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Can Clinical, Commercial Uses Coincide on a Telehealth Platform?

Healthcare providers moving into digital health are partnering with vendors wanting to expand their marketing base online. Will doctors - and consumers - find sustainability in this mHealth platform?

Source: ThinkStock

- A new partnership aims to combine clinical and retail dermatology services on one digital health platform, giving solo and small-practice doctors a new model for sustainability.

SkyMD, a telehealth vendor designed to help dermatologists establish an online practice, is joining forces with RegimenMD, a direct-to-consumer marketplace for skincare products. Officials of both companies say the partnership will enable dermatologists not only to meet and treat patients online, but direct them to – and even sell – prescribed products for treatment.

“Dermatologists frequently recommend skin care products to patients in the context of their treatment, and a growing portion of dermatology practices are operating skin care stores within their practices to facilitate patient compliance,” Eric Price, SkyMD’s co-founder and CEO, said in a press release. “Our strategic alliance with RegimenMD extends this concept into the virtual world.”

“Telehealth is the future,” added Les Riley, co-founder, chairman and CEO of RegimenMD, added. “Through the use of emerging digital technologies doctors can now gain efficiencies, increase revenue and extend a variety of services to patients beyond the office hours of the practice.”

“SkyMD and RegimenMD share this vision,” he concluded. “Their technologies are complementary and add mutual value to all involved. Together, both companies gain significant strategic advantages that better serve our doctors and position us even more strongly against competition.”

READ MORE: The Benefits and Challenges of Telehealth for Specialists

The partnership may blur the line a bit between medicine and marketing, and raise questions about physicians who can prescribe their own products. But advocates say this represents a new business model for healthcare providers looking to build an online practice.

Physical therapy practices and even some gyms are moving toward that same business plan in partnerships with doctors who prescribe PT after a medical procedure, such as joint replacement surgery. And remote monitoring platform vendors, as well as those marketing smart devices and even wearables, are looking to partner with health systems, home healthcare agencies and other providers moving into the RPM market.

Last year, Rockford Health in Illinois teamed up with MobileHelp to transition patients in the health system’s remote patient monitoring pilot project into a subscription-based program with the mHealth company. Health system officials said this would not only help patients interested in continuing their mHealth platform beyond Rockford’s reach, but give doctors an easy link back into the platform whenever that patient needed further medical care.

“A lot of what we’re looking for is to empower these people and keep them out of the hospital,” David Taylor, RN, telehealth services supervisor for the Visiting Nurse Association of the Rockford Area, part of Rockford Health, told mHealthIntelligence.com. “They need to be in charge of [their health management] … when we’re not there any more.”  

“We wanted to go beyond a reactive emergency product to a system that would be more proactive in terms of health and wellness,” added Chris Otto, senior vice president of MobileHelp Healthcare, who envisions a more holistic RPM solution that can be marketed to other health plans and perhaps even health systems. “To do that, we’ve added several applications on top of our basic system that were complementary to the typical use-case, from activity tracking and medication reminders to the new MobileVitals solution.”

READ MORE: Potential for Healthcare Kiosks in Improving Care Delivery

At the root of these partnerships is patient engagement – something healthcare providers have long tried to embrace, with limited success. Providers who focus on bare-bones clinical services in their mHealth platforms run the risk of alienating consumers who want an easy, quick and effective online experience. A doctor who provides an end-to-end experience that includes online prescribing and ancillary services stands to increase his or her business.

Roy Schoenberg, co-founder and CEO of American Well, says healthcare has to adopt an online strategy similar to Amazon – in essence, giving consumers a one-stop shopping experience for their healthcare needs. That was the impetus behind the company’s 2016 launch of The Exchange, billed as an online marketplace for health systems, payers and other providers to market their services.

“The Exchange breaks down silos of healthcare delivery and connects every stakeholder in the industry – those who seek care, deliver care, and pay for it – to make great, trusted healthcare more accessible,” Schoenberg said in unveiling the platform at last year’s American Telemedicine Association annual meeting and exhibition in Minneapolis. “We want to do for healthcare what Amazon did for book stores initially, and online retail, ultimately, which is to establish a national platform on which online healthcare runs. Importantly this platform is not just about connecting consumers to more doctors. Rather, we can connect consumers with the best provider brands across the United States as part of a national, virtual healthcare system.”

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