Twenty years ago, I predicted that when the exponential and predictable progress of processing power, storage, and bandwidth—what I called the three digital accelerators—reached the levels we would have by 2010, we’d start seeing virtual hospitals, which would lower costs, improve efficiency, and ultimately change healthcare. In my latest New York Times best seller Flash Foresight, I wrote that the digital accelerators are now here, and so is the virtual ER.
Of course, a virtual ER can’t treat broken legs or emergencies that need hands-on medical procedures. But every day there are a large number of people in U.S. hospital ER waiting rooms who don’t need that sort of high-level medical attention.
A number of years ago, an ER doctor named Dr. Alan Roga was working his shift and noticed that there were a lot of patients using the ER for non-emergency treatment. This is expensive and time consuming for everyone involved, the hospital as well as the patient. Dr. Roga wondered, “How many illnesses are routinely treated in the ER that don’t require hands-on diagnosis and treatment? What kinds of things could I diagnose and treat by just seeing someone via a video connection, hearing their symptoms, and reviewing their medical history?” He knew he was on to something.
It didn’t take long to validate his thinking. Statistics from health insurance companies as well as a National Ambulatory Medical Care survey reveled that of the 136 million annual ER visits, over 66% are non-emergencies. In addition, 70% of patients do not have same-day access to their doctor, and the average ER visit costs $2,028.
Soon after, Dr. Roga created Stat Doctors. Based in Phoenix, Arizona, Stat Doctors is a virtual ER offering anytime, anywhere care that can treat conditions such as allergies, arthritic pain, asthma, bronchitis, cold and flu, ear infections, insect bites, pink eye, rashes, respiratory infection, sinusitis, sore throat, sprains and strains, sports injuries, skin inflammation or cellulitis, and many more. All of these conditions and more can be treated using the virtual ER.
Stat Doctors is a web-based virtual ER. Currently, a hospital, healthcare provider or employer signs up for Stat Doctors and then puts all of their members or employees into the Stat Doctors system. To date, Stat Doctors has developed an impressive track record of not only dramatically lower costs, but they also serve patients far better as evidenced by their high patient satisfaction scores. In fact, 98% of their patients say they would recommend and use Stat Doctors again. Stat Doctors has a national network comprised solely of board certified emergency room doctors and many now practice telemedicine full time. And in the future, I would predict that they will offer individuals the ability to enroll and have access to their service directly.
I recently used Stat Doctors because I had the first signs of a sinus infection, and I had to fly out to Asia the next day to give a speech. My doctor’s office did not have any openings to see me, so I decided to try Stat Doctors. I had already pre-registered and given them my medical history. So all I had to do was log-in. And since the service is available 24/7, I didn’t need an appointment. Within 10 minutes I was connected to a board certified emergency room MD.
During that 10 minute wait, the doctor was reviewing my medical history, and I was reading his bio so I knew who I’d be speaking to. When the 10 minutes was up, a SKYPE-like video on my laptop turned on and I was connected to the doctor via visual communications. I told the doctor my symptoms. He determined that I had a viral sinus infection and that I didn’t need a prescription, but he did recommend some helpful over-the-counter medications. I followed through on the suggestion and by the next day I was already feeling better and on my way to Asia.
If I had needed a prescription, I would have selected a local pharmacy and I would have been able to pick up my prescription in a few hours.
I thought the system was fantastic. Even better, my out-of-pocket cost was only $50, a fraction of the $2,028 I would have paid if I had gone to the ER. Plus I didn’t have to drive anywhere. I did the visit from the comfort of my home. I could’ve done it from a hotel room, from an airport, or anywhere. Best of all, I didn’t have to wait in a hospital ER or be exposed to other people’s illnesses.
Stat Doctors is a pioneer in virtualizing emergency room service. And thanks to smart phones, health apps, and diagnostic sensors that plug into the smart phone, we’ll be doing more and more remote health diagnostics in the near future. In fact, in a few more years, it will be common for doctors to once again make house calls … only it’ll all be done virtually.
DANIEL BURRUS is considered one of the world’s leading technology forecasters and innovation experts, and is the founder and CEO of Burrus Research, a research and consulting firm that monitors global advancements in technology driven trends to help clients understand how technological, social and business forces are converging to create enormous untapped opportunities. He is the author of six books including The New York Times best seller Flash Foresight.