Get back to making eye contact with our patients: Nearly 70% of our work is spent outside of the exam room, often serving documentation required by EMRs, playing phone tag and chasing follow-ups. Sadly, just minutes of the time we do spend with our patients is face-to-face. When we are with them, our eyes are often turned to computer screens so we can electronically record our conversations instead of truly communicating. Without the human element of healthcare — the relationship between doctor and patient — patients aren’t getting maximum value out of a system capable of offering so much more. I believe the best combination is the human interaction, combined with the technology, to be most effective in helping to truly care for our patients.
Dr. Samant Virk is Founder & CEO of MediSprout, a company focused on connecting doctors with their patients through innovative technology solutions. Sam’s vision is to address the shortcomings of healthcare by building technology around one of the cornerstones of medical practice, the provider-patient relationship.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thank you so much for the opportunity to have this discussion. Having practiced clinical medicine for almost 15 years, with a specialization in Neurology and Interventional Spine, I came to the realization that the healthcare system is broken. More physician time is being spent filling out insurance paperwork, playing phone tag and chasing follow-ups — and less time treating people, helping families and serving communities. Time spent in physician-patient interactions, the core of any medical practice, is now being governed by insurance companies and complex billing and payment systems, federal and legal mandates, the pharmaceutical industry, and technology that was intended to improve the business of care.
I became a doctor to make a meaningful impact on my patients’ lives, to give them the personalized level of care they deserve, and to have a relationship with them that fosters their ongoing health and well-being.
I saw an opportunity to make a difference in healthcare and wanted to take the lead by creating and leveraging technologies that safeguard personal interaction and create better and more efficient options for patients to access care. To facilitate that, I founded MediSprout, a company that offers a HIPAA-compliant, virtual video product, V2MD, which is a secure, reliable way for a multitude of practitioners to better connect with their existing patients to build relationships and provide ongoing care.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Before having a support team to manage customer needs, I was taking the support calls from customers myself, and I received a call from a customer in New Hampshire — someone I hadn’t spoken with before. Through our conversation, she mentioned the same small town in southern New Hampshire where my cousins live — upon further discussion we found out that she actually knows my family there quite well. It was a great connection and a reminder that you never know who you’re talking to and the connections that can tie you together.
Another great experience was when I was doing a presentation and had a short 7-minute block of time to present. I’d been struggling with what to include in such a short timeframe, without losing important elements of my message. After it was over, one of the judges privately approached and gave me excellent advice about being more concise and powerful in my delivery. He took my content and cut it down by 1/3, while still portraying my message and making me feel confident that I could deliver the message effectively. For me, it was dramatic and powerful, and a lesson that fewer words can be even more powerful.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
For the first year and a half after getting started, I went from naively thinking this would be a sell itself product with an exponential growth curve, to being disappointed, desperately trying to find users. It was one of many turning points where I can thankfully now laugh about my naivete. While mistakes like these are frustrating because they cost time, expense and energy, the lessons they provide made us more complete and resolute in our mission to reimagine the way doctors provide care to their patients. The lesson I learned from this was that it’s not just about how great your solution or plan is, but is more about how you can handle setbacks and still keep moving forward.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Great question! As a company focused on helping doctors help their patients, I believe there is a lot that differentiates MediSprout from others in the industry. With V2MD, we’ve developed HIPAA-compliant, patient-driven technology that brings doctors and patients together, improving patient care and reducing healthcare costs. Physician’s offices can be up and running on our platform in minutes. Family members or other doctors can be added to video calls ensuring that all stakeholders are included for better, more transparent care and the cost to patients is only $4 per video call. MediSprout handles all of the payments for you on the back-end so you don’t have to worry about a thing. Patients not only find the cost very affordable, but the ability for them to see their own doctor, who already knows their health history, is a huge positive.
For physicians, the biggest value add is that the service is free to them — no catch. Besides zero cost, V2MD makes it simple to turn follow-up phone calls and emails (which are not reimbursed by insurance companies) into a new source of revenue. It also allows doctors to see more patients by scheduling in video visits when it’s convenient for them — filling in cancellations, and time after-hours or between visits.
Can you share a story? We stand out because of our roots are different than others…
As a physician who has worked in private practice as well as academic medicine, I saw a world where other entities were siphoning off the work I was completing on behalf of my patients. From insurers to pharma to medical litigators, while the costs of healthcare for patients has become unsustainable for many, much of our revenue stream was going to support these secondary services that would not exist if we didn’t do our jobs properly. As I began looking into using a HIPAA-compliant video solution in my own practice, it struck me how much this simple function would end up costing me. This served as further motivation to create a technology solution that was cost effective and one that took the needs of doctors and patients into account.
What advice would you give to other healthcare leaders to help their team to thrive?
