Picture this: After reading NBR’s latest article on his company’s possible IPO, Vodafone New Zealand chief executive Russell Stanners starts to feel a little peaky.
Is something up with his blood pressure?
Rather than spend an hour driving through Auckland traffic to his GP, he visits the Doctor2Go kiosk in Vodafone’s building. He logs on to a computer for a virtual consultation with a remote nurse, then a remote doctor. It includes a blood pressure reading. He’s quickly reassured it’s a false alarm.
This is a completely hypothetical scenario. The Vodafone NZ boss appears to be in rude health.
But you get the idea. Auckland startup Doctor2Go is a virtual health provider. The idea is larger employers can install one of its kiosks so that time-poor white-collar workers no longer have to take half a day off for a simple visit to the doctor.
Doctor2Go’s team of three nurses, two GPs, one clinical psychologist and one part-time mental health counsellor can also renew a regular prescription for you, fax a pharmacy, then get the drugs delivered to your workplace.
There are limitations. Co-founder Michael Haskell says his team can address about 70% of complaints that come through its virtual kiosks (the two-year-old startup is working with Vodafone, sexual health clinic Wellness Revolution and NIB, which is also its first partner in the health insurance sector).
The other 30% require a physical examination, which means a person is referred to their family GP or an after-hours clinic.
Temperature and blood pressure have been two problematic physical examination areas for virtual health providers.
And it’s in the latter area that Doctor2Go has just received a $100,000 Callaghan project grant. Mr Haskell says his company should be able to use the money to help develop a blood pressure cuff that connects directly with his company’s software, eliminating the chances of human error when a reading is taken.
Not making plans like Nigel
The project will cost $250,000 all up, and all told will take two developers about a year.
That’s a micro-budget compared to the Waikato District Health Board, which recently canned a two-year, $16 million virtual doctor app after a two-year year pilot.
Does it compute that the two-year-old Doctor2Go is charging into the tele-health area when the Waikato DHB says its project was under-used and over-budget?
Mr Haskell says there were several problems with the Waikato “Smart Health” system.
One was that it required remote rural patients to visit a hospital and fill in screeds of paperwork to register.
Another was that Waikato licensed software from an American developer, TapHealth, instead of developing it itself. It’s always harder when advice and support is in another country, he says.
Mr Haskell could also have mentioned – but was too diplomatic to do so – that the Smart Health app was a pet project (or should that be pet travel expense?) of the DHB’s former chief executive, Nigel Murray.
“There were a lot of lessons about what we shouldn’t do,” Mr Haskell says.
“We’re taking a more measured approach.”
He says the Waikato incident was an outlier. Worldwide, telemedicine and virtual health are growing.
Above and below: an NIB-branded Doctor2Go consultation, using high definition cameras and software to analyse a suspicious mark on someone's skin.
Doctor2Go was founded by tech entrepreneur Matthew Jackson (best known for TVNZ, MediaWorks, Spark and Sky's favourite unblocking service, GlobalMode) and Mr Haskell (the US expatriate who is also chief executive of Third Age Health Services, which bills itself as New Zealand’s largest provider of medical services into residential care homes, including 24/7 GPs support).
The pair say the company can cut costs for large organisations that pay for or subsidise health insurance for staff, and increase up-time.
Messrs Jackson and Haskell cite a Rand study based on 10 years of data from a Fortune 100 company’s wellness programmes, published in the Harvard Business Review in April 2016. It found that of hard cost savings, such as spending less per person on health insurance payouts, 86% of savings came from disease management — as opposed to the more popular lifestyle management (encouraging work/life balance, subsidising gym memberships, offering healthy snacks). Haskell says both measures are important but disease management is easier to quantify and can be measured even in the short-term. Rand found $US136 in savings per staff member per month, and a 30% reduction in hospital admissions in companies with proactive disease management.
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