DoctorBase debuts free, secure doc-patient communications system for enterprises

By Neil Versel

DoctorBaseWhile many companies offer free, "lite" versions of their software to small organizations in hopes of landing sales from larger institutions, DoctorBase, maker of secure, mobile patient-provider communications, is taking the opposite approach. The San Francisco-based vendor this week released a free enterprise edition of its Panda communications system for hospitals – albeit smaller ones – and accountable care organizations with more features than its original product.

CEO John Sung Kim acknowledged it is a bit of a market test for the 3-year-old, employee-owned company. "We don't have anything to lose other than another failed experiment," he said.

However, he explained that it also is a response to two common problems among digital health startups: the inability to get the attention of hospital CIOs and being shut out of annual budget planning. "Selfishly for us, it was a way to creep our technology into smaller hospitals," Kim said. (Large health systems, with widely deployed electronic health records and patient portals, typically are not in the market for this type of technology anyway, according to Kim.)

"Now that it's not a budget issue, we want to find out the implementation issues," Kim said.

Like the version of Panda that DoctorBase sells to independent physician practices, Panda Enterprise Edition offers secure, mobile communications between providers and patients, and adds reporting and analytics tools. The company said it could cut hospital readmissions by as much as 42 percent, though it only offered theoretical and anecdotal evidence to back this up.

Kim said that readmissions often happen when communications break down outside the hospital, leaving patients without adequately coordinated follow-up care. "It's not a technology problem, it's a reach problem," Kim said.

Though this communication could help satisfy the requirement in Stage 2 Meaningful Use rules that providers electronically engage 5 percent of their patients, DoctorBase has not yet sought certification of Panda as an EHR module. (Providers must use certified technology to achieve Meaningful Use.) In fact, the company positions Panda as a "marketing platform" for physician practices more than anything.

One customer, the Celebrating Women Center in Oxnard, Calif., has reaped financial benefits from using the technology. OB/GYN Dr. Adrienne Lara has responded to dwindling insurance reimbursement and rising costs by seeing more patients and by adding many cosmetic services such as liposuction and Botox to her solo practice to the point that half of her patients now are there for aesthetic procedures.

She told MobiHealthNews that she would not have been able to cope without the mobile communications system. "It's made things all the more efficient," Lara said.

Each office staffer used to spend a good hour a day on the phone with patients to confirm appointments, answer questions and communicate test results, according to Lara. Much of that time was wasted on phone tag, in no small part because HIPAA forbids leaving patient-specific information on voice mail without patient consent. "That was maddening," Lara said.

Now, the practice confirms appointments and sends test results by text and e-mail through the secure platform. "I don't have cancellations the day of and I have a better show rate," Lara reported. "It saves me money."

Plus, she added, "I look very tech-savvy to my patients."

Because the technology is all in the cloud, providers can implement the Panda system much faster than other communications platforms, according to Kim. He said the company is turning on the technology for 15 to 25 new physician offices each business day.