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Q&A with HealthTap's Ron Gutman: Mobilizing public health assistance

HealthTap's CEO and founder Ron Gutman experienced an "a-ha" moment about six years ago to transform mobile health. He had "the realization that the most important thing missing in healthcare is trust in digital channels," he told Healthcare Dive, adding in 2010, "There was nothing much connecting doctors and their knowledge to patients digitally. There was nothing that actually helped people manage care end-to-end."

However, his idea took a lot of trial and errors. He noted he faced an uphill battle as investors and others tried to convince him to narrow his vision. Gutman said they would push back asking, “Why isn't is just scheduling? Why isn't it just telemedicine? Why not just content?”

Gutman has built out HealthTap to a platform that today boasts over 101,000 physicians on its network across 141 specialties and subspecialties over more than 3,000 U.S. cities. He recently spoke with Healthcare Dive about his company, it's growth, and how it can help assist public health crisis relief.

Healthcare Dive: What’s HealthTap’s model?

HealthTap CEO, founder Ron Gutman: HealthTap is a global health practice. It provides people with access to doctor's knowledge 24/7 from any mobile device or personal computer via text, video, or voice. But we are not a telemedicine company. We think telemedicine is only one component of delivering virtual care. It's a necessary component but it's not sufficient. We believe in experiences. I'm a product guy. I think about experiences all the time. If you think about it, Uber never invented any fundamental innovation. It took a bunch of different things that existed before and put them together into a second-to-none experience.

Today, consumers expect end-to-end experiences. We learned the three most important building blocks in every health experience are information, communication, and engagement. HealthTap helps provide query-to-cure end-to-end care management. We have an engagement model which takes care of patients after and between doctor's visits.

What many forget is after the doctor visit, they always need to engage the patient. Healthcare starts after the doctor visit; it doesn't end at the doctor visit. 

Healthcare Dive: How is the competition or landscape for players in this space?

Gutman: Generally speaking, I don't talk about others. What is very clear and becoming evident is people are starting to see that taking and focusing only on individual components to deliver care -- working three months on an app and then start sending it to the rest of the world -- is not going to help. We need to start going into the mindset in healthcare that went into other industries. 

But it can take time and tens of millions of dollars. We didn't start selling and making money until we felt very confident that we had a solution that works well empirically and engages patients overtime and over multiple use cases. After you do that long enough and start seeing results then people will pay for it sustainably. But it doesn't always work the first time. We started with just pregnant women and mothers. After that, we started on general practices before expanding into more practices.

Healthcare Dive: How do you bring on physicians and what is the value proposition for them?

Gutman: Physicians are leading the growth of the platform. Not only are they asking questions and creating tips, they're also helping us build the app iteratively and give us feedback. We license our service to large hospital systems and big clinics to provide virtual care to their patients. It's not just telemedicine; it integrates with EMRs, scheduling systems, payment systems, and becomes an interface for the doctor and the patient. 

The reason doctors are flocking in is there are 27 different value propositions for doctors on HealthTap. Doctors can learn from one another. In terms of training doctors, it's like the Wild West out there. Thousands of doctors request questions how to deliver care every single week. We got more than 100 doctors together and built a curriculum and a course which led us to have the ability to provide category 1 CME credits. We do a lot of work in educating physicians. 

HealthTap has more than 38 million referral network connections where we help physicians solve difficult cases by asking other doctors questions. We also have a new feature called Global Rounds where doctors can bring difficult cases to conversation to doctors with expertise all over the world.

Healthcare Dive: How can a platform like HealthTap impact public health, namely during a public health crisis?

Gutman: We recently released a disaster relief app called HealthTap SOS. We've deployed it several times with the most famous deployment in Chennai, India last December during a large flooding. One of our customers informed us they had several thousand employees in Chennai with people having been displaced out of their homes.

In minutes, we were able to deploy more than 5,000 doctors via phones and email and we got to people way faster than the relief forces got to them. We provided them access to doctors via text, video, and voice with doctors we found that had deep expertise in disaster relief and infectious disease. It's important to have end-to-end tools because it's not scaleable to do consultations for everyone. Physicians very quickly created checklists of do’s and don’ts in flooding situations and we distributed them through people's cell phones through push notifications. People used them because they were easy and fast. In that situation, no one has time to read articles or search the web. People did consultations within minutes with doctors, asking questions and advice.

Healthcare Dive: What’s next innovation-wise for HealthTap?

Gutman: HealthTap has HealthTap Labs and we always have things baking in the oven. We recently partnered with Facebook where we condensed our entire service into texting and worked with them to be the first health app on their Messenger platform. We’re also working with other tech companies like Apple, Google, and Samsung on a bunch of projects in the intersection of data and engagement.

What I'm most passionate about is interoperability. When you start having this data, what's really interesting is how to start doing personalization. How can you provide people better content, consultation, and engagement tools because you have the data to see what works for others. When I go to Amazon, they [mostly] know what I'm about to order because they know me and people like me and are very good in recommending things that are useful to me. The reason is because they have it all connected to one database about the person and they also see others like me. It's time we do the same thing in healthcare by understanding the individual well and see what works for people like them to go from reactive medicine to proactive medicine. This is where healthcare is going but we need interoperability.

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Filed Under: Health IT
Top image credit: HealthTap