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Saturday, Jul 2, 2022

Telemedicine Company Delivers Care in a Snap

If you haven’t yet chatted with your doctor via instant messaging or video conferencing, you likely will soon. Digital doctor visits have been on the rise for several years – and because of proposed changes to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services guidelines that would incentivize medical professionals to expand into so-called “telemedicine,” checking in with a health care provider on a laptop or smartphone is likely to become increasingly commonplace. “Telemedicine is going to explode even faster than it is now,” Dr. Tom Davis, author and founder of Tom Davis Consulting, said. “Part of the gasoline that’s being thrown on the fire are these new regulations.” This is good news for Dave Skibinski and George Tierney, co-founders of SnapMD in Glendale. The technology firm took four years to bring its product to market – an epoch in the fast-moving tech industry. But the SnapMD platform, which its founders describe as a tool to help practitioners with virtual patient management, is garnering acclaim for being comprehensive, flexible and very user-friendly. “The easiest thing that you can talk about when you’re talking about telemedicine is the video visit,” Tierney said. “That’s about 10 percent of our platform.” Sold on a subscription basis according to the size of its user base, health care professionals of every specialty can use SnapMD’s cloud-based software to schedule visits, send bills, help patients navigate insurance, conduct on-demand video consultations and even check vital signs – all while complying with the regulations of their legal jurisdiction and the requirements of their contracted insurance payers. Snapping up partners SnapMD’s platform works like a virtual clinic that can be adjusted according to the client’s needs. Some practices may want the ability to do on-demand consultations, while others only want to take scheduled appointments. Payment and billing features can be turned on or off. “Those modules mirror the delivery-of-care functions of the systems,” Skibinski said. Its design gives it equal utility between provider types, from physicians at urgent care centers to lactation consultants. The software has afforded the company a handful of accolades for innovation along with some notable partnerships, including a contract with the American Pediatrics Association to provide SnapMD software to the organization’s 66,000 physician members. To SnapMD, the real potential of the platform goes beyond coughs and colds to the management of chronic or long-term disease. Cancer patients and oncologists could forego monthly in-person meetings – which can necessitate a two-hour drive for patients in some parts of the country – and instead review the results of recent tests by teleconference on SnapMD’s platform. “Now the patient never has to leave their couch – they can review scans with the doctor through their iPad and be done in 15 minutes,” Tierney said. “That’s effective change.” Unlike other telehealth companies, SnapMD does not supply doctors on demand, though it can connect hospitals and medical centers with staffing firms if they need extra practitioners to take patient calls as they integrate the software system into their workflow. The platform is a tool for providers – not a replacement, Tierney said. “We do not compete with our customers,” he said. “We don’t provide health care services. … We’re designed to work within the existing health system.” Regulating technology Working within the system requires that the firm’s software be flexible enough to comply with the legal boundaries of providers wherever they’re located. For instance, nurse practitioners who are licensed to work in Tennessee have prescribing privileges, while those who practice in Mississippi do not. SnapMD’s platform can be adjusted to suit both – a key differentiator in an industry where regulatory audits are frequent, Tierney explained. “We have to examine who the client is, what state they’re in, what the reimbursement laws are and what services can be delivered through telemedicine and be reimbursed,” Skibinski said. Those reimbursement laws are poised to change in favor of telehealth companies. A set of changes for next year proposed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services on July 12 would expand the pool of medical professionals who qualify for reimbursement for remote patient monitoring to include registered nurses, medical assistants and other clinic staff. The changes would also see physicians reimbursed for conducting brief virtual check-ins with patients and for the time they spend reviewing patient-submitted photos. Philo Hall, associate in the health care and life sciences practice of Washington, D.C. law firm Epstein Becker Green, sees the proposed changes as a good sign for all players in primary care. “It is a positive development that CMS is working to update and keep pace with rapidly evolving physician services that increasingly utilize novel communications technology,” Hall said. Under the new guidelines, providers would see a short-term return on investment on telehealth platforms in addition to long-term benefits, he added. “CMS demonstrates … that it appreciates the current role and future potential of communications technology in primary care,” Hall said. Skibinski agreed. The health care world has lagged behind every other industry in its digital evolution, he said, as medical care providers are all too aware that the risks that come with rapid change must be in compliance with a convoluted slew of laws at the federal, state and local levels. The proposed CMS guidelines would push the industry forward by creating a financial incentive for practitioners and medical centers to adopt new technology. “These changes are trying to use modern technology to serve the needs of the patient first,” Skibinski said. Telehealth boom The changes are likely to further spur entrepreneurial activity and investment in telehealth software – an already crowded market. Venture capital investment in companies specializing in digital health was $11.5 billion in 2017, according to a report by Startup Health, a New York-based consultancy. American Well, a Boston-based telemedicine firm, has raised $291 million this year through a new partnership with Dutch electronics giant Philips. Another competitor, publicly traded Teledoc Inc., claims to have nearly 21 million paid members connecting with doctors through its platform. Despite the competition, Skibinski is optimistic. “We don’t care about other telemedicine vendors’ software, because we know that for most of them the user experience is not good,” Skibinski said. Tierney’s design expertise, as well as the skills of others on the team, give him confidence that SnapMD will prevail. “George has been doing digital applications since the mid-’90s,” Skibinski said. “You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone in a health care software company with that depth of consumer experience.” With so many options to choose from, user experience is indeed one of the main factors physicians consider when they are looking to adopt a telehealth platform, according to Davis, the health care consultant. It will become increasingly important as CMS guidelines push more health care professionals toward such software systems. “There’s a limited number of doctors, so the ones that will decide to use these systems are going to migrate to the ones that are easiest to use,” he said. SnapMD does not disclose its revenue or the cost of licensing its software; the price for a particular client is determined by the number of medical professionals who will access the platform. However, practitioners and medical centers who use the platform need to see only a few patients to generate returns, according to Skibinski. “We have a very rapid return on investment,” he said. “If a typical provider is seeing three patients in a month, they are already profitable on our platform.”

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