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Platform use surges since outbreak

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Figures from telemedicine group Doctorlink provide further evidence of the exponential rise of digital health services in 2020.

The coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on digital health over the last six months, with NHS and private GP surgeries rapidly moving its consultations to online and telehealth services.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, The UK health tech company Doctorlink has seen a 148 per cent increase in its total active users and a 278 per cent increase in the number of GP practices using its platform.

Within the app, the total number of completed traversals [online symptom assessments] in the first 6 months of 2020 has increased by 111 per cent and the number of online repeat prescription requests increased by 587 per cent.

Doctorlink began developing new algorithms for coronavirus in early January, which were able to detect COVID-19 symptoms. The system has since been updated eighteen times as more has been learned about the disease.

The app has been triaging patients who think they might have the virus, assessing their symptoms and directing them to the appropriate point of care or advising them to self-isolate.

Spiegelberg says: “We’re been very fortunate in that our online triage algorithms are one of the safest and most accurate in the market. The reason for that is because they are based on Bayesian rather than AI algorithms, which enables us to respond very quickly to new conditions.

“I believe we were the first company to globally produce algorithms that could detect COVID symptoms, which we published in mid to late January. So, as we deployed throughout the UK, we were able to take a lot of strain off GP surgeries, and also the NHS 111 service.”

With approximately 1500 GP surgeries across England using its product, the company has gathered data from its end-users over the course of the pandemic to identify localised outbreaks.

Spiegelberg says: “We have been sharing our data with the CCGs and Public Health England, helping them understand where the problems are and where they should focus their resources.”

Doctorlink is becoming firmly embedded in the NHS, with over 50 per cent market share. The company claim that GP surgeries that are using its app are able to save approximately 30 per cent of GP appointments.

The health tech company is now turning its focus to the private sector with a view to improving demand management, risk management and online workflow for insurers.

Spiegelberg says: “Health insurance is having its online banking moment, though it’s probably four or five years behind the banking world where we saw the migration of services from in-branch to online. What we see in the market is organisations thinking about how to digitise workflow, create a better patient experience and enhance efficiency.”

“A big problem in the world today is that there’s an imbalance between demand and supply for healthcare. Demand for healthcare is rising very fast and although the availability of clinicians and healthcare budgets is rising, too, they are not rising nearly as fast. Technology can bridge a lot of that gap by making the healthcare world more efficient and cutting demand spikes.”

“The industry is in the process of digital transformation. They’re trying to digitise and improve their client experience and optimise their labour costs and online workflow.”

The company is providing insurance companies with a similar online triage tool to that that is being used for COVID-19 patients; users are assessed using the app before being directed to the relevant point of care.

Spiegelberg says: “The online triage tool makes it significantly more efficient from the insurer’s side in terms of making sure that they put people in touch with the appropriate doctors.

“The insurers we are working with are using Doctorlink as a way of creating a value-added service, so they can create some differentiation when they’re selling policies by telling potential customers that they have 24/7 availability to health care assessments.”

In addition to its triage system, the company’s clinically approved tool for health risk assessments is used to record health data, such as diet, exercise, drinking habits and smoking status, which is used to assess people’s propensity for health issues like heart disease and diabetes. Doctorlink says this data is useful for insurers gathering information about the population they are insuring.

Spiegelberg says: “This is a really useful tool for insurers who are desperate to get information about the population they’re insuring and get a better understanding of how healthy or unhealthy that population is.”

“Historically, insurers don’t gather this information. In the UK they just don’t have that sort of level of granular data on their population.”

Doctorlink currently works with insurers in the United States and Australia and is looking to deploy its digital tools in the UK with talks in place with a number of UK insurers.

“We work with BUPA in Australia, who have used our health risk assessment tool and had about 100,00 completed assessments.

“We also have it deployed with one insurer in the States called Kaiser Permanente who incentivise their premium holders to go through this health risk assessment tool, at least once a year.

“They can collect that information and they get a much better overview of the aggregate health of the population.

“We are also getting feedback from our customers that this is a really good engagement tool. Usually, if you buy health insurance, the only time you talk to your insurer is when your premium is up for renewal.”

“The risk assessment tool, as well as being able to collect data is also providing recommendations based on the data for improving patients’ health, diets and fitness levels.”

Doctorlink is beginning to see interest from other sectors, including travel insurance and the prison service.

Spiegelberg says: “Travel insurers are looking for ways to help customers abroad who are worried about their health and understand whether they need to see someone locally or they can wait till they get home.”

“We’re also seeing some interest from the prison service community to improve health care their systems, which is currently very inefficient, because if you’re ill, and you’re in prison how do you get to see a doctor? Prisons could use the technology as a first point of triage to improve efficiencies.”

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