From the Editor:
Individuals with robust financial resources should be able to navigate their way through the health system and access the best quality care without too much trouble, right?
Take Patrick Spain, for example. A highly successful business entrepreneur who sold his company, Hoover’s, Inc., for a significant amount of money, Spain discovered that the healthcare process is neither simple nor easy.
Five years ago, his wife was fighting a deadly cancer, and he encountered challenge after challenge in locating the optimal place for treatment. Unfortunately, she passed away before an effective therapy could be introduced.
That’s when Spain decided to dedicate himself to developing a solution that would help people access accurate information and get to the right healthcare providers, at the right time and for the right amount of money.
First Stop Health is his creation, the result of months of frustration in trying to get answers to questions and the right advice.
At first blush, the model appears to be another spin on telehealth – but it’s actually a great deal more and the concept of medical travel is very much in play. Simply stated, First Stop Health is an online personal health management service for individuals and families that combines 24/7/365 access to U.S.-based licensed physicians for diagnosis with access to patient advocates, unique symptom and condition information, electronic health records, customized news and resource locators to meet its members’ minor and major, urgent and chronic, healthcare needs.
During the recent Institute for Healthcare Consumerism meeting in Atlanta, Ga., the chief medical officer of First Stop Health, Dr. Mark Friedman, shared the company’s unique approach.
Patrick Spain, Co-Founder, Chairman, CEO
Spain started First Stop Health because of his own unsatisfactory experience with the healthcare system and his desire to improve that experience for others.
Spain is a serial entrepreneur who has founded or co-founded four Web-based companies. Co-founder and long-time chairman and CEO of Hoover’s, Inc., Spain led the company from a small book publisher in 1992 to a profitable, publicly traded online business information services company with $31 million in revenue in 2001 with a sale to D&B in 2003 for $119 million.
Spain was also the founder, chairman and CEO of HighBeam Research, which he started in 2002 and sold to Cengage Learning in December, 2008. He also co-founded and serves as executive chairman of Newser, a news filtering and summarization service with an audience of over three million readers each month.
Spain serves as a board member of Televerde, a rapidly growing, socially responsible telemarketing service, and InfoArmy, a Silicon Valley-based company information service that is using crowd sourcing to revolutionize data collection, quality and delivery. Until recently Spain served on the boards of SmartAnalyst, a research company that serves the pharma industry, and GuideStar, the largest and most trusted database of information on the not-for-profit sector. Spain is a member of the Board of Governors of Opportunity International, the largest and best capitalized micro-lender in the world.
Spain has worked in the technology industry since 1979 and has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago and a law degree from Boston University. He lives in the Chicago area with his wife and three daughters.
Mark L. Friedman, M.D., F.A.C.E.P., F.A.C.P., Co-Founder, Chief Medical Officer
Dr. Friedman is assistant clinical professor of Trauma and Emergency Medicine at the University of Connecticut. He is a nationally recognized expert in medical cost containment, serving as an adviser to various government entities on medical billing, fraud and abuse.
Formerly, he was chief of Emergency Medicine at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital of Boston, assistant professor of Medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine, assistant clinical professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Illinois, and adjunct professor of Public Health at Benedictine University. Dr. Friedman has also served as president of The Brighton Group, a medical billing and consulting company, and CEO of National Medical Claims Analysts.
Dr. Friedman is a graduate of the Pritzker School of Medicine of the University of Chicago and the Kron Scholar Program of the University of North Carolina’s Kenan Flagler School of Business. He is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians and a Life Fellow of the American College of Emergency Physicians.
Medical Travel Today (MTT): How would you describe the overall business model?
Mark L Friedman (MF): We wrap the term”advocacy services” around everything we do for patients, and while traditional telehealth services are one piece of the puzzle, we provide a host of other options that people need and value.
This service spans everything from finding the appropriate insurance coverage to bill negotiation services that help folks get money back on their medical expenditures, second opinion programs or finding the right doctor or hospital to deliver the most appropriate level of care.
Of course, we also provide traditional telehealth services to advise on medical conditions that can be diagnosed during a telephone consultation or handle prescriptions and refills.
While other programs charge on a per-call basis, First Stop Health uses a flat fee arrangement: $250 is the base level membership which entitles the individual to unlimited calls to a doctor and up to one hour of advocacy services, with additional hours available for purchase if necessary.
We help every member to set up, update, control and share – as they see fit – a basic medical record. This includes records from the person’s current physicians, imaging records, or lab and diagnostic results. This allows the individual to send records to a new location whenever he or she chooses to do so – and that can be overseas.
MTT: Who provides the advice or guidance?
MF: We utilize the services of 300 physicians, and they provide the instant advice regarding minor health conditions such as upper respiratory infections or urinary tract infections, allergies, arthritis pain – and provide prescriptions and refills when appropriate. There are physicians licensed in every state which allows the program to avoid any cross-border regulatory issues.
