Doctor on Demand CEO: Utilization, patient satisfaction keys to success in crowded telemedicine market

By Jonah Comstock
02:47 pm
Doctor on Demand CEO Hill Ferguson

Doctor on Demand CEO Hill Ferguson

Telemedicine options for employers in the United States are approaching ubiquity — a National Business Group on Health survey last year found that 96 percent of employers planned to offer telemedicine services to employees this year.

Indeed the question for employers has moved from “whether to offer telemedicine” to “how to maximize the value of a telemedicine investment.” That gives big telemedicine vendors a clear opportunity to differentiate their products.

Doctor on Demand CEO Hill Ferguson will be taking the stage with me in a one-on-one interview as part of the 4 CEO’s panel, a popular perennial feature of the Health 2.0 Annual Fall Conference in September. Ferguson says that for his company, success in the competitive telemedicine space is about pleasing employer customers, employee end users, and the company’s own contracted physicians.

“We’re really trying to balance all three of these interests,” Ferguson said. “We’re trying to provide convenience and affordability to the patient. We’re trying to bring frictionless practice of your craft and low burnout and high satisfaction to the provider, as well as flexibility and career earning opportunities. And then we’re trying to provide cost savings to the payer, and then in some cases, employee satisfaction — to the extent that a payer is a large employer like Walmart or Comcast, where they’re not only concerned with saving money, they’re concerned with reduced absenteeism, getting [employees] back to work happy, and those sorts of things.”

Doctor on Demand differs from many other telemedicine vendors in that the only telemedicine visits it offers are video visits (as opposed to phone calls). For Ferguson, this is an important part of creating the best possible experience for physicians and patients.

“We’ve built our practice around delivering the same if not higher levels of quality than the standard of care today, and so our view is ‘You wouldn’t go into your doctor’s office and turn off the lights before you have a physical exam. When the technology is available to have a high-definition rich video experience, why would you settle for a phone?’ That’s going back in time, that’s not going forward,” Ferguson said.

He says his attitude is backed up by a pending study by Humana that the company presented at AHIP last month. The study showed that Doctor on Demands videos were comparable to in-person office visits on factors like 14-day readmission rates and overall prescribing rates.

Making that third stakeholder happy — employers and payers — is about that oft-heard telemedicine watch word, utilization.

“When you’re in the enterprise environment and you’re working with health plans, utilization is a measurement that drives value for that constituent,” Ferguson said. “And so if you’re operating at low levels of utilization and you’re paying an administrative fee, the effective cost per visit can be on par with brick and mortar. You might not be saving any money, and you could be spending more, if … you’re actually driving more referrals into emergency room settings. The ROI is very elusive at low levels of engagement.”

Ferguson says a lot of factors contribute to high utilization rates, including the aforementioned user experience. Another factor that’s often beyond his control is how strong the relationship between the employer and its employees is. Even brand awareness has a major role to play.

“I don’t spend my free time on my employee benefits portal,” he said. “I don’t spend it reading about my healthcare options on my insurance company’s website. I spend it on Facebook and Instagram and listening to podcasts, maybe watching TV. You have to be where consumers spend their time and we’ve been there from day one.”

I’ll be chatting with Ferguson at 4 CEOs on the Health 2.0 main stage, at 2:25 pm on September 18th.

Health 2.0

The Santa Clara conference will showcase cutting-edge innovation transforming healthcare Sept. 16-18.


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