Healthcare platforms

Medical network builds on secure text messaging

By Rosie Lombardi

Velo Mobile Health, a Toronto-based company, has designed an entire mobile medical platform with a novel approach based on secure two-way text messaging. What this means for doctors is that they, and their patients, can communicate securely back and forth on any old cellphone, not just smartphones, without having to download apps or do anything else. Recognized by eHealth Ontario for innovative technology, Velo Mobile has built a suite of mobile products for scheduling, referrals and more.

“Very few doctors actually use text messaging because most of the text messaging solutions available in North America are one-way messaging,” says CEO Zakir Hussain (pictured).

The company’s mission is to simplify doctor-patient communications, and in particular, to make mobile medical systems affordable in developing countries where most of the population is equipped with cellphones, but not Web-enabled smartphones.

Velo Mobile’s mobile platform, called VDoctor, offers many features based on two-way communications, says Hussain. A key feature is a completely automated scheduling system. It allows doctors to maintain a mobile calendar of all their appointments, and to prioritize and manage them. On the patient side, people can search their doctor’s schedule and send a text to make automated appointments without the intervention of a receptionist. Automated text alerts and reminders are sent to ensure they show up for their appointments.

This reduces the vast quantities of time medical staff spend booking and rescheduling appointments, says Hussain. “We save doctors a lot of money, because we reduce the time receptionists spend on this by about 20 to 30 percent, and improve their efficiency. And in the case of a doctor who has several receptionists, we can potentially eliminate one entire receptionist completely.”

Unlike dentists, most doctors’ offices don’t even call to remind patients about their appointments because staff are too busy – but this is a costly omission. Hussain says VDoctor could save the Ontario government almost $500 million annually just by issuing appointment reminders, because this reduces the dead time the government pays for anyways when patients don’t show up.

“We studied what the UK government did in their healthcare system when it implemented a very simple system of text reminders for their patients. By doing that, the World Health Organization estimated that the UK saved $1 billion.”

VDoctor also offers integrated mobile EMR, e-referral and e-prescription features based on cell phone communications protocols – but it’s not suitable for Canada, which has substantial landline and other existing communications infrastructure.

However, Velo Mobile is showcasing the full potential of its integrated two-way cellphone communications platform in Guatemala, which has a population of 14.5 million. Although few Guatemalans have smart phones, 100 percent of the population has cellphones.

“Every person has an average of two mobile phones – mobile service is cheap in Guatemala and many developing countries. But in Canada, I believe only 80 percent of the population has mobile phones.”

Guatemala has gone directly to cellphones for mass communications, so it isn’t encumbered with non-digital legacy landline infrastructure or a mish-mash of phone networks. Interestingly, this makes implementing a next-generation mobile medical network far more feasible than in Canada, says Hussain.

“In Guatemala, we have aligned with the local mobile carrier to ensure that our doctor-patient messaging system is available in the market. And at present, we have signed contracts for over 320 doctors into our system.”

Velo Mobile is building a national medical information network from the ground up, where all records are easily accessible, shared with privacy protections, and updated simultaneously, says Hussain. “We’re starting off all our doctors with the VDoctor patient messaging system, since appointments are the first point of contact between a patient and a doctor.”

An appointment typically results in a prescription or a diagnostic exam, so these are the next steps and pieces in the system. “We are creating V-Pharma, which is basically electronic prescriptions and we’re putting in all the registered drugs in the country in the system, along with all the benefits and the side effects of the drugs. Also, appointments often result in requisitions for lab tests. So we’re connecting the diagnostic lab tests into the system.”

A repository is needed to hold all this patient information, so VDoctor is connected with a cloud-based EMR. “Our EMR system is tying the prescriptions, labs and so on into the historical medical record of the patient. And another typical step is a referral to a specialist, so our system makes e-referrals. In our system, every doctor who’s part of the VDoctor network will be easily able to share and collaborate and work on patient files, and everybody in the system will be automatically updated.”

The company has also partnered with Samsung to capture and relay vital signs electronically. “We are working to equip every doctor with a tablet device. These devices will communicate easily with the mobile EMR, and will also serve as diagnostic devices by taking readings of pressure, blood sugar and so on and relaying them back to the EMR where we will provide everything in a consolidated location.”

Expanding the medical network outside Guatemala can potentially be easily accomplished, he says. “We’re creating a solution that is localized not just for Guatemala, but essentially for all of Central America and potentially all Latin America. And we’re building it as much as possible to international standards, so if we have to adjust to the Canadian system, we can.”

Velo Mobile’s network is rapidly expanding, and Hussain says he expects most Guatemalan doctors will be up and running on VDoctor in 2013. “Within the next six months, we expect to have almost 2,000 doctors in our system. We believe our solution will really open the eyes of doctors in Canada to the possibilities of better service, better care and a more patient-focused system built on mobile communications.”

For more information, visit http://www.velomobilehealth.com/

Posted June 27
, 2013