Improving the nation's health, one swipe of a tablet at a time
Why we sing the praises of the Irish doctors behind a new virtual medical service
Doctors Jim Ryan and Terry Deeny are on a mission to improve our access to doctors and to cut the costs of getting that check-up.
The friends, colleagues and now business partners met while at college in UCD, where the initial idea for the website MyClinic.ie took hold. Since then they have worked tirelessly to develop the service, which launched in January.
"I suppose the main concept behind it was really improving access to doctors, because we felt there was certainly a gap in the market," Dr Jim Ryan explains.
"Very often patients might have a single question that they want to ask the doctor, they might not need a full consultation or the cost of seeing their GP privately might deter them, so we wanted to address these issues.
"It's something we really thought about, even from when we were just newly qualified as interns and have been working on ever since," Jim adds.
"Our website is designed so that patients can ask specific questions and they can also send in documentation for interpretation or send images of maybe a skin lesion or a sensitive issue and we can look at those and send them back a response. We also have access to specialists if we need any further advice with regard to answering the questions."
MyClinic allows patients to have online consultations and even receive prescriptions, all without having to visit a doctor's surgery. The service is available from 8am to midnight, Mondays through Sundays and repeat prescriptions are also catered for, with both services charged at just €25.
A large number of the MyClinic patient consultations so far have been for what Jim describes as "sensitive issues".
"Patients can find these incredibly difficult to discuss during a consultation with their GP," he says. "We also know that male patients, in particular, are half as likely as female patients to attend. Likewise, if you are a private patient, you are half as likely to attend as if you were are GMS (general medical services) patient. So we identified this cohort of people who are probably not receiving adequate care."
MyClinic also prides itself on being a distinctly Irish and recognisable product.
Dr Terry Deeny is also known for his work on RTE's Doctors On Call programme.
"You don't get that same face-to-face contact, but we are trying as much as we can to get as close as possible to people and people can often be more comfortable this way," Terry explains.
"It's not just a case of ordering a prescription and it arrives. We offer consultations and we do follow up and we are there to keep an open dialogue with our patients. And they can check out our doctors on the Irish Medical Council website as well. We are doctors that you can find in real life as well.
"Some of our competitors have UK-or Australian-based doctors who are registered with the Irish Medical Council, whereas we are based here and people can always contact us by phone or email if they have any concerns," Jim adds.
MyClinic is also a big hit with many time-poor patients.
"Since we have started, we have noticed that 90pc of patients who have actually used the service have been doing so on mobile devices - which really shows that the people who are going to avail of this service are people who are really on the move and might not have the time to actually get in to the doctor," Jim explains. "I think that is one of the big benefits."
Jim is keen to point out that MyClinic is not replacing the need for doctors, but instead making the process of attending a GP more efficient and cost effective.
"Most of the medications being prescribed for online are for repeat prescriptions, so they are for someone who is established on a medication and hasn't had any problems with that medication to date," Jim explains.
"So that helps to minimise the risk, but there is always risk associated with medications and we also know that up to 75pc of the repeat prescribing done by GPs is now done without a face-to-face consultation.
"The cost is different, but the service is different as well," he says. "If you are going into your GP you are going to get a different service. We are able to keep the cost down because we have fewer overheads, we have our website and questionnaires which patients can fill out and that helps to speed up the process.
"There certainly are concerns - and with any new practice there should be concerns about it," Jim adds.
"This is not replacing doctors, because what one can do online is quite limited both in terms of assessing someone and in what you can prescribe online, but we can offer a cost-effective and safe service within the guidance we have.
"And certainly for patients getting repeat prescriptions, if they are able to get those prescriptions for €25 rather than €70, without any other risks associated, that is a much better deal for people."
Terry and Jim have invested their own money into setting up MyClinic, with mutual college friend Dr Daniel Clear also investing for a small percentage of the business. And while it is early days, there are already plans to expand and incorporate video conferencing and smart technology. "I think in the next 10 years this will become a much bigger part of the market," Terry explains. "A lot of the older more established practices - in any type of industry - are being dragged into the future by technology now, so if we can bring a little bit of that to medicine why not? As long as it is a safe service, why not make it more convenient?"
Sunday Indo Business