A Tulsa firm thinks it has an edge on the growing virtual doctor visit market that may keep its competitors on hold.
Docvia.com, the brainchild of two area physicians, offers limited medical care by Internet. But in addition to being able to access your doctor by computer, docvia.com is ready to launch an upgrade to its service that will allow you to use a cell phone for online visits.
“There isn’t a company in the world that has mobile access,” said Noah Roberts, president and CEO of docvia.com. “That’s why we filed for a provisional patent. It’s a great way of competing against big companies.”
Docvia.com plans to launch the expanded service in January, he said.
Docvia.com and similar web-based doctor services allow patients who have an established relationship with a physician to seek the doctor’s treatment online without taking the time for an in-office visit.
The Tulsa company began offering its service in November 2005 when it brought Tulsa’s Omni Medical Group online. Patients pay about $25 per online visit, a fee comparable to the co-payments insured patients make for regular office visits.
Based on templates created by Tulsa Drs. Michael Maxwell and Jon Cox, the web-based application leads the patient through a series of questions about their symptoms that simulate “every scenario for which a patient would contact their doctor,” Roberts said.
Participating doctors then make their recommendations based on the patient’s history and answers to those questions.
Aid for South Africa
Docvia.com put its phone-based application to the ultimate test when it launched a pilot program in July to help fight HIV in South Africa.
Fed by the humanitarian zeal of Roberts and Chris Zenthoefer, CEO of Tulsa-based creative services firm New Medio, the trial targeted mother-to-child transmission of the disease in Soweto, a city of 4 million near Johannesburg.
New Medio was responsible for the branding and application development for docvia.com, employing the software talents of Jonathan Bartlett, chief technology officer for both firms. Docvia.com operates out of New Medio’s offices at 301 E. Archer St. with six employees.
“The software we use in the states is used exclusively to cut costs for physicians and employers. It’s a big deal,” Roberts said. “We took the exact same software and went to Soweto, and over there they are using it to actually save lives. They are creating access where it has never existed.”
“Huge chunks of that community have no potable water and no electricity. Half of the population there is living on less than $3 a day. One in five have HIV,” he said, “But every other person owns a cell phone or has access to one. It’s crazy.”
He said they use pre-paid phones, “paying a couple of dollars a week to get minutes.”
Partnering with renowned HIV fighter Dr. Glenda Gray, and providing free use of the software, docvia.com officially launched the full service Sept. 11, Roberts said.
Serving the Poor in Tulsa
Docvia.com has continued its humanitarian efforts in Tulsa as it works to build its network at home.
Roberts said it has joined with the OU College of Medicine in Tulsa in a trial agreement to explore providing Internet medical care to the indigent and undeserved.
Daniel Duffy, M.D., director of Community Track with the OU College of Medicine, said OU-Tulsa will test the online and cell phone systems in serving the “medically marginalized people of Tulsa” who seek medical services at the Bedlam Community Health Clinic.
“We realize that the poor people who are using the Bedlam Clinic for health care actually have a lot of transportation and other difficulties in contacting the providers,” he said. “Docvia.com provides a route through the Internet and /or through the cell phone technology to actually get us connected, so that we can carry on the medical transactions that are needed.”
“We care for about 10,000 patients in the Bedlam approach, and we are eager to make that available to people as quickly as we can,” he said.
Docvia.com is concentrating its for-profit efforts on adding medical personnel and companies in the Tulsa region.
“Our primary focus is Tulsa,” Roberts said. “We are getting as many doctors on as possible, but we are also talking to employers. We have been very successful in going to large self-insured employers.”
He said their approach is to market the convenience and cost savings of the system.
“Basically we went in and said we know it costs you about $95 every time an employee goes in for a head cold or a child has an ear infection. If you can get the employee to fill out these forms online, it takes about 7 minutes and your cost goes to $25,” he said.
As an example, Omni-St. John, which was “not only our first customer but actually our first employer,” has 12,000 people on its plan, Roberts said.
“If they can just get one employee to replace one of their three annual visits with an online visit for non-urgent stuff, it is like over $587,000 in savings,” he said.
Tulsa-based QuikTrip Corp., which has 8,500 employees, 1,500 in Oklahoma, has endorsed docvia.com “as a solution toward ever-rising health care costs,” and is evaluating it for its employees.
As it builds its network, docvia.com is also preparing to fend off competition.
He said one of the advantages of the docvia.com system over the competition is that docvia.com is built on an open architecture while the competitors are mostly on proprietary systems.
“We think you will see one or two direct competitors that are really building a neutral open platform like us” enter the market before the end of the year, he said. “To be very candid, that’s a huge validation of us. When you are out there by yourself, it’s kind of scary.”
“Are any of them coming to Oklahoma? We know they will,” he said.
“What we want to do is compete on the innovation of the product,” Roberts said. “We also think it’s a big deal to be right down the street and really focus regionally and locally before we go nationally.” ?