Our doctors give clinical advice that helps people avoid expensive and time-consuming trips to the hospital emergency room or urgent care center, especially at night or after regular physician office hours. This also helps to mitigate time lost from work, which translates into reduced absenteeism and improved productivity — key goals for both employers and employees.
For other advocacy services, we have a network of professionals including nurses, insurance specialists, and billing and claims experts who take on other challenges, such as researching the best option for treatments, reviewing hospital bills and getting charges reduced when the patient was incorrectly billed – which happens more than you think.
Or it could be a matter as simple as determining what immunizations are required for traveling to certain countries.
MTT: Can you provide an example of the services as they apply to medical travel?
MF: One of the most pressing problems with medical travel is that there are numerous”medical scams” that continue to operate both inside and outside the U.S., including Tijuana, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic.
Individuals are unwittingly drawn to these clinics and falsely promised a”cure.” These scam operations harm innocent people. But this is one area where we can help patients to avoid problematic treatments that could be quite deleterious to a patient’s health.
I am aware of one individual who was diagnosed with a tumor of the brain that grows at an exceptionally fast rate, and lured to a U.S.-based clinic that promised a cure. The doctor provided a complementary/alternative cancer treatment intended to protect the body from disease. He claimed to have researched the treatment at a high-profile hospital in the United States.
We stepped in and placed a call to the institution, and through our investigations we discovered that the hospital had stopped working with the physician when they found out about his phony research results.
How would anyone know that this doctor was a fraud? How can people really uncover problematic providers or facilities?
That’s where we step in. We encourage people to do their research and turn to our resources for more credible information – and that covers providers both within the U.S. and outside its borders.
MTT: You also offer to help with pricing. How does that work?
MF: If you are familiar with bariatric surgery, you may know that many patients require plastic surgery following significant weight loss to address the folds of skin that remain on one’s torso.
One person called us because she was quoted an outrageous amount of money to undergo the procedure, and it was not covered by insurance. We helped her to contact the plastic surgeon and literally”cut a deal” on the price. She did have the surgery, but paid a drastically reduced fee.
People who are inexperienced with this are unaware that medical costs can be negotiated. We can get Mercedes care at Volkswagen prices – and that applies to both international and domestic providers.
MTT: Do you also provide guidance on travel medicine?
MF: Yes. People need to be informed and educated when they travel, and this service can be a lifesaver.
Here’s a good example. A college-age male called asking about an upcoming trip to Southeast Asia where he would be traveling to some interesting areas, such as Vietnam. We researched what type of medications and immunizations he should take prior to and during the trip – and also added in some other sound advice:
Hepatitis A is prevalent in this region, so avoid drinking non-chlorinated water. Also, don’t go swimming in fresh water. The risk with swimming in fresh water in the tropics is schistosomiasis — a fluke (a type of worm) that burrows right through your skin when you swim or even wade in fresh water. No worries with salt water…it is safe.
MTT: Can you help people with specific diseases or diagnoses?
MF: Certainly. People need advice on so many medical issues, and that’s one of our most important services. Today, they go to WebMD for information and get, in my opinion, too much information. It’s simply overwhelming to try and digest it all.
On the front end, they are asking themselves,”What type of care do I need and where should I go for that care?” Then on the back end, they are left wondering,”Is that really the best option? Do I need a second opinion or referral?”
Our team has the resources and knowledge base to offer the most credible guidance.
MTT: Is First Stop Health really the ultimate consumer resource?
MF: There is widespread consensus that the U.S. healthcare system is dysfunctional – a system that is broken and doesn’t seem to get repaired.
Despite advances in technology, the delivery of healthcare today remains much as it was in the 20th and even 19th centuries. The major difference is that now we have a third-party payment system, with employers typically covering the costs and government offering Medicaid and Medicare.
These payers influence what services can be performed, where they can be done and who can deliver the care. Patients are no longer at the center of the system – they are essentially captives of the system — and doctors have lost their advisory function.
We are changing this paradigm, and creating a truly patient-centric approach. Others refer to patient empowerment, but we actually make it happen by providing people with the information, tools, access, and advice needed to take action in the pursuit of their own individual healthcare goals.
We are problem solvers, and with the use of “smart technology” are able to aid patients in making a decision, or provide an actual consultation with a physician or other medical professional. The goal is to help individuals implement a coherent plan for further action – including the follow-on doctor’s appointment or further specialty consultation.
First Stop Health is not in the business of practicing medicine. We are in the business of advising our members on how to make their own decisions in the pursuit of a healthier life.
About First Stop Health
First Stop Health is a convenient, quick and affordable telehealth service that provides its members with immediate phone and email access to more than 300 physicians, 24/7/365. Members can also speak to patient advocates for help with navigating serious illnesses, second opinions, insurance coverage, medical bills and more. First Stop Health goes beyond calls, offering personalized, confidential medical dashboards with access to personal electronic health records, customized news, sophisticated yet easy-to-understand health content and tools to quickly locate physicians, urgent care centers, drugstore clinics and emergency rooms.
To learn more visit: https://www.fshealth.com.