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PlushCare co-founder on the rise of telemedicine

Dr. James Wantuck, PlushCare co-founder, joined Yahoo Finance to discuss the role of telemedicine amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Video Transcript

AKIKO FUJITA: Well, social distancing measures nationwide have proven to be a big boon for telemedicine, telehealth companies. A lot of patients who can't step outside because of the stay-at-home orders to check in with doctors opting to check in online as well. One of those companies that has seen a big boost in business is PlushCare, and we are joined by the co-founder, Dr. James Wantuck.

Doctor, it's good to have you on today. Let's first talk about those numbers that you have seen jump. We talked about the 200% jump in doctor's appointments since December of last year. So we're talking the last several months. Where are you seeing that growth right now? Is it from patients who are seeing these coronavirus-like symptoms who want a checkup, or is it for other patients who were not able to get into the hospitals because they're so overwhelmed right now?

JAMES WANTUCK: Thanks for having me. It's really both. There are definitely people concerned they have COVID or that we turn out to actually think they likely do have it. And then there's a huge number of people who can't get into the doctor because their doctor's office is closed, or they're afraid of going there, or they've been told not to go. And so they're coming to us for pink eye or to refill their blood pressure medicine, or a host of other issues.

AKIKO FUJITA: We'd seen the growth in this space prior to this, but, you know, we've been looking at what's kind of on the other end, how habits change as a result of so many people having to operate from home. Is this kind of the catalyst, do you think, that could really lead to widespread adoption for telehealth?

JAMES WANTUCK: Yeah, I think this is really a-- a groundswell, a shift, a catalyst, as you said, where not only patients but regulators, insurers, and physicians and the broader community have embraced and accepted this. And so I do think-- you know, once the crisis is over, I think that this is going to be the future of health care. This will be the way that you reach out when you need something from a doctor.

MYLES UDLAND: Well, and-- and Doctor, maybe telehealth is a part of that. But it seems to me that a major part of this crisis is that we run the medical system at, you know, what, 90% capacity, whatever number. It's a very high percentage of its max capacity is where we sit as a default.

Do you think in the future there might be appetite for more investment to have a little bit more idle capacity-- spare capacity, as it were, in the health system? Does telehealth free some of that up? Because as a concerned citizen, someone who's not in the health space, I'm looking at this and I'm like, wait, so you meant that 90% of the hospital was already full before all this started, and that's the real problem?

JAMES WANTUCK: Yeah, I think that's an interesting point. We-- I think what telehealth has been in the past, and there's certainly a use case for it, is being that release valve for the rest of the system. We're trying to keep people with simple illnesses out of the emergency room and direct them to better places to get care, and telehealth is a perfect example of that.

We do have spare capacity in most times. And that's-- it fits well with what you're saying.

RICK NEWMAN: Doctor, I want to talk-- It's Rick Newman. I've heard some doctors say there are some issues regarding the HIPAA privacy rules and the things you're allowed to do in a video chat, for example. Can doctors just go on FaceTime or Skype with a patient and discuss their medical situation as they would in a-- you know, in a face-to-face meeting, or are there some hoops you have to jump through there?

JAMES WANTUCK: In normal times, you are required to abide by all the regulations HIPAA provides. And at PlushCare, we do that, right? The video is encrypted. It's a secure process. Only the patient can log in. Only the doctor can see the patient.

During this current crisis, HHS and the federal government has waived a lot of those restrictions, so many doctors are using FaceTime. They are using Skype. And that's OK. We kind of weighed the risks and benefits and determined that, you know, the benefits outweigh the risks.

ANDY SERWER: Hey, Doctor, I want to ask about the haves and have-nots when it comes to medical care. And, you know, you've got a systems "plush." Maybe that sounds, you know, gourmet, deluxe, exclusive, or something like that. But, you know, we were reading about a company in New York City that was able to jump the line and get all their wealthy clients tests. I don't know if you guys are in that league. Maybe you are. Maybe you aren't. But isn't it a concern that, you know, we're kind of bifurcated this way?

JAMES WANTUCK: Well, at PlushCare, we-- our mission is to give health and happiness to everyone. And so that doesn't just mean the wealthy. It doesn't segregate society by the insured and the uninsured. And so we are on a mission to help everyone. And so there is low, affordable cash pricing, and we try to maintain that for all patients.

But I think you're right. I think there is an opportunity that, you know, maybe there are people out there without smartphones, without internet connections, who need care. And we all have to work as a society to think about how we can take care of them.

AKIKO FUJITA: And finally, you know, you've talked about increasing your hiring as a result of-- or in order to be able to meet the demand that you have seen increase, a 50% to-- 50% to 100% increase. I mean, we keep hearing that there aren't enough doctors right now to respond to the crisis, that retired nurses are coming back. Do you have the talent pool to be able to hire up in that way?

JAMES WANTUCK: We're-- we're getting dozens of applications from physicians a day, and it's really about our-- our bandwidth to bring them on board and train them how to use the software. That's the only limitation. So we've been able to triple visits in the past two months, and I think that's going to continue. There are still more patients out there trying to seek help from us, and we're trying to serve all of them.

AKIKO FUJITA: OK. Dr. James Wantuck, the co-founder of PlushCare, appreciate you joining us today.