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The company works with local govts to offer telemedicine, mental health, and disinfection services
When the pandemic hit last year, it quickly became obvious that the existing public health infrastructure in the United States was simply not equipped to handle an emergency of this size and scope. To be put it bluntly: you can't send everyone to the hospital; you need to be able to triage people and determine the right level of care.
The best way to keep people safe, while also not overwhelming an already overburdened healthcare system, is with telemedicine. That's why many city and state governments around the country are now investing in these services, but the trick is to do it quickly, and in a cost efficient manner.
That's where the National Coronavirus Hotline (NCH), which officially launched in California last week, comes in. The company partners with local governments, including cities, counties and states, along with non-profits, foundations, and for-profit companies, so they can launch targeted campaigns to deliver healthcare-related services to their constituents, while also tracking the performance of these services in real-time.
"Let's take, for example, the city of San Francisco, which has a lot of money to spend on healthcare related services, but the problem that they have it that they cannot deploy this capital fast, meaning they cannot buy healthcare services at scale, and deploy to the tiny communities they have," said Dr. Michael J. Garbade, project lead on NCH.
"If the Mayor of San Francisco wants to deliver healthcare services to the poorest neighborhoods, she can take the list of zip code and say, 'Okay, I want you to healthcare services to this area.' With the service that we are running, she will be able to just go on NCH, choose the services she wants to deliver, choose the zip codes, and anybody who is eligible, meaning anyone who lives in the zip code, will be able to get services for free."
It's so easy to set it up these campaigns on the platform, he compared it to creating a Google Adword campaign; NCH, he said, can be thought of as a "healthcare campaign platform."
Telemedicine, mental health and disinfection services
Right now, NCH offers three main services to its members, the first being it's telemedicine arm, through which eligible users in California are able to book and initiate a video call with participating physician and other medical professionals. Those doctors can assess the patient's symptoms, determine if a COVID-19 test is needed, and provide medical advice on how to take care of anyone in the household who is sick.
The service is not only limited to only those who are experiencing Coronavirus symptoms, however, but also to anyone who needs advice from a doctor about the flu, a cold, vaccination, and respiratory issues, as well as preventive and primary care topics. With NCH's telehealth services, patients can talk with their doctor one-on-one for 15-minute appointment, order lab tests, have a physician send prescriptions to their local pharmacy, and obtain referrals to local doctors if they need to be seen in-person.
Of course, there are a lot of other telemedicine services out there right now, many of which have raised big funding round over the last year, including Teladoc, AmWell, Doctor On Demand, and 98point6. The big difference between the National Coronavirus Hotline and those others is that NCH operates under the assumption that the user does not need to have a insurance to access its services, Garbade explained.
"The idea behind it is that actually we can offer services to underserved communities by empowering cities, states and governments with an easy way to deliver healthcare services to their constituents. The end user is not paying anything since the services are being paid by the city or by the county."
The second service that NCH provides is access to mental health providers, which came about following the experiences of the team over the last year, as they had their own mental health struggles during the pandemic and ensuing lockdown.
'There are some people who have Coronavirus and mental health issues and some people who don't have Coronavirus, but because of this continuous shutdowns, continuous negative reports, people started having mental health issues," said Garbade.
Like the primary and coronavirus care that patients can access, mental health services are accessed remotely, and that's how company plans to stay; even when COVID recedes and going to a doctor is once again a viable option, NCH will still only offer care virtually.
"We think that life is not going to go back as before, even if the pandemic is over 100%. Life is not going to be like before, because we think that the pandemic is basically accelerating certain trends that started before. So, virtual care is going to be the dominant form of care, in my view. This was trending and now it’s going to take a bigger market share, just like ecommerce: it took many years before it got there, but the pandemic has pushed virtual care to accelerate faster," Garbade explained.
Finally, the third service that the National Coronavirus Hotline offers is disinfection, which is only for people who have COVID. Once they prove they have the virus, NCH will dispatch one of the 15 disenfection companies it partners with to their home, so they utilize hospital-grade cleaning solutions to provide in-depth sterilization of surfaces.
Part of NCH's platform also includes information about the coronavirus, including real-time dashboard with graphs, so users can keep track of the coronavirus cases in their area, as well as the latest coronavirus news.
The future of National Coronavirus Hotline
So far, NCH is working has four customers, none the company is not able to disclose who any of them are at this time. During its two month beta period, the company worked with over 2000 patients from all over California, who had access to its telemedicine services. What the company found was that patients were pretty happy in terms of easy access that they had with doctors and specialists without have to think about if they needed to have insurance, or how they were going to pay for care.
"We were able to remove this fear that prevents people from getting the care they need, because they don't have the financial resources or because they think they will be charged a huge sum of money. So, we remove this boundary, this blockage that happens," Garbade said
Going forward, the company is also planning to expand to new states in the coming year and is already looking to launch in New York City. In part that's because NCH, which has raised $500,000 in the form of grants and angel funding, also has investors from New York, but there's also the fact that New York is one of the big markets where Coronavirus is a huge issue, and it's a state that is also investing in telemedicine infrastructure.
However, the company is already looking beyond being associated with COVID; while Garbade admits that NCH currently has "coronavirus" in its name because it's still a topic of interest, and a way to get users to come to the platform, the plans is for NCH to eventually rebrand itself to a name that promotes more of a general practice once the virus is no longer as big of a threat. In fact, the company already has a name picked out, though it isn't being revealed at this time.
The larger goal is for the company to eventually establish itself as an infrastructure service for new institutions through which they can deliver health care, acting basically like a Shopify for healthcare, in which cities and institutions will have their own websites and mobile apps that they will have their own name and details, while NCH (or whatever it will be called at that point) will be on the back end, running the whole infrastructure.
"People in San Francisco will be able to book services on the city's website as our white label solution is running, as we are delivering the whole service, but people won't even know about us. That’s how we imagine it, and we will move from just telemedicine and mental health to add more services that cities can deliver to their constituents."
(Image source: nationalcoronavirushotline.com)
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