Physician entrepreneur Paul Lee, MD believes that “healthcare is a basic human right, not a privilege.” He created Curely so that everyone, everywhere will have access to a physician who speaks their language and offers services at a price they can afford.
He tells me the name is a contraction of two words: Cure and Rely. Currently, they are not doing the “cure” part as Curely doctors are not making diagnoses nor prescribing medications. Rather, he says, they are providing reliable information to consumers via a text-based app (smart phone not required). Live chat is also available.
Curely’s global marketplace
Curely has created a global marketplace of physicians. Right now, Paul says, they have 1500 doctors, representing 36 specialties in 36 countries. Consumers can choose which of the type of physician they want to interact with, at what price, in what language and in what geography. That’s pretty cool.
Curely credentials participating physicians both through an internal process (making sure they have a valid license and that bank information verifies they are who they say they are) and an external vendor.
In its present iteration, Curely is offering an alternative to consumers having to troll the web for health information before seeking care for their condition. But the end game is to provide full-on telemedicine services.
In general, doctors are paid 70% of the fee that is charged with Curely keeping the other 30%. To incent physicians, they can earn “reputation points” that allows them to increase their share up to 79% of the total.
Even though Curely and it’s legal team say that the physicians are not actually practicing medicine (and therefore Curely doesn’t require FDA approval), there’s a fine line between offering information about a person’s health concerns and not actually making a diagnosis. And, since, particularly in the US of A, anyone can sue anyone for anything, Curely provides malpractice insurance, up to $3 million dollars, to its participating physicians.
When I asked Paul about these legal issues, he told me he has a team of lawyers and he singled out one in particular, Michael H. Cohen, an expert in legal issues related to digital health who I interviewed about FDA regulation a few months ago.
The promise of telemedicine
I believe that telemedicine approaches like Curely, particularly with its global marketplace, offer the best hope for taming the healthcare cost beast. Sure there are going to be some bumps in the road as we try to ensure quality via measurable outcomes.
If done well, products like Curely offer consumers choice, convenience, cultural match, and, hopefully, low cost. People who live in areas of the world where access to care has been limited by lack of physicians (e.g., the developing world and rural areas even in America) will now be able to dial up a doc on mobile.
Physicians, once they get off the hamster wheel of today’s practice of medicine, may also embrace the benefits of this type of healthcare, including the convenience of delivering care at hours and places convenient to them, either as a full time option or an adjunct to traditional office-based practice.
The promise of telemedicine, and Curely in particular, is huge. I hope Paul and his team can pull this off.