I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Ian Tong, Clinical Assistant Professor at Stanford University Medical School as well as Chief Medical Officer at Doctor On Demand, a telemed application that allows people instant and affordable access to a board certified doctor.
What is your “backstory?”
I serve as the Chief Medical Officer at Doctor On Demand, as well as a Clinical Assistant Professor at Stanford University Medical School. Before Doctor On Demand, I have held multiple medical leadership roles including Stanford Internal Medicine Chief Resident, and Founder and Medical Director of THRIVE (The Health Resource Initiative for Veterans Everywhere). I earned my medical degree from The University of Chicago-Pritzker, and I am board-certified in Internal Medicine.
What are your biggest accomplishments?
My family is my biggest accomplishment by far. My wife and I are both doctors in executive roles and we do our best to balance our careers with being the parents of 3 active and energetic young children. We are fortunate to have a great deal of help. Outside of my family, my biggest accomplishments are the relationships I have built with my students and trainees over the last 20 years as a mentor and faculty member at Stanford. It is extremely gratifying to work with such talented young people. Professionally, building a thriving medical practice at Doctor On Demand has to be the most challenging and rewarding experiment I have ever dedicated myself to. I am not sure I see Doctor On Demand as an accomplishment, but more a constantly evolving quest to transform how healthcare is delivered by doctors and experienced by patients. We have taken on a huge challenge and I am very proud of the results to date, but the work is not done yet.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I don’t know if I can tell that story…maybe the most extraordinary moment was when I sat down and completed the first Doctor On Demand video visit. At the time, I was terrified, would the technology work in the field with a patient who had never done this before? Would medicine translate to a two dimensional screen? Could I actually assess the patient without touching him or her and would the patient walk away feeling like the experience was as valuable as going to an office visit? Amazingly, everything worked smoothly. The technology was not a barrier, but a window into seeing my patient in the context of their home and their family. The doctor patient relationship was easy to establish and the value to the patient clearly exceeded that of an in-office visit. It was an amazing rush to realize that we were truly innovating!
Alternatively, one of the funniest things I have seen is when Stephen Colbert did a skit reporting on Doctor On Demand. I did not see the skit nor was I aware it existed, but one of my friends had seen it and texted me the next day. I told him he was mistaken and how disappointed I was that he could not recognize me from other black people. When I got to the office that morning my co-workers were in hysterics and were playing the clip over and over again. It is very funny and my name and image are right there at the beginning of the skit. Colbert did a great job pointing out every possible perversion of the service in his typical hilarious style.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
While competitors and the industry as a whole are focused on controlling cost, Doctor On Demand has a relentless focus on controlling both the patient and doctor experience. We control cost as well, but the quality of our medical encounters is a major differentiator for us.
- Doctor On Demand’s doctors work for the Doctor On Demand medical practice, and are dedicated to its network, and specialize in telemedicine and undergo a rigorous hiring and screening process.
- Doctor On Demand doctors can also fulfill prescriptions, if needed, and offer patients the convenience and access to a lab close to their work or home if lab work is needed.
- Doctor On Demand works with Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp, and is now the first telemedicine provider to offer fully integrated laboratory services, advancing the range of services treatable via telemedicine and expanding telehealth’s ability to offer chronic care management.
- Doctor On Demand is honored to have been selected as Thrive Global’s telemedicine partner as part of its collection of products, services and technologies curated around helping people improve their well-being and productivity.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
We are about to flip the traditional health care model on its head. We have the data to now show that we can replace in-office visits. That realization has enabled us to work with health plans to begin designing lower cost health plans that promote the use of telemedicine as the patient’s virtual primary option for access to care. When you wrap subspecialty services and preventive health services for things like mammograms, x-rays and colonoscopies around this virtual primary you can really begin to bend the cost curve.
What advice would you give to other c-suite executives to help their employees to thrive?
