It is a well-documented fact that shifting demographics, increased access to health insurance, and an emphasis on preventative care are causing more people to seek healthcare today than they were ten years ago. But as patient demand increases, the number of qualified, US Board-certified specialists available to provide that care has remained flat. To address the growing disparity, some hospitals have hired specialists as traveling consultants, and some employ a small number of specialists to cover an entire group of facilities spread over a wide area. Others are turning to telemedicine.
Specialists on Call (SOC) provides neurology, psychiatry, and critical-care telemedicine solutions, as well as emergency and routine patient consultations to more than 350 acute-care hospitals, 24-7. In 2006, it became the first such company to receive the Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval. “For nearly a decade, we’ve been making doctors available for hospitals that are short-staffed,” says CEO Hammad Shah. “But we also ensure that patients are getting the high-quality care they deserve, delivered through a state-of-the-art technology infrastructure.”
“The greatest value for hospitals or providers and their patients is in the coordination across the entire telemedicine solution.”
When a patient requires immediate specialist care, hospitals can initiate a request with SOC’s Consult Coordination Center in Virginia. There, clinical staff gather basic patient data, communicate with hospital staff, triage the acuity of the patient’s condition, and swiftly assign the case to the optimal physician. The physician is then connected to the patient via video call with the necessary information to make an assessment and diagnosis.
Patient-doctor interactions are conducted through special telemedicine carts that can be wheeled around the hospital. Outfitted with highly secure software to comply with HIPAA regulations, test results and images like CT scans are shared in real time over the platform. Thanks to the immediacy of this information, the physician can then make timely, appropriate recommendations. “We are a turnkey telemedicine solution,” Shah explains. “We supply the hardware, software, reporting, analytics, and workflows. If needed, we can also supply access to our network of physicians.”
More than 170 specialists across the United States are credentialed, licensed, and woven into SOC’s network, putting more than 2,000 cumulative years of clinical experience to work on behalf of client hospitals. Each physician works a dedicated telemedicine shift, and together they cover every hour of every day.
The tech and healthcare industries have had a historically tenuous relationship, and while telemedicine seems like an area where the two industries could naturally merge, most telemedicine companies only offer one or the other—technology or patient care.
But telemedicine technology is a large expense that many hospitals don’t have the ready-made infrastructure to adopt, especially in their naturally high-stress environment. On the other hand, hospitals that are ready to engage a network of specialists might not have the equipment to do so. SOC, however, offers a comprehensive, flexible solution that can address a hospital’s specific needs, whether those relate to technology infrastructure, clinical expertise, or both.
Not only does SOC provide high-tech carts equipped with an intuitive software interface and the operating platform to facilitate a telemedicine consultation, but it also provides a network of specialists to address patient needs. “We are the only company that bridges the gap between technology and staffing in one comprehensive offering,” says Shah. “The greatest value for hospitals or providers and their patients is in the coordination across the entire telemedicine solution.”
SOC even goes a step further, providing hospital- and system-specific data analytics to clients, as well as benchmarked metrics from across all of its clients. These reports enable industry-wide comparisons so that hospitals can find ways to improve processes, which enables SOC to offer free consultative services from staff who are trained in process principles such as Six Sigma.
“We partner with our clients to improve their processes and coordinate effectively with ours,” Shah says. “We want to enable them to reach new levels of efficiency and to utilize every moment of our on-call physicians’ time to its fullest capacity—because the patient should not be kept waiting due to a workflow bottleneck.”
For hospitals that prefer using their own specialists for their telemedicine, SOC also launched a solution called “Managed Services” in May. “These clients want to quickly implement telemedicine over a proven platform using their own staff so they can better serve their patients,” Shah says. “We provide the carts, the software, and our operating platform to coordinate patients with specialists in the client’s private network of physicians.”
An added benefit is that if there are ever coverage gaps, SOC can fill them with its wider network of physicians. “Again, it comes back to workflow and coordination, effectively balancing supply and demand,” Shah says. “As a true partner in patient care, we invite hospitals to use our infrastructure to implement their own telemedicine program.”
As a relatively young company in a rapidly changing industry, SOC is preparing for the future of its industry. And with a rare combination of clinical experience, scalable technology, established hospital partnerships, and robust reporting and analytics tools, it’s well positioned to grow while keeping patient care its priority through customized, adaptable offerings such as Managed Services.
For Shah, all of these are steps toward the ultimate achievement for telemedicine. “We want to be there for our clients and walk alongside them,” he says. “To not be viewed as a separate entity, but to be considered as an embedded partner and a natural part of their patient-care team.” AHL