The doctor will see you now: Telehealth has a flasher problem

Telemedicine may expand a patient’s access to care, but some providers are seeing more than they want to.
By Jessica Davis
11:32 AM
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Telemedicine is designed to expand healthcare access and is a boon to rural areas. However, there’s been one surprising drawback: an influx of male patients flashing doctors.

“There was a period where it was happening to some of our doctors once a week," Bob Kocher, a Doctor on Demand investor told CNBC. However, there was no difference in frequency for male or female doctors as patients aren’t notified of the doctor they will get during their visit.

Telehealth mobile apps like Doctor on Demand and MDLive require patients to sign-up and provide personal data and insurance information. But the patients who are exposing themselves often use an alias during the sign-up process to skirt detection.

[Also: How Cleveland Clinic uses telehealth to introduce new dimensions of care]

It makes it difficult to block these individuals, said Ian Tong, Doctor on Demand CMO. The company has blocked and canceled the accounts of known offenders and actually tries to connect these users to mental health services.

Doctor on Demand also no longer uses marketing campaigns that promote free trials, which exacerbated the problem.

MDLive has faced similar issues, especially when a user believes he is anonymously using the app. Mobile telehealth app Sherpaa CEO Jay Parkinson told CNBC it received 30 images of male genitalia after it partnered with Vice, a company that allows anyone to text a doctor for answers to health questions.

“The exposure dilemma is really one of a few ways in which patients may use the system inappropriately," American Well CEO Roy Schoenberg said. "We have a systematic approach to managing it that in many ways is reflective of how doctors deal with problematic patients in traditional settings."

[Also: To break down telehealth silos, connect senior execs with doctors]

AmericanWell is an app company that offers virtual visits. To avoid harassment, the company removes the user login and verifies identification with credit card authorization. While it prevents a second incident, it doesn’t stop the initial flashing.

As the telehealth market is expected to expand to more than $34 billion by the end of 2020, companies may need to find a better way to weed out these exhibitionist patients.

Twitter: @JessieFDavis
Email the writer: jessica.davis@himssmedia.com


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Topics: 
Telehealth