Don’t just talk to your employees when you need something or have a task for them. Talk to them when you don’t have an ask. Ask about their lives outside of work and listen and finish up with asking if there is anything you can do for them. Usually they will say “no” because the simple act of you listening to them for a couple of minutes is all they needed.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
Absolutely! My wife Jennifer Tong is my best friend and if this makes it into print she is going to love it! HaHaHa…Seriously, she has always inspired me as a medical student, as a doctor and now as a parent. My wife was recruited to Stanford for residency and they sort of let me tag along. Eventually, I was invited to be Chief Resident, but my wife is the one who got us there. She is definitely the smart one in our pair.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Doctor On Demand provides access to healthcare in areas where there is none or very little (even to those without insurance), offering quality healthcare at a cost that is very low compared to nearly every alternative. Doctor On Demand gives patients more control over where, when and how they receive care, improving individual engagement in their own health.
For instance, during significant recent weather-related events, such as Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and the wildfires in California, we predicted that patients would be unable to access healthcare due to road closures, flooding, or office closures. As such, I volunteered Doctor On Demand’s services to aid Hurricane and wildfire relief, offering medical services to anyone in the affected regions at no cost.
Doctor On Demand physicians are capable of treating 90% of the most common medical issues seen in the ER and urgent care and were available to treat a range of needs. Doctor On Demand physicians were also trained to treat stress, anxiety, grief, and depression as needed for Hurricane victims.
Can you share the top five ways that technology is changing the experience of going to the doctor?
On Demand — Convenience
- Patients can now be seen by a doctor within 5 minutes from their homes. Every week Doctor On Demand sees tens of thousands of patients on demand. We passed 1,000,000 doctor-patient encounters in just four years, faster than any virtual medical practice and this is just the beginning.
Access to Care
- Lack of access to health care providers in the United States is a massive, growing problem. It takes on average wait time of three weeks to see a physician and an average of 25 days to see a psychiatrist or psychologist.
- Telemedicine services like Doctor On Demand offers consumers board-certified physicians in all 50 states with an average wait time of 5 minutes, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- Recently an 80-year old patient who provides live-in home care for an older client used our service for diabetes and high blood pressure. This person’s job does not allow him/her to leave the house for more than 1–2 hours at a time. Without Doctor On Demand she would lack access to the necessary medical treatments that help her stay alive and healthy.
Outstanding Clinical Quality
- Video-based telemedicine has moved beyond urgent care, creating a digital medical home where individuals can establish deep and lasting relationships with physicians and health professionals receiving a level of care, both in terms of quality and scope, previously unseen within digital medicine. Recently, we were able to show that our visits have the same 14-day revisit rate to a primary care doctor or emergency room as in-office visits. That means you are not compromising quality when you see a doctor by video.
No Waiting Room, No Exam Room
- Just a few weeks ago, I managed a patient with sore throat. I began to show her how to measure her pulse and she asked “Can’t I just use my phone for that?”. I chuckled at myself and told her that would be fine. It is clear that patients will begin to move the hospital and clinic into their homes with biometric devices.
Re-inventing the Doctor-Patient Relationship
- We are bringing back the “house call” through one meaningful virtual encounter at a time. Our doctors can practice medicine without the mental (and literal) overhead of running a practice. They have fewer distractions from office staff or competition from large health systems. We ask them to focus on the patient and the patients are noticing. An internal audit of over 3000 of our patient reviews showed that patients value the relationship our doctors establish through building rapport.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
My father, who is also a physician and treated medicaid/medical patients in Central California for almost 40 years told me his goal was to “Try and make each person that walks up to you feel better by the time they walk away from you.” I can say from experience this is not always easy to accomplish, but the pursuit of healing whether physical, emotional or spiritual has been extremely rewarding.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? (He or she might just see this!)
That has to be Bill and Melinda Gates. The work of their foundation has prevented suffering in corners of the world that most people would be happy to ignore. Someday I would love to see the work we have done at Doctor On Demand benefit people in developing nations.