Create a mission, define the goals of that mission and then stick to them with every decision you make. You may not realize the power of this idea until it’s put into play over a period of time. This core idea can become the foundation on which to build a strong team — sacrifice, perseverance and resilience.
One other idea I subscribe to is to make sure you support your team in their personal life as best as possible without getting overly involved. I’m a big believer that if someone is struggling personally, they will not only be less productive, but it may affect those around them. When people are supported at work and feel personally fulfilled, they tend to be more motivated and loyal.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this study cited by Newsweek, the US healthcare system is ranked as the worst among high income nations. This seems shocking. Can you share with us 3–5 reasons why you think the US is ranked so poorly?
- There is a lack of continuity of care/primary care. We can have the best medications, tests and devices, but if we don’t work with patients regularly to manage these things they will be of no use.
- We spend 30% of healthcare costs on administration.
- Our healthcare system focuses on reactive healthcare rather than proactive healthcare. Rather than spend money preventing issues we spend an inordinate amount on dealing with the secondary issues that occur due to lack of prevention.
- Millions of people are scared to go to the doctor because it costs too much.
- Sadly, too many people lack insurance with the rollback of the ACA this will again become a larger issue.
You are a “healthcare insider”. If you had the power to make a change, can you share 5 changes that need to be made to improve the overall US healthcare system? Please share a story or example for each.
I feel strongly that very specific measures can be done to make improvements within the healthcare system in this country including the following:
- Get back to making eye contact with our patients: Nearly 70% of our work is spent outside of the exam room, often serving documentation required by EMRs, playing phone tag and chasing follow-ups. Sadly, just minutes of the time we do spend with our patients is face-to-face. When we are with them, our eyes are often turned to computer screens so we can electronically record our conversations instead of truly communicating. Without the human element of healthcare — the relationship between doctor and patient — patients aren’t getting maximum value out of a system capable of offering so much more. I believe the best combination is the human interaction, combined with the technology, to be most effective in helping to truly care for our patients.
- Doctors can start treating patients like customers. Imagine if we redefine healthcare and how it’s delivered so that medications, lab results, and more, can be virtualized rather than require an in-office visit? The higher reimbursing needs can be saved for the office. The fact is that patients are buying a service just like any other consumer of any other product, so it’s important to know what your customers want and then give it to them with the right kind of care. Customers want to feel connected and understood by providers who know their personal stories. Virtual solutions that are free to the physician, simple to implement, HIPAA-compliant and easy for patients to use allow doctors and patients to stay connected between visits.
- Stop playing phone tag with patients. Patients hate playing phone tag just to make a doctor’s appointment. Convenience in accessing care is highly valued; patients want access when, where, and how it best suits them and increasingly it dictates their behavior in the healthcare system. As providers, we need to offer our patients services that are easy as a personal user app and deliver a high standard of care.
- Be open to new channels of care. Patients are increasingly seeking new channels of care — particularly at-home diagnostic testing like using an at-home test to diagnose infections (such as strep throat and urinary tract infection) before going to the doctor for treatment. Many are even comfortable using an at-home genetic test to identify existing or future health risks. As technology advances, we need to stay at the forefront of these changes and welcome them into our practices. In medicine, AI will never replace human capital, but it can help us provide better and more connected care.
- Identify new areas within healthcare to reach patients in far away locations. For example, providing mental and behavioral health care over secure, web-based portals offers a convenient, effective and affordable alternative to in-patient provider visits. And it allows those who live far from qualified providers the opportunity to access the care they need in a timely manner. Patients don’t need to travel far and incur the costs associated with travel, to get answers to their questions, and to continue connecting with their physician on their health and well-being.
Ok, it’s very nice to suggest changes, but what concrete steps would have to be done to actually manifest these changes? What can a) individuals, b) corporations, c) communities and d) leaders do to help?
There is no question in my mind that medicine needs disrupting and doctors are just the ones to lead the way. Doctors didn’t get into medicine to spend the majority of their time dealing with insurance companies or filling out the electronic health record (EHR). But only doctors can take back control of the doctor/patient relationship so they can spend more time face-to-face to better connect and understand what the patient needs, while at the same time managing the business of their practices too, including increasing billable time and streamlining their practice.
For individual patients, I see this as a two-fold approach. The first is for those whose doctor doesn’t offer telehealth, these patients need to request that their doctor adopt a solution. Virtual visits are happening and the number of daily calls is increasing, with patients choosing doctors based on whether or not they offer a telehealth solution. For those whose doctor offers the solution but they don’t use it, they need to embrace the technology. For all patients, virtual visits offer convenience, cost, time and most importantly, continuity of care. Many of the solutions are as easy as logging into a social account, but as secure as your online banking system.
