Connecting Physicians and Patients via Virtual Concierge Services: An Interview with Ron Gutman of HealthTap

Interview By Shiv Gaglani

I first came across HealthTap and its energetic founder, Ron Gutman, at the 2011 mHealth Summit in Washington, DC. Since then the platform has grown from a few thousand physicians to more than 60,000, and its simple question-and-answer service has evolved into HealthTap Concierge, which is a telemedicine consultative service. I had the opportunity to catch up with Gutman recently to discuss the new service and how physicians and patients are engaging with it.

What is HealthTap Concierge?

HealthTap Concierge enables patients to virtually connect directly with their own personal doctors and doctors from 105 specialties—by HD video, text chat or voice using any smartphone, tablet or personal computer.

HealthTap Concierge solves the three biggest problems that patients face when trying to get fast, reliable medical advice from their own doctors: It takes too long to get an appointment; it's inconvenient to travel to the doctor's physical office and waste time in the waiting room (while getting exposed to health risks spread by other patients); and doctor visits and even insurance co-pays often cost too much.

With HealthTap Concierge, patients can get advice and even medication refills with no wait time. Affordably priced at $44 per consult, it's about the cost of a typical co-pay. With access to the Virtual Practices of more than one million doctors from 105 medical specialties, HealthTap Concierge also enables users to discover new doctors and even invite them to be on their Care Team, allowing anyone to get a second, third or tenth opinion from top specialist via HD video or secure text chat, from anywhere in the world.

How did you come up with the idea for HealthTap?

My commitment to helping others improve their lives through health began at Stanford University where, as a graduate student, I organized and led a multidisciplinary group of graduate students and faculty to conduct research in personalized medicine and health engagement. This research led to the implementation of an acclaimed popular health management program still used at Stanford today, BeWell@Stanford.

While serving more than 100 million people with web and mobile applications I created after graduation, I learned a lot about what's missing in digital health to create a true virtual health care experience and with that knowledge I founded HealthTap to solve the most basic problem in health care: helping people feel good faster and in a more cost effective way by connecting them with doctors and their trusted health knowledge, anytime, anywhere.

I founded HealthTap with the mission to improve the life expectancy of humankind by giving millions of people immediate access to health information and doctors, anytime and from anywhere. We do this by connecting people, from mobile devices and personal computers, with doctors and doctor created health content when they need it most. To date, we've received 17,000 notes from users telling us that HealthTap has saved their life, or the life of a loved one.

Why do physicians take part in this? How about patients?

HealthTap Concierge is open to U.S.-licensed doctors in all specialties, and provides them with their own turn-key Virtual Practices at no cost, allowing them to easily establish paid virtual office hours and serve more patients better.

Doctors in more than 100 specialties can now practice medicine from an iPhone, iPad, Android device, or their personal computer on their own terms, and get paid immediately for doing what they do best: taking care of patients without any hassles.

Doctors can:

  • Choose where they want to work from: their office, their home, and even remotely
  • Choose when it's most convenient for them to work
  • Save money—no office expenses, overhead, or insurance paperwork
  • Provide better care, and help their patients become happier and healthier
  • Enhance patient loyalty
  • Boost their income while doing good

Patients participate by finding their doctor on HealthTap and requesting an immediate live virtual consult, scheduling an appointment, or sending them a message. If their doctors aren't on HealthTap Concierge, they can send an invitation to initiate an introductory consult.

What are your goals for the next year? Five years?

Over the next year HealthTap will focus on expanding our offerings to doctors, specifically with an emphasis on developing our two new current offerings, HealthTap Prime and HealthTap Concierge. For Concierge, that's currently growing very rapidly, we will be listening to and learning from the doctors who use the product and refining it to best meet their needs. We're building the first ever digital healthcare marketplace and learning every day from both doctors and patients on how to make it better. We'll focus on customization and expanding the utility of the service for the doctors who are adopting the service rapidly.

We'll also respond to how the service is being used, paying attention to use cases that both patients and doctors ask for. Where we see a strong union of supply and demand for services, like second, third, or fourth opinions, we're there to help connect doctors and patients in ways never before possible. We're also planning to significantly expand our user base. We've already served hundreds of millions of people, and we'd like to serve billions.

How many cardiologists are HealthTap doctors? Can you discuss opportunities for cardiologists to take part in the program?

Currently there are over 64,000 U.S.-licensed doctors on HealthTap, in 137 specialties (including cardiology), and in over 4,000 cities across all 50 states. Specialists represented on HealthTap include not just cardiology, but also sub-specialties of the discipline.

Because cardiology questions comprise one of the top areas for user questions on HealthTap, new doctors signing up for HealthTap can expect the opportunity to answer questions in their specialty, connect with potential patients, and provide and gain peer recognition for their expertise on the service.

Additionally, with HealthTap Concierge, our new service that lets doctors connect with their own patients for virtual consults using the HealthTap platform, cardiologists can now sign up for Concierge, invite their own patients to connect with them using HealthTap's end-to-end care platform and extend their practices to offer "virtual office hours" to their own patients where they can connect with patients via HD-video, text, or audio consults.

What is your background in health care/technology?

In addition to my background at Stanford, which I mentioned earlier, I regularly publish articles and thought pieces on health, technology, and happiness. I'm a frequent speaker at leading conferences on health, innovation, and technology conferences, such as TED and TEDx, Stanford Medicine X, Health 2.0, Medicine 2.0, FutureMed, Wired Business, mHealth Summit, Health Innovation Summit, Personalized Medicine World Conference, the Cleveland Clinic Patient Experience Summit, and others. My TED Talk ("The Hidden Power of Smiling") is one of the most viewed TED talks of all time (over 3.5 million views). I'm also the Curator of TEDx Silicon Valley.

In addition, I am an angel investor and advisor to health and technology companies, including Rock Health (the first digital health incubator), Stanford's Medicine-X and Harvard Medical School's SMArt Initiative ("Substitutable Medical Apps, Reusable Technologies").

Keywords: ACC Publications, CardioSource WorldNews

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