The medical device industry is undergoing a huge transformation. And part of the popularity of digital health is due to the emergence of the generation born after 1980 – the ‘millennials’, as Lauren Simone Blanchard explains
An American Well survey found that 74 per cent of those aged 18-34 have an interest in telehealth – higher than any of the other generations. These young adults have grown up in a digital world so when it comes to their entrepreneurship, basing their products on digital is natural.
In this seven-part series, we talk to talented millennial CEOs – all 36 or younger – and their burgeoning digital and telehealth startups. As their companies gain more traction, these people are slowly changing the face of the healthcare industry.
Over the past decade, digitisation has transformed industry sectors across the board, reshaping connections with customers, data storage, and allowing technology to effect more and more of our daily lives. But as most industries welcome this technology, the healthcare sector lags behind. Yet as society becomes more digital, there’s more pressure for doctors and hospitals to revolutionise. And to the millennial generation, this ‘digital health revolution’ seems inevitable.
One of the success stories is SkyMD, a digital platform that allows dermatologists to treat their patients’ skin problems online. Founder and CEO Eric Price is a millennial with a background in brick and mortar retail before moving into e-commerce. ‘I have developed a passion for building technology to solve complex problems,’ he explains.
And Price noticed a problem that needed solving via his mother, a dermatologist. ‘As smart phone cameras improved, patients started asking if they could text her pictures of their skin problems for a quick evaluation.’ While she was interested in doing these online check-ups with her patients, there were three large challenges. Firstly, doing this wasn’t HIPAA-compliant, she would be putting herself at legal risk. Secondly, while it was possible to treat patients using a mix of data and images, the patients did not know exactly what the doctor needed to make an evaluation. Lastly, there was no way for her to be compensated for this time.
So mother and son came together, combining his background in technology and her clinical need, and founded SkyMD, an official online platform for dermatologists to treat skin, hair, and nail conditions. SkyMD provides a specific questionnaire that gives the dermatologist basic information on symptoms and medical history. Using images, the physician can then devise a personalised treatment plan for the patient along with a prescription, if required. That prescription is then sent digitally to their preferred pharmacy.
The platform has been overwhelmingly successful. Though only launching in beta in 2015, SkyMD is now used by doctors in 26 states across the country, varying between smaller and larger practices in rural and urban areas. ‘We have doctors doing 40-50 visits a month on the platform,’ says Price.‘That’s a very high volume and significant percentage of the appointments they have in their office.’ And the numbers keep going up.
Despite older generations having less interest in telehealth than the technically advanced Generation Y, it has not affected SkyMD’s popularity in those age groups. On the contrary, Price says: ‘although we definitely see a skew towards younger patients, it’s not as dramatic as I had expected’. Rather, a number of patients in their 30s and 40s have been using the program and, though a minority, patients in their 70s and 80s use SkyMD as well.
Why is this? ‘First of all, people underestimate how comfortable the older generation is becoming with technology,’ Price points out, ‘And second, the older generations tend to be less mobile and have a harder time getting around.’ So telemedicine offers a great opportunity for patients who are seeing an increase in health issues as they age, but a decrease in ability to travel to and from the doctor. These generations have a large incentive to use this technology and this app can significantly improve their accessibility of care.
A large part of SkyMD’s success relies on it being built particularly for the specific field of dermatology. As going into a dermatologist’s office usually involves the doctor simply looking over the skin, the same can be done via picture or video feed. A digital platform lends itself quite well to this domain. ‘We find that 90 per cent of the cases that we get coming in through our platform are solved fully online without any need for a face-to-face meeting,’ Price says, ‘But that would probably be a lower percentage in other specialties.’Any practice that needs to see further than what’s on the surface therefore is constrained in the use of programs like SkyMD.
But for now SkyMD seems to be significantly improving access to healthcare. Those who have pressing schedules or lack of mobility can access professional help at their own convenience, without the wait times and extensive paperwork. Instead of procrastinating for months on getting checked out, it’s now easy to do routine check-ups online and treat health problems faster. And now, all that information on previous diagnoses and treatments is stored in one place.
‘There’s a big challenge today in terms of patients not having access to information about their visits or a history of what has happened with their health,’ Price explains. But along with other problems in the industry, Price sought to fix this. Now with the SkyMDapp, patients can have all their information easily accessible. All they have to do is login.
‘In my opinion digital health is the future of medicine in many cases,’ Price says.‘I think it’s a great way to empower patients to really take ownership of their health.’
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