HotDoc sets its sights on secure patient-doctor communication

Melbourne-based health IT company HotDoc plans to invest some of the money it recently secured through a start-up venture capital fund to begin developing new technology to enable secure communication between doctor and patient.

Having signed up over 3000 GPs, HotDoc also plans to cement itself as a major player in online appointment bookings and patient recall technology in Australia, positioning itself as a practice-centric organisation as opposed to competitors that rely on consumer-facing directories or last-minute appointments.

Earlier this month, Australian venture capital fund AirTree Ventures invested $2.2 million into HotDoc, one of nine start-up companies the new fund has chosen. AirTree says it looks for businesses that solve a real problem and have a clear product but that do not necessarily have immediate plans for international expansion.

HotDoc founder and CEO Ben Hurst said AirTree had an Australian focus, which was refreshing when compared with other Australian VCs that are more interested in investing in Silicon Valley-type start-ups.

“They are not necessarily interested in a company that is going to globally expand,” Dr Hurst said. “They are very happy for a company to put down its roots in Australia and create a really strong business.”

Despite working on a shoestring budget since he established the company in 2012 and flying somewhat under the radar, Dr Hurst and his team have scored some big wins since launching their first product, an integrated, practice-focused online appointments bookings solution in late 2013.

HotDoc managed to snap up long-term deals to provide online appointments to medical centre corporates Healthscope and Sonic Healthcare-owned IPN. It has also integrated with the two market leaders in clinical and practice management software, MedicalDirector and Best Practice, along with fellow Melbourne firm Zedmed.

HotDoc has worked closely with Zedmed to develop its own integrated appointment booking system as well as a patient recall system dubbed SMART Recalls, which is also integrated with MD and BP.

SMART Recalls is a secure platform that electronically communicates recall information for upcoming appointments such as Pap smears and follow-up of results directly to the patient’s mobile.

Dr Hurst said one of the points of difference over other recall and reminder services is that HotDoc has developed a three-point identity verification capability that means medically sensitive information such as the type of screening appointment can be sent electronically without breaching accreditation standards.

The system involves an SMS sent to the patient telling them they have a message from their clinic. They complete the three-point ID check and are then able to see what the message is. They are then able to ring the clinic for an appointment or book one online.

“We can also provide real-time tracking on that patient,” Dr Hurst said. “Practice managers can see exactly where patients are in the process, whether they've been notified but not checked the message, they may have viewed the message but not acted on it or if they have booked.

“We have a really strong database which shows all of that information and saves a lot of cross-checking.”

HotDoc provides a dashboard that practices can use to manage both their appointments and their recalls. They can also configure templates to a recall type such as a Pap smear, skin check or health assessment.

“We'll provide templates for what we consider to be best practice, engaging patient information which optimises patients acting on that information and making an appointment,” he said.

“Alternatively, clinics can provide their own templates, and if they feel it's more appropriate to send certain recalls out as mail instead of through our secure communication platform, they can do that too.

“The SMART Recalls platform can be used for everything so that you don't have to do certain recalls here and then other recalls there, and we can send them off in the background automatically. Recalls are a real pain and this is one of the least enjoyed parts of general practice.”

Doctor to patient

In addition to using its new funding to market its existing capabilities, HotDoc now plans to begin conceptualising new technology that solves the problem of streamlined communication between doctor and patient.

“We really want to migrate into the doctor's workstation and provide a way where patients and doctors can securely communicate information both inside and outside the consultation room,” Dr Hurst said.

“We certainly don't want a notification system where doctors are constantly bothered but as a basic concept there are some things where patients don't need to attend a consultation; things like prescription renewals, referral renewals and non-urgent results.

“We believe that we can really streamline the patient and doctor experience by allowing the ability to communicate that information securely, and also where appropriate to provide the doctor with valuable information that can help inform medical decisions. That might be by integrating with wearable technologies such as FitBits.

“We certainly say that over time this is something that patients will demand, so I believe that maybe not tomorrow but within a five-year period doctors will need to have the ability to communicate information to patients electronically.

“It is something that is going to happen one way or the other but hopefully in a way where it is not disruptive to the doctor's workflow and assists in providing better patient outcomes.”

Posted in Australian eHealth

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