedicine provider, MDLIVE in Sunrise, Fla., is helping health systems do that with its network of virtual providers that operate 24/7 for health plans, health systems and patients in the United States. MDLIVE consultations can be performed through an online video chat, phone call or mobile app.
At the American Telemedicine Association 2019 conference, Lyle Berkowitz, M.D., chief medical officer at MDLIVE, discussed how the company partners with health systems to provide telehealth services, as well as the future role telehealth will play in healthcare.
Editor's note: Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Do you train a health system's providers on how to engage with patients virtually?
Lyle Berkowitz: Everyone who comes on our platform, whether it's their doctors or ours, goes through our training program. It's several hours of teaching them website manner, how to diagnose, treat and work with patients online. It's a little different than being in the office.
MDLIVE primarily focuses on urgent care?
Berkowitz: Traditionally we've done that. We've done over a million visits and the result is we offer this hyper-convenient solution; patients love it. This saves them the two hours of time to go to the doctor's office. They don't have to sit in the doctor's office with a bunch of sick people. And they save money because they don't have to pay for going to the emergency room or urgent care.
We've done that well, so now we're expanding. We're adding more features, functionality and where we're able to service. We rolled out a new product called CareLink that's meant for quality improvement services to close gaps in care. Instead of waiting for someone to get sick and call us, we now will do outreach to patients who have been identified as having gaps in care. Maybe they need a mammogram; maybe they need some type of documentation about whether they're taking certain medicines.
So health plans or health systems may come to us because we can help them improve their star ratings, which have a financial benefit to them. We're taking advantage of the fact that we have this large group of doctors who can take care of people nationally.
Can you provide an example of how MDLIVE partners with health systems?
Berkowitz: University Hospitals in Cleveland use us for a variety of things. They've committed to having their doctors online a lot of the time. They've taken MDLIVE software and put it into their system, and they're able to then service those patients who come in for urgent care. But they have also used that same technology software for other applications. They have some specialists who want to communicate with patients with video after a surgical admission or other things. Our software is fairly agnostic, so they can use it for a lot of different things. Additionally, we'll help with overflow if their doctors might not be covering the evening, weekend, etc. If their doctors aren't able to reach someone within 10 minutes or so, we'll have our doctors come in and help out.
Why are health systems investing in telehealth?
Lyle BerkowitzChief medical officer, MDLIVE
Berkowitz: They recognize that millennials, people born after 1980, now represent 150 million people -- half our population. And that group, they are not interested in making appointments for two hours of their life to go see somebody. Everything's online, everything is digital, everything is mobile. Health systems recognize that if they do not address it now, they will be the Blockbuster in the years to come.
When a health system partners with MDLIVE, what's the level of involvement for the health IT team?
Berkowitz: The good news is we really are able to come in and have a very easy process where we take care of most of the white labeling, integration, etc. The main integration is just when we send in a final note into the health system, but these days it's using standard HL7, FHIR, MDM, CCD technology, so it's a very light lift on the CIO and IT part.
Basic integrations are easy, embedding it [in the EHR] depends on the EHR vendor and the health system and what they're trying to do.
What are the challenges associated with integrating MDLIVE with the EHR?
Berkowitz: The biggest challenge is not the technology. The biggest challenge is in people and process and figuring out what problem are you trying to solve, what does the workflow look like, how do you build this into operations so that it becomes not sort of a far-flung point solution you can go to, but day in and day out becomes part of the practice of medicine just like we've seen in every other industry. That is the biggest challenge we face.