Corporations can exert tremendous influence on these changes because so much of our healthcare spending is through employers and can choose to work with medical groups who support these measures and help them save costs.
Leaders in government can help by enacting more comprehensive telehealth legislation and reduce regulation in healthcare so that doctors can spend time seeing patients rather than attend to forms and documents that have no bearing on the care of the patients.
The medical community also needs to pay attention to machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). AI promises to alleviate repetitive burdens and provide more accurate tools so that the medical community can offer better care by tracking and analyzing complex, valuable data, empowering us to better know our patients. It can process information beyond human capability, such as massive sets of lab test results, family history, socio-economic factors and clinical trial data, to help us monitor our patients’ well-being and assess their risks based on their own history and others like them. These powerful technologies can help to flag signs of preventable, chronic diseases — including diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer and provide us with clinical insights to aid in our planning and providing of care, leading to more accurate, personalized treatment.
As a mental health professional myself, im particularly interested in the interplay between the general healthcare system and the mental health system. Right now we have two parallel tracks mental/behavioral health and general health. What are your thoughts about this status quo? What would you suggest to improve this?
I see the same delineation between the two and don’t believe they should be on separate tracks because mental health and one’s overall health are so connected. It’s the equivalent of a doctor treating someone who is diabetic for an infection saying they will not manage their diabetes even though we all know that blood sugars can be exacerbated when someone is fighting an acute infection. I would also make sure a mental health specialist for a patient is directly connected to that patients primary care doctor and have them meet as a team in person, or virtually, so that everyone is on the same page for treatment solutions.
How would you define an “excellent healthcare provider”?
There are many ways in which healthcare providers can provide outstanding services to their patients, but perhaps the most important is creating a community with access to healthcare without the need to miss work, school or vacation time. Imagine if all healthcare providers offered their patients the ability to schedule an affordable virtual call with their own doctor, and get their questions answered quickly? Patients can continue to focus on their ongoing health and well-being with their doctor, and not a random doctor who doesn’t understand their health history.
An exemplary healthcare provider will also stay connected between visits, promoting more regular interaction around topics like test results, refills, questions, treatments clarifications and health updates.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
‘It ain’t how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.’
It has been relevant in many parts of my life from medical school through to creating MediSprout. Doing something you believe in or achieving something great takes perseverance, resilience and believing in yourself even at the most difficult times.
Despite any trying moments that we encountered in building MediSprout, we stayed the course because we believe so strongly in our mission.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are working on several initiatives at MediSprout to virtually bring together doctors, patients and their data with the goal of virtualizing 3/4 of medical office visits in 10 years. It will create efficiency for both doctors and patients, while improving the quality of medical care and bringing the focus back to being preventive through improved continuity and compliance.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better healthcare leader? Can you explain why you like them?
As a history buff I enjoy reading biographies of people who have accomplished great things in history. Any book on Abraham Lincoln or Winston Churchill is a great place to be entertained and inspired while also learning. They were both giant men who overcame odds, stuck to principle and were amazing writers and orators.
Another book I find to be a great leadership guide is The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. The old man, Santiago, is the ultimate, subdued leader who is on a mission and displays the characteristics including patience, persistence, respect and channeled emotion without the large outspoken personality that we attribute to many leaders today. Simple and alone, he is fearless and committed without any audience to appreciate him.
I great great joy from music as well. The variety depends on the mood — it can range from Dylan to Black Sheep, from Toby Keith to Arcade Fire, from Charlie Parker to Don McLean. I like music because it’s a way to escape or a way to better connect with yourself or with others.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
In my opinion, the healthcare system is broken and in desperate need of change for many reasons. As I mentioned earlier, doctors are overwhelmed with the time they spend filling out insurance paperwork, playing phone tag and chasing follow-ups — and less time treating people, helping families and serving communities. Technology is outdated, unreliable and too complex to use, and the solutions that put the needs of insurance providers, litigators and pharmaceutical companies ahead of doctors and patients have widespread impacts.
The goal of inspiring change is what led us to develop MediSprout — to create positive changes that have a lasting impact on the healthcare system. We exist to help doctors stay connected with their patients, and to nurture a lasting relationship focused on their health and well-being.
There is no reason that a patient with a cold, a possible ear infection, sinus issues, or seasonal allergies, among other conditions, has to spend hours at their doctor’s office, waiting to be seen. We want to eliminate the need for patients in rural areas to have to travel to their doctors for routine follow-up care or questions, when those can be addressed virtually, saving patients precious time, gas and money. These are just a few of the reasons we’re focused on educating the population about the importance of virtual doctor visits — we know that happier doctors and happier patients are critical to transforming our healthcare system for today, tomorrow and beyond.
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Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!