First Opinion: Immediate Doctor Access from the Comforts of Home

First Opinion: Immediate Doctor Access from the Comforts of Home

First Opinion: Immediate Doctor Access from the Comforts of Home

In my opinion, there is no aspect of reality beyond the reach of the human mind - Stephen Hawking

     
First Opinion: Immediate Doctor Access from the Comforts of Home
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Over the last decade, technological advances in telecommunications have changed so many aspects of daily life that it would be surprising if doctor-patient interaction had been unaffected. But for such ago-old practices to be updated, there had to be entrepreneurs with the vision to see how new technologies fit in.

Enter McKay Thomas, a young business whiz who at 18 helped start PoolTables.com in 2003. Eight years later, after the company had become the largest retailer of pool tables in the United States, PoolTables.com sold for a tidy sum, and Thomas was on the hunt for his next endeavor. It was a hunt that led him to Brazil, where he co-founded Baby.com.br.

But it was his personal life in Brazil that led to the creation of First Opinion, an app that allows users to text questions to doctors—and more importantly, receive answers on average within five minutes—24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The conception of First Opinion came from Thomas and his wife's experience in Brazil when they, with their less than expert grasp on the Portuguese language, clumsily navigated through a sequence of doctors while expecting their second child. "It just got my entrepreneurial brain thinking, 'Is there not some better way to be in touch with doctors?'" says Thomas.

In 2012, with baby.com.br having established itself as "the diapers.com of Brazil," Thomas hired a researcher in U.S. to look into this issue, including over 200 face-to-face interviews with young moms to find out their feelings on the subject. "The results were just unreal," Thomas says. "When you see all the data in aggregates, you realize that things are pretty bad. Most people have never gotten a text from their doctor before. Most people have never gotten an e-mail from their doctor before. Most think that their doctor doesn't necessarily like them. More people than that think they have a doctor that they can visit regularly […] hav[ing only] a place they can go to see a doctor, but it's a random doctor every time they do. I began to realize that there was a real opening in the market if you were able to figure out a product that could get people talking to a [particular] doctor [consistently]."

By early 2013 Thomas had relocated himself and his family to San Francisco, where he raised a couple million dollars in seed money and put together a team from both tech and healthcare sectors to make First Opinion a reality.

Since launching in December 2013, that reality has translated into over 75,000 consultations between doctors and patients, 75,000 times people with medical concerns did not have to get in their cars, drive to an office, and sit in a waiting room just to get basic information—including whether a trip to the doctor was necessary in the first place. It's also 75,000 people who got a doctor's opinion more quickly than they would have otherwise, 75,000 times people spared themselves the often confusing and stress-inducing task of trying to piece together the info from WebMD and the like.

Over 130 doctors are on the First Opinion roster. And while among them are various specialists (e.g., ENT, OB/GYN, emergency care), First Opinion's focus is primary care, doctors who deal with most common, everyday questions: cuts, colds, flus, birth control, UTI, lower back pain, inability to sleep. "First Opinion's all about primary care, the type of symptoms and issues that can be easily treated over the phone," says Thomas. "[…] If you're in the United States, you should be texting a doctor, you should be contacting a First Opinion doctor before you ever go to a doctor, because it's way faster, it's way cheaper for all your everyday concerns and symptoms."

Thomas reports that only one out of every 10 doctors that applies to join the First Opinion team is accepted, partly because being a good medical practitioner, while essential, doesn't necessarily translate into being a good telemedicine provider.

"We have a saying: What makes a great doctor outside of First Opinion may not make a great doctor inside First Opinion," he says. "The types of listening and interpersonal skills required to be a telemedicine doctor are entirely different than being an in-person doctor. So we're here to vet and to train our doctors to make sure that all of the users that are coming to First Opinion are getting a certain standard for care."

While First Opinion provides doctor-patient correspondence for free, more specialized service, such as ordering prescriptions and lab tests, are available for a fee. Thomas says First Opinion's business model is based on taking the long view with customers.

"When you come to First Opinion and you have some questions for a doctor, we know that the likelihood that you're going to have questions in the future is quite high," he says. "So it's our job to answer your questions and fully understand what you're going through, [along with offering] different types of pay services that would make sense [for some patients]."

Historically, ideas about the future of medicine have been generally confined to thoughts about better technologies and treatments. But in the Information Age, improved communication has come to be part of such considerations. With First Opinion and the propagation of telemedicine, the future is now.

 

Image by:  Intel Free Press

 


About the Author:

Except for a four-month sojourn in Comoros (a small island nation near the northwest of Madagascar), Greggory Moore has lived his entire life in Southern California.  Currently he resides in Long Beach, CA, where he engages in a variety of activities, including playing in the band MOVE, performing as a member of RIOTstage, and, of course, writing. 

His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, OC Weekly, Daily Kos, the Long Beach Post, Random Lengths News, The District Weekly, GreaterLongBeach.com, and a variety of academic and literary journals.  HIs first novel, The Use of Regret, was published in 2011, and he is currently at work on his follow-up.  For more information:  greggorymoore.com

 

 

 

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Last Updated : Saturday, August 12, 2017