McMurray company's medical website expands access to doctors
By Alex Nixon
Published: Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012, 9:02 p.m.
Brian Temple's wife finally persuaded him to have a doctor check the large mole on his head.
When Temple, 35, of Hickory called dermatologists last year, he ran into a common problem: A first-time patient can wait months for a consult. Administrators in offices across Pittsburgh told Temple that he likely would wait six to nine months.
“If I had to wait nine months to see a dermatologist, who knows what would have happened?” he said.
The receptionist in the office of McMurray dermatologist Mark Seraly directed Temple to a website that Dr. Seraly established, in which patients upload photos of skin problems and quickly receive online diagnoses and treatment plans.
Temple's mole, which looked suspicious when Seraly viewed the pictures while on a trip to China, turned out to be cancerous melanoma.
Within days, he was in Seraly's office receiving treatment.
“It's probably one of the best moves I've ever made,” Temple said.
The shortage of physicians across a range of medical specialities is a problem that's expected to worsen when more Americans become insured in 2014 under the federal health care law. Retail clinics and urgent care centers grew from the difficulty many people encounter in getting appointments with primary care doctors, experts say.
Another industry is springing from the problem of getting access to doctors: telemedicine, or the use technology to treat patients remotely.
Access to dermatologists is an even more acute problem, said Seraly, who recently co-founded a company to commercialize his website, DermatologistOnCall.com, and take it nationwide.
“It's really, in my opinion, going to be the future of telehealth in dermatology,” Seraly said of the website during an interview in the offices of Iagnosis Inc., the McMurray company he founded with former financial analyst Larry Eakin.
Iagnosis received a boost last week when the state's largest health insurer, Highmark Inc., said it would begin promoting DermatologistOnCall.com to its 4.9 million members in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Delaware.
The company is one of the latest entries into the burgeoning field of telemedicine, which is gaining traction in the health care industry for the promise of lowering costs and increasing capacity to treat patients, said James Jordan, chief investment officer of the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse, a South Side incubator for medical companies.
“There are capacity issues, and we have to get more efficient,” Jordan said.
The Life Sciences Greenhouse is a recent investor in Iagnosis, Jordan said.
The industry is rapidly expanding, experts say. An estimated 10 million patients will receive medical service via telemedicine this year, double the number from three years ago, said Jonathan Linkous, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association, a Washington-based trade group.
The number could double again in the next three years, Linkous said.
Some large medical providers in Western Pennsylvania also are using telemedicine to treat patients, including the Department of Veterans Affairs and UPMC, the largest hospital system in the region.
Both UPMC and the VA use telemedicine technology, such as video-conferencing, to connect doctors in Pittsburgh to patients in community hospitals and outpatient clinics in outlying areas.
UPMC, with 19 hospitals, also is working with technology companies such as Alcatel-Lucent, Cerner and IBM to create systems that enable telemedicine.
Dermatology is a particularly popular area in telemedicine, Linkous said.
“Teledermatology is a very active part of telemedicine,” he said. “Of all the specialties, it's pretty well accepted by the providers and the patients.”
Eakin, Iagnosis' chief operating officer, said the company is raising money from investors and could not discuss finances. Iagnosis raised $1 million from 11 investors, according to a February filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
An estimated 60 million Americans have acne or rosacea, two common skin disorders, Seraly said. Dermatologists could diagnose and provide treatment plans for those conditions from high-quality pictures just as accurately as they could during an appointment, he said.
By shifting cases to the web, a doctor gains time to see patients with serious conditions in person, he said.
“This will open up access,” Seraly said, noting that he can “see” 12 to 20 patients an hour online, compared with four to six an hour in person.
Iagnosis is marketing the website to dermatologists throughout the country and will make money by charging the doctors fees based on how many online consultations they make, Eakin said. Patients pay $69 to the dermatologist seeing them online.
“We want dermatologists to offer it as a concierge service for their existing patient base,” Seraly said. About 10 skin doctors signed up to treat patients through the website, he said, but “our goal is to have thousands.”
Alex Nixon is a staff writer forTrib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7928 or email@example.com.
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