Is Concierge Medicine the New Primary Care?
Early on in the 1930s, the way physicians made their living was primarily through house calls. In fact, 40 percent of medical visits were made by a doctor visiting a patient in the comfort of his home, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Over time, this percentage steadily dropped due to a lack of funding, an increase in health establishments and following the trend of common practice – until now. Concierge medicine is where patients pay an annual fee to their doctor for enhanced care, and it is a practice that has seen growth in the sector of health care for the past few years.
Founded on the belief that health care should provide the highest standard of personal care that is equally convenient and accessible, one health startup has unveiled a doctors-on-demand mobile service that connects a physician face-to-face with patients no matter their location.
Developed by co-founders Sam Zebarjadi, Dr. Sahba Ferdowsi and Nafis Zebarjadi last year in South Florida, Medicast is an on-demand, location based service available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The program has extended its services to San Diego, Orange County and Los Angeles, and expects to reach other metropolitan areas this year.
Concierge care can prove especially convenient to a young child who is unable to get out of bed.
The Rise of Concierge Care
Convenient access to quality health care is something every health care professional strives to achieve. By simply pulling up an app, patients can request a physician to make a visit to their home, office or hotel.
Concierge medicine is still relatively new but it’s a trend that is catching on. According to the trade publication Concierge Medicine Today, the sector is growing 10 to 15 percent each year.
“There is a proliferation of on-demand services in every aspect of today’s society, and people are becoming busier and their time is more valuable,” said Dr. Sahba Ferdowsi, Chief Medical Officer at Medicast. “Additionally, they are looking for solutions to their current frustrations with health care.”
Ferdowsi believes Medicast is just one solution to providing a high quality, compassionate service that has been eroded from the original health care system.
“Personal house calls allow the patient to be treated in the comfort of their own home and receive a higher standard of care from start to finish,” said Ferdowsi. “The average length of an in-office doctor visit is six to eight minutes. Our doctors spend an average of 30 to 45 minutes with each patient, and the visit can happen right away, as opposed to waiting days for an appointment.”
With direct primary care now available 24 hours a day by simply using the Medicast mobile app, logging onto the website or making a phone call, consumers can opt out of countless hours in a waiting room and lines at the pharmacy by choosing a private house call with a certified, local physician, ultimately freeing their schedules for a healthier time better spent.
Advantages of Personalized Care for Both Patient and Doctor
According to Sam Zebarjadi, CEO of the service, the primary benefit of personal house call visits is that it allows patients to get treated sooner and therefore healthier faster.
“Doctors carry many medications with them which can be dispensed immediately, so the healing process can start right away,” Zebarjadi said. “The doctor can also see the patient in their own environment and assess how that may be contributing to their health.”
“One advantage is that the physician is able to assess the patient in their home, so they are able to gather information that they would not be able to get in a clinical setting (for example, an asthmatic who lives in a smoking environment),” added Ferdowsi. “The physician does not have to rush through the visit and has the time to have educational discussions with the patient where they might not otherwise.”
Ferdowsi also believes that concierge care may ultimately reduce health care costs, overall benefitting the industry.
“The majority of healthcare costs today are spent on overhead including facility costs, administrative needs, etc. and cutting down on those costs will drive decreased fees and ultimately improve patient outcomes,” said Ferdowsi.
Physicians making house calls are able to provide services equivalent to those received in a traditional office setting.
The Future of Health Care
“Telemedicine will play a part in the care process but nothing will replace the in-person relationship that is needed between the physician and patient for a variety of reasons, namely the ability to diagnose certain conditions that require a physical exam, with an added benefit being an opportunity to immediately dispense medication,” said Zebarjadi. “House calls are a way to satisfy this need in a manner that is compatible with the rapidly growing on-demand culture we are seeing in society today.”
Concierge medicine is attractive for a number of reasons, but most importantly, it allows health care providers to mobilize their practice “in the palm of their hand.”
“When tied in to the overwhelming demand for healthcare services, [Medicast] creates a novel way to use technology to empower their practice and make the patient experience better,” said Zebarjadi. “We’ve seen an overwhelming response from physicians all over the country who are interested in being a part of what Medicast has to offer because they find it a refreshing take on the practice of medicine. An additional benefit that is very enticing to physicians is the flexibility to practice on their own schedule.”
Thanks to the rise of mobile health applications and concierge medicine, doctors have more time to engage with patients, communicate with pharmacists, and ultimately, improve the continuity of care.
How healthcare can safeguard itself against cyberthreats
One of the most fundamental lessons from the COVID crisis is that health should always be a priority. In a similar fashion to the human body that frequently fights off viruses and foreign invaders that intend to cause it harm, the sector itself is now a prime target for another type of external threat: cyberattacks.
The figures speak for themselves: between December and January this year, hospitals in the UK were at 89% capacity, with 7,000 fewer available beds than there usually are. As the pandemic increased pressure on hospitals, clinics, and research facilities to create a treatment for patients globally, it has left the sector exposed to hackers who, like a virus, have been targeting it relentlessly and evolving their tactics.
