Around here, we don't use the word "revolutionize" lightly. But that's precisely what new Houston-based service site 2nd.MD is doing by applying telecommunication technology to the world of health care.
Founded by former Aspenite and native South African Clint Phillips, the site allows patients to consult directly with specialists from the comfort of their homes, often saving travel costs and consultation fees.
It's a passion project for Phillips, whose daughter lost movement of the right side of her body at four months old. Living in Aspen at the time, Phillips and his wife had to locate the nearest pediatric neurologist and quickly realized they couldn't communicate directly with a specialist without first traveling to see them. After an "awful process" that included a four-month wait for a pediatric neurologist who then referred the family to a stroke specialist with a three-month waiting list, the couple decided to sell their business and move to Houston.
"I knew then this is what I wanted to do," says Phillips of moving his family to Houston, which he considers the nation's health care capital.
In contrast to the pre-treatment consultations, waiting lists and travel costs many families experience, the average wait time on 2nd.MD, which connects patients and specialists virtually via video chat, is just two days.
In contrast to the pre-treatment consultations, waiting lists and travel costs many families experience, the average wait time on 2nd.MD, which connects patients and specialists virtually via video chat, is just two days. Patients pay an average of $160 out-of-pocket to spend 20 minutes with the specialist of their choice, although rates vary according to education and experience.
(All of 2nd.MD's more than 200 member doctors are board-certified, and 20 percent head their departments).
The set-up is appealing to families, who can "meet" a specialist before traveling to see him or her, get a second opinion or learn about alternative treatment options, and to doctors, who can consult from home and receive payment directly without the red-tape and paperwork of insurance.
"We believe it's a premium service for a reasonable price," says Phillips, who has used the service himself to consult with a specialist in Miami about his daughter, Gabi, who he reports is making "incredible progress."
The site includes dashboards for both patients and doctors, where patients can upload documents like MRIs, notes from other appointments or any type of medical information. Doctors upload and update their own profiles and can be "followed" by patients, who also rate the specialists on their degree of expertise and their level of caring. Up to four people can consult from four different locations, and if a patient is located somewhere with spotty Internet — as with one patient in the Caribbean — there is also an audio-only option.
When a session ends, the doctor's notes are automatically emailed to the patient, whose notes and medical files are accessible from anywhere.
Of the 400 or so sessions that 2nd.MD has already hosted, Phillips says the most common feedback from patients is, "Why had no one told me that?"
The set-up is appealing to families, who can "meet" a specialist before traveling to see him or her, and to doctors, who can consult from home and receive payment directly without the red-tape and paperwork of insurance.
"Our first session was with an 80-year-old man who had macular degeneration and had heard he was destined for blindness," Phillips says. "His daughter made him the appointment and he spoke to a doctor in California who referred him to a nearby clinic that could extend his vision eight years."
Now that the site is up, the doctors recruited and 250 specialties and sub-specialties covered, Phillips and his team of eight full-time, seven part-time staffers are hungry to get the word out about the money, time and health-saving service.
Next on the agenda, Phillips says, is an iPhone app for mobile consultation and a feature that will allow specialists to share screens and make visual notes on medical documents and images in real-time.