San Francisco-based telemedicine service Doctor on Demand has struck a deal with the state of Massachusetts to provide free telehealth visits to the state's uninsured during the coronavirus pandemic.
The deal, announced Friday, builds upon the vendor's previous relationship with the state that provided virtual care for its roughly 1.8 million Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program enrollees since March 27.
Uninsured and Medicaid patients with symptoms of COVID-19 or have been targeted as needing care as the result of contact tracing are eligible to receive the service, which will be available 24/7, at no charge. The average waiting time to consult with a physician will be less than 10 minutes, according to Doctor on Demand, and patients can access a doctor via smartphone, tablet or a computer's web browser.
Telehealth visits have been soaring during the COVID-19 pandemic, as state lockdown orders keep potential patients at home and hospitals work to save facility resources for COVID-19 patients. As many as 48% of physicians in the U.S. are treating patients through telemedicine, up from 18% in 2018, according to a recent survey by Merritt Hawkins.
Eight-year-old Doctor On Demand has raised just under $161 million in funding, according to Crunchbase. It's one of a handful of telehealth vendors poised to capitalize on the crisis, including Teladoc and AmWell, as the pandemic exponentially accelerates telehealth adoption. Vendors are scrambling to hire doctors to meet the demand. Doctor on Demand has seen usage in Massachusetts rise 200% compared to the same time a year ago.
A spokesperson for Doctor on Demand declined to share financial terms of the deal; Massachusetts' uninsured rate is low at roughly 3%, according to the Census Bureau. However, the company is now capitalizing on government contracts that will no doubt prove lucrative, having inked deals to provide services to both Medicaid/CHIP enrollees and the uninsured in the Bay State. It follows on the heels of contracts it inked late last year with WalMart and Humana.
Doctor on Demand CEO Hill Ferguson in a statement expressed "hope to see more states follow their lead and significantly expand access to virtual care."
Also on Friday, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont signed an executive order allowing healthcare providers to treat Medicaid patients by phone for both new and established patients. Federal and state governments alike have been rolling back restrictions to audio-only telehealth to reduce disparities in virtual care access — some low-income Americans don't have access to a smartphone or video service — and reduce COVID-19 transmission.
HHS in March allowed traditional Medicare to temporarily reimburse for telehealth visits for the duration of the public health emergency, while the Federal Communications Commission has started issuing millions of dollars to providers to bolster virtual care in their communities.
Neither Massachusetts not Doctor on Demand officials have released any data on projected use the telemedicine services during the life of the contract. But the pact is expected to take some pressure off providers for COVID-19 treatment as hospitals continue to struggle financially with the pandemic.
Rebecca Pifer contributed reporting.