TeleConsult looks to raise funds for pay-per-minute telehealth service

Start-up company TeleConsult, which launched at GP15 in Melbourne last week, is looking to raise $1 million to support the local and global expansion of its telehealth platform, which offers pay-per-minute telephone consultations between patients and their regular doctor, with video capability planned for the future.

Devised by Sydney-based consultant respiratory physician Jonathan Rutland, TeleConsult promises to finally provide a way that doctors can be paid for offering advice and follow-up care over the phone to their patients.

Dr Rutland said he had been thinking about the concept for many years, prompted in part by his own experiences as a patient. Like all other patients, Dr Rutland had to take an afternoon off work, drive across the city, pay for parking and then wait for hours when his specialist was running very late.

On one occasion he asked the receptionist if she could bill him and get the specialist to phone Dr Rutland later when he had the time.

“She said to me very archly, 'Doctor, we don’t do that',” Dr Rutland said. “And I thought, one day you will; I just don’t know when.”

While consultations will be privately billed, Dr Rutland believes there is a large market of people who would be willing to pay per minute for the convenience of talking to their doctor over the phone rather than taking time off work or to travel long distances to attend in person.

Matters that don't need a face-to-face consultation, such as requesting a repeat prescription, discussing test results or reporting adverse reactions to a treatment would be suitable, although there is also the potential for a doctor to triage urgent consultations and smooth the way for patients to be admitted to emergency if needed.

Dr Rutland said he is aiming the service at both specialists and GPs to use with their regular patients, and has designed the service so doctors can retain control over when and to whom they are available.

Doctors can register for free to use the service, with TeleConsult taking a percentage of the fee for providing the platform. There is a minimum fee of $15 per call although doctors can set their own fee scale. Dr Rutland himself charges a $15.30 minimum fee and then $3 per minute.

“I suggest to the doctors, try and work out what your work is generating per hour, divide it by 60 and make that the per minute rate,” he said. “It seems pretty fair to me all round.”

Patients can search for their doctor and then register themselves, including an email address, phone number and credit card information. For privacy and security purposes all email addresses and phone numbers are validated.

The patient then clicks a ‘talk now’ button, which brings up a dialogue box so they can quickly type in the nature of the call.

The patient is then shown the per-minute fee and minimum fee, and the call is then sent to the doctor. If they are busy, they can ignore the call and it will inform the patient that the doctor is not available. If they accept it, the doctor is informed of the nature of the call as the text is converted to voice.

Once the consultation is finished, the patient’s credit card is debited and an invoice is emailed to them, although it also has the capability for the doctor to waive the fee. The company expects to add Paypal functionality and a credit top-up facility in future.

All consultations are recorded, to which both doctor and patient have access. Each registered patient and doctor will have a dashboard, accessible through the website or an app, through which they can go back to replay a consultation if necessary.

“So for example, if you explained to Mrs Smith what dose you wanted her to take but she doesn’t remember it, then she can go back and listen to it as often as she wants,” he said. “This is also of course good from the medico-legal point. It is actually a documentation of what you’ve done.”

Doctors can also elect to have the recordings transcribed and then downloaded into their medical software, or a link to the recording added to the patient's record. The TeleConsult server is hosted by Amazon Web Services (AWS) and the data remains in Australia.

“The other thing that we will be putting in place shortly is the option for the doctor to dictate something,” he said. “I personally do all of my letters by dictation and transcription on an iPhone, so soon you will be able to dictate a brief message to your secretary to organise a chest X-ray and a follow-up appointment, for example.

“It might be a note for your medical software, it might be a GP referral to the specialist, or the specialist letter to the GP. Then you will have a choice of having it emailed to you. You can get your secretary or whatever transcription service you use to type it – and later we will actually have a transcription service that will do it for you – so very rapidly you will get a typed version of what you said.”

The company also plans to add more choices for the doctor if they can't attend to the call immediately, including a “call me back” function so the patient can ask the doctor to call between certain hours, and also a “schedule a call” function for non-urgent or routine matters.

For repeat scripts, the idea will be that the doctor writes the script as usual and then faxes it to the patient's pharmacy of choice, to be followed by the original script in the post. The company is also exploring the options available to have medications delivered directly to the patient.

Dr Rutland said there was a growing number of competitors out there but what set TeleConsult apart was its simplicity. The idea is to make everything as easy as possible for both patient and doctor, but also to finally solve the problem of doctors not being paid for their valuable time when consultations were done over the phone.

There are also big plans for expansion, which is why the company is currently looking for investors. TeleConsult's co-founder, David Whitfield, is based in Singapore and the company plans to launch there as well later this year.

A potential partnership with a major player in the health IT sector is on the cards, with details also to be released later this year. In the meantime, Dr Rutland believes the service would be perfect for practices providing after-hours care.

Posted in Australian eHealth

Tags: Telehealth

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