Telehealth could replace doctor visits in major cities, amid a primary care physician shortage

  • A 2017 survey found 24 days is the average wait time to schedule a physician appointment in 15 largest U.S. cities
  • The long waits are a result of a growing shortage of primary care physicians, along with an aging population requiring more health care
  • Major health care players like, UnitedHealthcare, Aetna and Kaiser Permanente, are increasingly using virtual care or telehealth for primary care appointments and follow-ups

If you need to see a doctor, you’d better plan ahead.

A 2017 survey found 24 days was the average wait time in 15 of the largest cities to schedule a physician appointment.The long waits are a result of a growing shortage of primary care physicians, along with an aging population requiring more health care.

But you can jump that line — if you’re willing to go online for your medical visit. Major health care players like, UnitedHealthAetna and Kaiser Permanente, are increasingly using virtual care or telehealth for primary care appointments and follow-ups.

Another option is “virtual visit” via a smartphone app.

Among startups offering on-demand health care is 98point6, a Seattle-based app that connects you with a doctor through text messaging.

“We’ve attempted to solve the primary care crisis. By 2020, there will be a 20K physician shortage. That will rise to 30,000 by 2025,” 98point6 CEO and co-founder Robbie Cape told CNBC’s “On the Money” in a recent interview.

Cape explained that when you jump into their service, which costs $20 the first year for unlimited visits, patients immediately enter into conversation with artificial intelligence (AI).

“We actually have board-certified physicians that are behind all of the artificial intelligence that we’re doing. We’re using artificial intelligence not to replace the doctors, but to actually augment the doctors,” Cape said.

In non-emergency situations, a “virtual visit” with a physician using text and video on a smartphone, tablet or computer can be faster and cheaper than an in-person doctor’s appointment.

The average primary care visit costs $160, while the cost of a virtual visit is between $50 and $75. However, 98point6 offers unlimited virtual visits for the first year for $20, with the second year fee checking in at $120.

Something for ‘everyone’

A recent Accenture poll found that 70 percent of consumers say they’re interested in virtual healthcare. So far, however, only 20 percent have tried it.

So who does 98point6 consider as its target patient? “Absolutely everyone,” Cape responded, when asked by CNBC.

“If you have health care, this is still a more economical way for you to see primary care because the cost for the first year is $20 which is as much as your co-pay, if you have insurance,” Cape said. “For people who don’t have any insurance, this is a phenomenal option and then for the people on HAS (Health Savings Accounts) who are on a high deductible plan, this is also great.”

The platform launched on May 1st and is now available to patients in 11 states. California, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington and New Jersey.

Currently all of 98point6’s doctors are based in the Seattle headquarters, but he said each physician is licensed to practice medicine in all 11 states where they currently operate.

While he expects to be available in all 50 states by the end of the year, he said the company can be profitable now.

“We are capable of making money even at the rates we’re charging today, because of how efficient we can make doctors with the AI,” Cape said. “Our board-certified physicians can see large number of patients with all the assistance we give them with technology.”

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No GA727816.

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