Sometimes getting in to see a doctor when you are sick can feel like winning the lottery.
But at least 1.4 million patients have the option of bypassing the wait altogether with an app, SmartExam, which handles their routine medical needs by smartphone or computer.
Patients at the Greenville Health System, South Carolina, and Rush University Medical Center in Chicago can now use this service to answer a series of questions about their symptoms forgoing manually entering symptoms at the doctor’s office.
The answers are crunched into chart-ready doctor’s notes, complete with a suggested diagnosis, then delivered to the physician. Users can also take care of prescriptions using SmartExam. The cost is $20.
The process is more convenient than a face-to- face visit and takes a fraction of the time, said Ray Costantini, the co-founder and CEO of Bright.md, the healthcare automation company behind SmartExam.
“It interviews the patient for the provider,” said Costantini, a doctor-turned- entrepreneur with an MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management.
In April, the Greenville and Rush health systems rolled out SmartExam, reaching nearly 500 primary care physicians. Rush wouldn’t release an estimate of patients who have access to platform, but Costantini put the number of Greenville’s members at 1.4 million.
Costantini and Stanford Business School graduate Mark Swinth founded Bright.md in 2014. They designed SmartExam as a software-as- a-service (SaaS) platform that can be licensed to users. It departs from standard telemedicine platforms, because it is not facilitating a doctor-to-patient interaction but replacing large parts of it. Not surprisingly the subscription-based platform is billed as a “virtual physician’s assistant.”
Another company that helps health systems and clinics provide virtual care is Zipnosis, based in Minneapolis. It can build branded solutions for providers while for patients it can help in quick diagnosis of routine healthcare problems. Patients pay $25 for a zip diagnosis, that includes getting prescription drugs if deemed necessary by a clinician.
To date, the Bright.md co-founders have raised $4.5 million. The bulk of the money — $3.5 million — came from a Series A funding round in July 2015. The Oregon Angel Fund led that round, with substantial contributions from Seven Peaks Ventures and Stanford-StartX Fund. The capital is still fueling the Portland, Ore.-based company of 23 employees, including the two co-founders.
The idea of app-based health care might seem at odds with good care. After all, doctors and patients complain that they don’t get enough time together during visits.
But with doctor shortages on the horizon and wait-times for routine appointments growing longer — 66 days in Boston, the record-holder in one poll — the industry is becoming more willing to turn to technology for help.
Tech companies are responding to the drive for solutions, savings and efficiency by jumping into the healthcare industry. By one estimate, the market for SaaS and other healthcare cloud computing products will $9.5 billion by 2020.
Of course, SmartExam alone won’t solve the problem. Some of the doctor shortages predicted by groups like the American Association of Medical Colleges will be in specialty care not only primary care.
Costantini said the app is supposed to free up doctors so they can devote time to patients with more serious ailments and not get bogged down by routine illnesses or paperwork, which he said can eat up three quarters of a 20-minute visit.
“Doctors are on a treadmill,” he said.