Ontario patients can get care on demand with ‘Uber for healthcare’ service

by Leo Almazora17 Feb 2017
Ontario residents can now go online to make on-demand doctor’s appointments, thanks to a new service that is touting itself as “Uber for healthcare.”

As reported in itbusiness.ca, Maple, a 24/7 virtual doctor’s office, connects registered Ontario residents with physicians who work for the startup “in their off hours,” said co-founder and CEO Dr. Brett Belchetz. Treating patients remotely for different conditions including colds, influenza, allergic reactions, and mental health concerns, the doctors are able to examine the patients within minutes of their sending an online request.

Aside from immediate appointments, the doctors can provide patients with prescriptions and sick notes. Maple also has an online partner pharmacy, PopRx, which can deliver prescriptions filled by the online doctors. “In Canada almost 100% of our patients have to go [see a doctor] in person,” Belchetz said. “We can introduce so much more efficiency into the system and greatly impact the patient’s experience.”

Since the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) covers only in-person visits, patients must pay for Maple’s virtual doctor visits. Belchetz said that “patient [registration] numbers are in the thousands already.”

Maple may also expand to other provinces; its fee-based for-profit model is legal under federal and provincial healthcare legislation, which only forbids charging fees for services already covered by government health plans. Maple is not covered by OHIP, but can be paid for by patients out-of-pocket or through their workplace benefit plans. “This isn’t meant to be a replacement for our healthcare system,” Belchetz said. “It’s meant to be a complement to it.”

Maple offers corporate healthcare plans through which employers can cover all or part of Maple patient costs for their staff – an initiative that Belchetz said cuts down absenteeism and improved productivity, according to businesses that have already signed up. He also noted that while 60% of all US companies include telemedicine in their benefit packages, there “is almost zero” inclusion for telemedicine with Canadian firms.

While Maple is the first to offer virtual consultations, it’s not the first digital health service provider in Canada. A Toronto-based mobile app HouseCallsNow allows patients to book a house call – covered by OHIP because it’s an in-person visit – and determine the physician’s ETA using GPS. Nova Scotia is also rolling out MyHealthNS, a secure online portal for patients to view or add to their health records, message doctors directly, and download test results.

Still, according to Belchetz, Canada is behind in digital healthcare: he said federal and provincial governments, overburdened with a population that’s getting older and sicker, are finding it hard to innovate.

“Great innovations that change the way we do things… come from small, innovative groups,” he said.


Related stories:
Hybrid public-private healthcare: a solution that requires regulation
Health insurers welcome online doctor-patient connection
 

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