Netiarst: A doctor’s visit without leaving home

Netiarst is a portal offering a secure and modern web solution allowing a patient to take part in private video consultations with a family doctor or specialist doctor without leaving home. The portal improves access to medical care.

Janne German, founder of the Netiarst, explains that the enterprise is offering a telemedicine service. “We act as a healthcare service broker between doctors and patients. I would like to emphasise that we are not healthcare service providers – the service is being provided by doctors. We can draw parallels to a regular doctor`s appointment, the only difference is that, in our environment, the meeting is held via telemedicine.”

In the Netiarst.ee environment a patient can book appointment and, at the same time, send a short description of the problem, thus, the doctor can prepare for the consultation. The information about the patient’s problem is only seen by the doctor. Netiarst does not record doctor-patient correspondence, video consultations, notes, or doctor–patient anonymous conversations.

Possibility for anonymous consultations

Netiarst enables to consult with a doctor either anonymously or after authentication of one’s identity. If the patient enters the environment using a mobile-ID or ID card, his identity has been authenticated. This means that the doctor has access to electronical health record system and the patient`s health record is available for the doctor, allowing to offer better and more accurate service. Netiarst.ee uses the WebRTC video service platform.

An alternative is to make the appointment anonymously. “In this case, a video consultation link is sent to the patient by e–mail.” As the patient’s identity has not been authenticated, the conversation will have more of an informative nature. The doctor’s recommendations will be based on a limited amount of information, since the doctor does not know the patient’s medical history,” explains German. In the case of an anonymous session, the video picture is switched off by default, though if desired, the patient can switch it on during the consultation.

Netiarst plans to expand its services to foreign markets. “Finnish market is our first goal, after that, we have planned to enter the Baltic countries and we are considering to expand to Sweden, too. The consultants will be local healthcare service providers,” says German. Indirectly, the service is already provided in foreign countries: “If the doctor speaks several languages, he is allowed to consult people from other countries. The doctor may be located in Estonia, but he can provide consultations to, for example, Finnish patients. Doctors have already made use of this possibility.”

Improves access to medical care

In general, family doctor`s appointment can be obtained on the same day. A 15-minute consultation is free of charge to everyone. “Video enables the doctor to have a complete overview of the patient`s condition, “ German explains.

Appointments with specialist doctors can be obtained within a few days time.

“There are certainly situations where appointments with a specialist doctor are no longer available. For example, appointments with psychologists are very popular at the moment. In general, we try to maintain a certain stability, so that appointments for specialist doctors are available each week, allowing to get an appointment within 2 – 3 days,” said German.

“In the long term, this may also reduce the waiting lists for treatment. If a family doctor sees a need to send a patient to a specialist doctor, then it would be good if the first consultation with the specialist doctor could be carried out via telemedicine. If it becomes clear that a face–to–face meeting is necessary, for example, to collect a sample, this consultation can be arranged separately,” German added.

Future vision: telemedicine clinic

In Estonia, Netiarst is currently the only service provider of this kind. Elsewhere in the world a number of competitors can be found. This does not bother German: “The fact that we have competitors has actually a positive impact on us: this pushes us to make a greater effort and come up with new solutions. I know that elsewhere in the world there are telemedicine sites which have become a little like prescription factories. This is definitely something we want to avoid. We concentrate on providing professional service.”

The most difficult thing has been to instill in people the knowledge and belief that such a telemedicine service exists and can provide help: “People have very strongly ingrained habits. For example, if a child is sick, parents make doctor`s appointment even if the waiting time is more than a week. On the other hand, we have to make an effort to persuade doctors that patient consulting can be done outside of the office, too.”

Netiarst has become a very popular service in Estonia. “Family doctors and family nurses, doctors specializing in men’s health issues, gynecologists, psychologists, and psychiatrists are all represented. One of our family doctors provides alternative medicine oriented consultations. She is highly recognized and she is offering the service for the Russian market, too. Our next step is to include breastfeeding advisors, since this issue is very popular among young parents. At the moment, there are around 20 consultations per month.

The aim of Netiarst is to collaborate with as many different healthcare service providers as possible so that different specialties are represented. “We intend to create a telemedicine clinic where all kinds of health problems could be solved. It would be great if, in five years, almost all specialties were represented and the number of consultations per month were somewhere between 1000 and 1500. We want telemedicine to become an accepted and widely-used healthcare service next to the traditional medicine. The only difference would be that telemedicine is more accessible to patients.”