Hill Ferguson is CEO of Doctor on Demand in San Francisco.
Tell me about yourself and the organization.
I came to Doctor On Demand having spent most of my career in fintech and mobile payments, most recently as CPO at PayPal. Even with the tremendous progress Doctor On Demand has made, where we are today in telemedicine is where we were 20 years ago in fintech and digital payments. Back then it was a novelty to do your banking online or send money to someone digitally. Now, it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t conduct all of their banking that way.
Let me take a step back. Lack of access to healthcare providers in the United States is a massive, growing problem. The average wait time to see a physician is three weeks. Even if you can see a doctor, it takes two to three hours every time you leave your home or office to the time you get back. It takes an average of 25 days to see a psychiatrist or psychologist. Nearly half of all patients with mental health issues go without treatment. At Doctor On Demand we provide fast, easy, and cost-effective access to some of the best physicians, psychiatrists, and psychologists in the country. Our patients can have video visits with these providers on their smartphones or computers, no matter where they are. We do this without making any sacrifices on quality. All providers are carefully screened and trained to conduct video visits and maintain more than 200 clinical protocols.
Circling back to my time in fintech, if we can make the same progress with telemedicine, we can solve some of the longstanding challenges in healthcare. By getting people high-quality healthcare, when they need it, in a setting that works best for them, Doctor On Demand is creating a new front door to healthcare.
Given your strong track record with mobile technology companies, what has surprised you most about the world of telemedicine?
Before I came to Doctor On Demand, I asked a few of my colleagues if they had seen a doctor through their smartphone or laptop, and, even among my colleagues in the tech industry, only one or two had experienced a virtual medical visit. That answer surprised me.
Telemedicine has the tremendous potential to transform healthcare, by both making people healthier and reducing healthcare costs. There are more than 160 million urgent care visits in the US each year. If telemedicine, which costs about 75 percent less than a typical urgent care visit, can replace even a portion of those, the savings would be massive.
You took over from Adam Jackson, who has remained at the company as an advisor. I understand the two of you have a bit of history together going back to your days at Vanderbilt. What has that transition been like?
I’ve known and respected Adam for many years. We’re both Vanderbilt alums, and we hired him as an intern at my first startup when he was still in school. What Doctor On Demand has accomplished in the three years since its founding would not have been possible without Adam’s skill and hard work. The company has grown rapidly. We have hundreds of enterprise customers, like Comcast, and work with dozens of major health plans, like UnitedHealthcare, Humana, and our recently launched partnership with Harvard Pilgrim. Today, millions of Americans have access to our service through their employer or health plan. Now, the company is ready for its next phase of growth, and I’m thrilled to be part of it. The whole team, including Adam, have made the transition seamless.
How do you plan to leverage your consumer-focused tech background to help Doctor On Demand move forward over the next few years?
Telemedicine — just like a lot of other innovations in digital health — can only make people healthier and save them money if people use it. What I’ve learned from PayPal and in my history with fintech is that the key to engagement is a superior customer experience. That includes things like user-friendly design, excellent customer service, innovative partnerships, and, most importantly, the highest quality healthcare. Doctor On Demand places a high priority on all of these areas, and that is what will make us successful.
Cybersecurity attacks continue to make headlines. Given the ubiquity of smart devices, how concerned is Doctor On Demand with the security of its technologies? What’s on your radar in terms of data security?It’s important that Doctor On Demand’s patients trust us not only to provide high quality healthcare, but to keep their personal information secure. Data security and privacy controls are one of our highest priorities. Doctor On Demand is the first telemedicine company to earn HITRUST CSF certified status, which is the most stringent security standard in digital health and one of the most rigorous accreditation standards in the healthcare industry.
HITRUST is an organization promoting information security in all health IT systems and exchanges. The CSF certification framework was developed with input from healthcare, business, technology, and information security leaders and includes federal and state regulations, standards, and frameworks. We believe HITRUST should be the standard across the industry.
How do you envision the telemedicine industry changing over the next five years? It seems like new companies pop up every day. Do you foresee a “bubble” that will ultimately burst?
Rather than a “bubble,” we’re at the beginning of a huge shift in the healthcare industry. We’re just on the cusp of technology’s transformation of healthcare. When realized, we will solve some of the industry’s longstanding challenges. This is the last generation that will call the doctor’s office to make an appointment when they are sick.
How does Doctor on Demand plan to stay ahead of its competitors during that timeframe?
[W]e want to not just be as good as other telemedicine providers, or even as good as brick-and-mortar healthcare. We want to provide the best access to the best healthcare at the lowest price possible. The companies that will ultimately be successful in the digital health revolution will be those that are building the future of medicine.
For telemedicine, that means leaving behind outdated technologies — like healthcare via audio telephone call — for innovations that provide better clinical quality. To ensure that, all of our visits are conducted through video so that doctors can see, hear, and examine patients. This should be the standard industry-wide. We’re also developing partnerships that will push the bounds of telemedicine. For example, we’re working with CliniCloud to incorporate connected medical devices into our video visits that can transmit real-time data to the physician.