From patient records being held ransom, to fake emails claiming to originate from the UN WHO, the NHS, or vaccine centres, through to attacks on the cold supply chain to find out the secret formula of the COVID vaccine, the healthcare industry is facing constant cyberattacks and struggling to cope. This threat is unlikely to go away anytime soon – and as such, the industry needs to take a proactive, preventative stance to stay safe in a dynamic digital world.
The responsive nature of healthcare – particularly of hospitals – means that efficiency is crucial to the industry’s standard operations. To support this, the sector has been embracing technological advancements that can improve the quality of work, enabling staff to meet pressing deadlines, and enhancing patient care. For example, the industry has been digitising records and improving its ways of working through digital means over the past few years.
This shift is critical to offer high quality patient care; yet, it also means the sector has become more dependent on IT, which can come with a risk if cybersecurity processes employed are deemed as inadequate.
Without the correct security measures in place, the desired efficiency gains realised, can be easily lost in a heartbeat. Simply put, an elementary glitch in the system can have a tremendous ripple effect on many areas, from accessing patient records and conducting scans, to maintaining physical security and protecting the intellectual property of experimental treatment development.
To prevent this, healthcare organisations need to ensure they’re considering cybersecurity as part of their overall digital transformation strategy – and setting the right foundations to create a culture where safety goes hand in hand with patient care.
Before implementing cybersecurity process, healthcare organisations need to assess the potential risks they face. Depending on how much confidential data the trust has, where it is stored, who has access to it and via which means, the cybersecurity strategy and associated solutions will change.
It’s fair to say that a medical device start-up where all employees have a corporate-sanctioned laptop and access data via a VPN will have radically different needs to a large hospital with hundreds of frontline workers connecting to the hospital’s Wi-Fi using their personal device.
These requirements will pale by comparison to a global pharmaceutical giant with offices in multiple locations, a large R&D department researching new treatments for complex diseases and a fully integrated supply chain. Considering the existing setup and what the organisations is looking to achieve with its digital transformation strategy will therefore have an immediate impact on the cybersecurity strategy.
Despite this, there are fundamentals that any organisation should implement:
Review and test your back-up policy to ensure it is thorough and sufficient – By checking that the organisation’s back-up is running smoothly, IT teams can limit any risks of disruption in the midst of an incident and of losing data permanently.
In our recent State of Email Security report, we found that six out of ten organisations have been victims of ransomware in 2020. As a result, afflicted organisations have lost an average of six days to downtime. One third of organisations even admitted that they failed to get their data back, despite paying the ransom. In the healthcare industry, this could mean losing valuable patient records or data related to new treatments – two areas the sector cannot afford to be cavalier about.
Conduct due diligence across the organisation’s supply chain – Healthcare organisations should review their ways of working with partners, providers and regulatory institutions they work with in order to prevent any weak link in their cybersecurity chain. Without this due diligence, organisations leave themselves exposed to the risks of third party-led incidents.
Roll out mandatory cybersecurity awareness training - Healthcare organisations shouldn’t neglect the training and awareness of their entire staff – including frontline workers who may not access the corporate network on a regular basis. According to our State of Email Security report, only one fifth of organisations carry out ongoing cyber awareness training.
This suggests it is not widely considered as a fundamental part of most organisations cyber-resilience strategy, despite the fact many employees rely on their organisation’s corporate network to work. By providing systematic training, healthcare organisations can help workers at all levels better understand the current cyberthreats they face, how they could impact their organisation, the role they play in defending the networks, and develop consistent, good cybersecurity hygiene habits to limit the risks of incidents.
Consider a degree of separation – Information and Operational Technology (IT and OT) networks should be separated.
Although mutually supported and reliance on each other, employees shouldn’t be accessing one via the other. This should be complemented by a considered tried and tested contingency and resiliency plan that allows crucial services to function unabated should there be a compromise. Similarly, admin terminals should not have internet access to afford a degree of hardening and protection for these critical accounts.
As the sector becomes a common target for fraudulent and malicious activity, putting cybersecurity at the core of the organisation’s operations is critical. It will help limit the risks of disruption due to cyberattacks, reduce time spent by the cybersecurity team to resolve easily avoidable errors, and ensure that institutions can deliver patient care, safe in the knowledge that their networks are safe.
Fighting future threats
With technology continuing to change the face of healthcare, the surface area and vectors available for attacks by malicious actors is constantly increasing. With the introduction of apps, networked monitoring devices, and a need for communication, the attack vector is ever expanding, a trend that needs to be monitored and secured against.
To prevent any damage to patients, staff, or the organisation they are responsible for, healthcare leaders must put security front and centre of their digital transformation strategy. Only then can the sector harness the full benefits of technology. Doing this should include implementing cybersecurity awareness training to challenge misconceptions around security, encourage conversation, and to ensure employee knowledge of the security basics and threats faced.
This ultimately allows healthcare organisations to do what they do best: provide the highest standard of patient care, safe in the knowledge that their operations, patients, and data are safe.