I've recently had a chance to talk to our long standing business partner and founder of the world's first free market telemedicine platform for healthcare professionals and patients in the United States and beyond. Dr. Charles Butler, CEO and Founder of Video Medicine, Inc., is passionate about creating web and mobile platforms that enable efficient and cost-effective delivery of healthcare services to patients no matter how remote they may be from the specialist.
The 1998 Nagano Winter Olympic Games participant, Charles received his Doctor of Medicine Degree from the New York University School of Medicine, and is Board Certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine.
Listen to the podcast / read the interview below to learn more about free market medicine, how Video Medicine app makes a difference and stands out from other telemedicine solutions available in the marketplace and why countries other than the United States are so willing to deploy the Video Medicine platform for their healthcare.
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Intersog (I): Hi Charles, your website says that Video Medicine is the world’s first free market network for healthcare professionals and patients. What’s your competitive advantage that makes your product different from others already available in the market?
Charles Butler (C.B.): Video Medicine is very much the world’s first free market health system and it’s also virtual which is really cool. So, we do a few things: we allow the healthcare professionals (and this includes doctors, psychologists, diabetes educators, nutritionists and others) to a) choose their own schedule and b) choose their own rate. Up until now everybody is forced to charge what somebody else tells them to charge, for instance, doctors will say to the other doctors - you have to charge $40 for a 15-minute session and there’s no flexibility. We allow every doctor to choose their own rate. For example, I am right now $2.66 a minute, so the patients can call me and they talk to me and they pay this rate. And if I work like at 2 in the morning, maybe I’ll be $3 a minute. Also, if I feel like giving a charity call, I give it at $0 a minute, so I can go ahead and give away free calls and I do give away free calls quite often, so it’s nice that a healthcare professional can choose own schedule and own rate and that’s what the whole free market is about.
And going back to your question about competitive advantage, we’re the tool that healthcare professionals prefer to use. When it comes to the telemedicine space, the healthcare professionals are very interested in our tool, they love using our tool, they switch from other companies to our company not only because we’re a free market system, but we also let them make their own scheduling system. Up since the beginning of time doctors choose what equipment they want to use on the patient, you know, they buy a stethoscope to listen to their heart, they choose which EKG machine they want to use to measure their heart signal, and so on. I think that the companies who are trying to force things on healthcare professionals are going to lose. Healthcare professionals will choose Video Medicine, because we give them the flexibility and autonomy to own their practice the way they want to.
I: What criteria do you consider when selecting doctors for your network? How do you verify their competence and certification?
C.B.: We’re very strict and very picky in how we allow doctors to sign on our network. First of all, we allow anyone to apply, but a lot of them get rejected because of our very specific selection process: firstly, we make them enter their personal identification information, their license number and their board certification, then we contact the licensing department to make sure it’s active and then we do some additional steps like all the hospitals in the U.S.do: we run their credentials against what is called the National Practitioner Databank, and that is npdb.org that pulls up a full report on any healthcare practitioner - nutritionist, dieticians or doctors – and it tells us their history of negative action. So if someone has a lawsuit against them or any pending allegations, or if they’re accused of something, it’ll show up in their report and we’ll never accept such a doctor in our system. We tell them – thanks for applying – but never accept! It’s much stricter than in hospitals in the U.S. Hospitals accept people with negative action as long as they can explain the reason behind it. Then, we have an interview system. We interview each and every of them to make sure a person can communicate well and would be a good fit for us. All of those steps go to credentialing the doctor.
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I: You say your product does not only comply with HIPAA standards, but also exceeds them. In what way do you protect your patients’ data?
C.B.: HIPAA is a health insurance portability and affordability act and HIPAA compliance is very important because it says to the patient that we will protect them. No one wants to go in and have a secret diagnosis spread around, we all want to be protected. We do everything that HIPAA requires including the patient has to sign informed consent to use our system, we do all of the encryption standards, but we also exceed the HIPAA compliance in having security protocols and encryption that are higher than what HIPAA requires. HIPAA’s encryption standards are lower and we exceed them by better encryption.
