By Antoinette Siu
Aug 14, 2017
Two years ago, the Walnut Creek-based organization introduced a digital health initiative to add online scheduling and eVisits, a quick way for patients with insurance to get a diagnosis without visiting a clinic or hospital in-person. Patients answer a survey as they would in a doctor’s office, and a clinician gets back to them within the hour.
“We really wanted to offer all ways to access our care,” said Gonzalo Castro, director of product management of John Muir’s E-Business.
Now any patient can use the telemedicine service for $25, with or without insurance, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day. Typically, insured patients cover their copays with in-person visits, but this flat-fee model opens their services to more people. It's a more convenient service for patients, Castro said, but also saves providers and the system time and money in administrative costs.
“Think about what you need to do. First you need to get an appointment, complete all the forms, then you see the doctor and finally go home with a prescription,” he said.
John Muir developed a system of clinical algorithms to help doctors quickly diagnose typical cases such as colds and urinary tract infections. Compared to the many steps patients have to navigate to be seen in-person, eVisit doctors spend under two minutes on average with each case.
John Muir operates two hospitals and about a dozen urgent care and outpatient centers throughout Contra Costa, Alameda and Solano counties.
The new programs seem to give patients a new way to get care. eVisit patients skew younger, and the service has completed 4,000 visits since launching in 2015, according to Castro. They’re also looking to expand the eVisit hours, as more patients are sending requests outside of its business hours.
In January 2016, John Muir added online open scheduling as part of the strategy to improve convenience for patients. It partnered with Zocdoc, an online scheduling service, and many other channels to bring all scheduling under one roof. Now, wherever patients book and come from, John Muir sees and manages these appointments in one place.
“Think of the hospitality model. When you go to Expedia or Kayak, you’re always reserving the same seat no matter where you book appointments,” Castro said.
Since offering online scheduling, John Muir saw a dramatic increase to the number of appointments booked. The online conversion is growing 15 to 20 percent month-over-month, Castro said.
San Francisco-based Lemonaid Health, a fast-growing telemedicine startup, uses a similar approach with clinical algorithms to help doctors optimize their appointments. For $15, patients answer questions and get a diagnosis within two hours. In May, the company raised $11 million in funding and completed 48,000 visits in the last two years.
Dr. Davis Liu, chief clinical officer at Lemonaid, spent 15 years in primary care at Kaiser Permanente before joining the new startup. As a physician, Liu says these algorithms ensure not only faster service, but more consistent care compared to video appointments, which can result in different diagnoses.
“The problem with video visits is if you have 10 video visits you may get 10 different treatments, even though the symptoms are the same,” Liu said.
“We’re advancing far faster than others.”
Lemonaid originally launched offering birth control in one state. In two years, it has expanded to 16 states offering 10 services. This month, it added services for cholesterol and sexually transmitted diseases, and more chronic health services will be added next year.