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WELCOME TO THE DIGITAL DOCTOR

Eren Ozagir is the CEO and founder of Push Doctor, and he explains how digital doctor services are redefining the healthcare industry. Get sick this spring and you will either have to wait roughly a fortnight to see your GP or wait in a walk-in NHS clinic for hours.

But digital doctor services aim to set up a video consultation with a GP within 10 minutes via mobile apps, dispensing not only with the concept of in-person consultations – but also with the associated queuing. 

Push Doctor is just such a doctor-on-demand service and one of the early pioneers in the sector.  But we are not the only health app out there – we are part of a wave of digital health companies on both sides of the Atlantic, aiming to transform how patients obtain medical advice.

While we focus on delivering fast, confidential, expert advice and treatment in minutes, on any device, from 6am in the morning to 11pm at night, 365 days every year, other players are providing home diagnostic kits that let patients track their bloods in an app, while others focus on stress management via online programmes.

We are all part of a broader rise in mobile care, as digital technology opens new ways for patients to not only access medics through apps – but also to monitor their own health and measure physical activity and vital signs such as pulse rate, temperature, respiration and blood pressure.  Such is the interest in the sector, we have just established a national Digital Health Campus in Manchester to host collaborations to advance the medical agenda.  The £3m bespoke facility we have created will be a venue for co-working, collaboration and events to bring together stakeholders from across the healthcare spectrum to solve some of the most pressing questions facing healthcare.

But digital healthcare is still in its infancy.  The rapid pace of technological advancement is transforming virtually every aspect of our lives – from the places we shop to the ways we work; from the media we consume to how we plan our leisure time.  While we have seen fantastic consumer engagement through mobile communications in entertainment and media, we haven’t seen quite so much in the most important area of all – health.

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People are, however, beginning to turn to digital health apps. Our research shows 29% of us currently use a smartphone, tablet or computer to order repeat prescriptions (29%). 16% of us have used technology to access our medical records, while 15% use it to buy non-prescription medication.  While this is a relatively new industry, our research reveals the majority of people welcome the greater convenience offered by digital healthcare. Taking video appointments as a case in point, while only 18% of the adults we polled were using them currently, as many as 82% were willing to consider using this type of service.  When asked under what circumstances they would choose to use a video consultation, most talked about a desire for a more responsive service. The top reasons cited included getting an appointment more quickly (36%), on the same day (29%) or even an immediate appointment (28%).

Interestingly, digital healthcare has universal, cross-generational, appeal. Far from shying away from new technology innovations, a number of over-55s are already embracing apps and the internet to address their health needs and access healthcare: 38% of this age group is now using the internet and apps to order repeat prescriptions, while almost one in six do so to purchase non-prescription medicine and 5% to buy prescription medication.  But it isn’t just access to medication driving this usage – 13% are attending GP consultations online and nearly one in 10 are accessing their patient records online or via an app.

Our customers are keen to avoid taking time off work to visit a clinic and are too busy to queue for hours in a drop-in centre or spend almost a fortnight off sick before finally seeing their GP.  That makes the service popular.  For our £20 per monthly premium service, users get an additional 10 mins on every consultation, free referrals and sick notes, and are not charged an admin fee for their prescriptions – the number of people subscribing has risen by 230% year-on-year.  So popular, in fact, that we have just made two senior hires – a new COO and CPO – to support the business and drive it through its next phase of growth.  Wais Shaifta and Alex Wheldon were brought in from Just Eat and Lyst to ensure Push Doctor continued the expansion of its offering for patients.  Both join with significant start-up expertise and bring unique insight into the successful scale-up of businesses from seed right through to FTSE100.  

While convenience is driving demand for patients, it’s not just the ordinary day-to-day healthcare needs that are being met by digital healthcare apps.  Virtual consultations can be particularly valuable for people in remote areas.  And they can also help to reduce stress on existing health infrastructure by cutting the number of people demanding appointments.  A study by the University of California San Francisco and Stanford University estimated that 40-50 per cent of primary care visits could be converted into virtual appointments, leading to savings of $11bn in the US alone.

Subject to high-quality standards, the advantages of virtual consultations outweigh the perceived risks and make continued innovation in this area a valued pursuit.  This is one of the reasons we have also formed an advisory board to overview not only strategy but also governance.  While it brings together sector experts across the healthcare landscape – from the NHS and regulatory bodies to the pharmacy sector and political advisors – our advisory board also includes former MPs and GB athletes.  It is chaired by Ed Smith, the former chairman of NHS Improvement.

Where next?  In the future, the cooperation of the public health service and digital healthcare providers could change the way that the whole of the UK receives its healthcare.  Both the NHS, DOH and the CQC, the industry regulator, understand the importance of digital in improving patient choice and patient.  We are looking to use our new board’s experience within public health provision to guide the company as it looks at potential collaborations with the NHS. While at the same time, we’re building a platform to bring together the best of digital health providers in one place, broadening out the options for patients and answering the increased demand from the public to healthcare that is smart, personalised and responsive.