I: Let’s talk a little bit about the development of your product. When did an idea of building Video Medicine occur to you and how did you realize you were ready for this? How did you find your development partner and what stage of development are you in right now?
C.B.: It’s funny, but I would interview about 26 companies before I came to Intersog. I was looking at companies in the Chicago area, because that’s where I live, and it’s always nice to be able to know the owner like Igor, because if something happens I can go knock on his door. I think it’s important that you have a key person in your city for the development team. Igor and other members of his office impressed me with their passion about my project and willingness to get involved with us. I saw a real excitement in their eyes. Other companies just told me – we can’t do this, it’s not possible, and Intersog said – Oh, it’s very much possible, we’d love to work with you!
As far as where our product is now, we’re about to release version 1.5, it should be out there in about one week from now, and it’s just very cool. We’re seeing patients all the time on our system. Today, we’ve signed a contract with Mental Health Team in Florida, now we’ll help them access psychologists and staff required to work with teenagers who’ve been abused, neglected or on drugs and try to help them mental health wise.
We’re pretty well deployed, are very active and growing every day, we have a lot of doctors signing on, maybe 18 signed on last week alone. We went from 0 to over 150 doctors in just a few months, we’re probably the fastest recruited organization for doctors, because we’re recruiting really fast, so we’re rapidly scaling up right now. As soon as we hit about 500 doctors we plan to go to companies and say to them – we can save your healthcare cost, use our doctor network! Instead of having your employees missing their work to go and spend hundreds of dollars in a clinic to talk about their sneeze or cold, they can actually access us virtually right from work, at a fraction of the cost. As a result, the employees are happy they can access a doctor now and the employers are happy they’re paying less money and they don’t lose their worker for the whole day. That’s where we’re going and that’s what should happen by the end of this year.
I: And what’s the current size of your software development team with Intersog?
C.B.: We have 10 full-time and hard working developers and from time to time we hire additional consultants, so we're having a team of 12 developers temporarily for a little while.
I: And I know you also have other non-tech teams spread across the United States, how do they interact with your development team on a daily basis? Are they integrated together?
C.B.: We have 3 people in San Francisco, 2 in Austin, 2 in Mississippi, a couple in Chicago, 3 in NYC, so we have multiple people on this project spread across the United States, but only some have direct interaction with our development team, as we’re trying to keep a very focused point of contact. I’m the main interaction with the development team, and there’re four more people that interact directly with our development team, mainly from QA and design perspectives, but also to give some ideas. We’re trying to keep it a really closed contact so that not everybody is interacting and confusing things.
I: Do you have any plans to evolve your product into a tool that would be used as a standard proof of concept globally or within the United States?
C.B.: We just signed a contract with Italy a week ago. The Italians are extremely excited, it’s crazy but they email me almost every day. My point of contact there always asks – When can we go? When can we go? What’s unique about the Italian contract is that they’ve done telemedicine for years, but they want to use our product now. They liked it and we demoed that it works perfectly well over there, with much better quality than other tools available in Italy now. Also, they have an exclusive telecom carrier in Italy to do all of the telemedicine. It means there’re not going to be any competing people on this telemedicine network. It’s great we have this deal.
We’re also launching in China by the end of this year and that will be a truly big time! China is very hungry for such products and it’s going be a great adventure!
Telemedicina Brazil has approached us and we’re in the process of contract discussions now. We’re also very interested and excited about going to the global market. We’re growing very fast because other companies in the United States aren’t doing this yet. In fact, most of telemedicine systems available in USA don’t even work overseas. Unlike them, we have an international focus. For instance, I’m in Ukraine right now talking to you and I had a patient call me from the United States just a couple of hours ago. The connection and video were just as good as if I was in the United States.
I: But when you customize your product for international markets, you also have to comply with their local medical standards and procedures. How do you handle this?
C.B.: Sure, you have to do localization, and the Italians help us a lot in localizing our network, they translate our website, they, not us, put their time and money into doing this, which is also great! The second part is legal compliance; we need to make sure that in our user agreement everything complies with their privacy laws. We have a very good international legal team that makes sure in every country we’re deploying we comply with all of their legal requirements.