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UK telemedicine service starts new real-world venture with fleet management

Gary Flood Profile picture for user gflood November 23, 2020
When ‘Talk to a Doctor’ won a big new in-person care contract, it had to deal with a new problem - keeping tabs on a small, but vital, physical vehicle operation

Image of a doctor on a video call
(Image by Elena Borisova from Pixabay )

Talk to a Doctor is the name of a UK-based website service that provides telephone, online and face-to-face medical and counselling services worldwide. The company behind it, London-headquartered Health Finder Pro, claims to have been active in the telemedicine market since 2006, offering one of the first private healthcare doctor advice phone lines. Its clients now include insurers, the BBC and the NHS. In 2015, it was commissioned by UK insurance customers to develop a telemedicine platform for video consultations, which has become a key focus.

According to its Director, Doniert Macfarlane, the service's focus is improving access to healthcare through technology and innovation. A case in point - how a new contract to form a team of private paramedics offering in-person care to clients in the North West brought in an unexpected business problem it needed to solve. The problem? Running a fleet of seven responder vehicles. Macfarlane said: 

We needed to find a way to track each vehicle in real-time to determine the nearest resource to deploy to a client where and when required-which is often at very short notice-efficiently.

Given the small fleet involved, the team thought this should be quite a straightforward process, one that need not get too complicated; nor did Macfarlane particularly want to pay for lots of functionality that wouldn't be needed.

Most of the fleet logistics solutions out there were way beyond our requirement. We just needed a real-time tracking solution that was reliable, easy to install, easy to use, and reasonably priced.

Macfarlane thinks he's found the solution with software called Fleet Geo from a specialist German fleet management vendor called Vimcar. He claims that a period of market evaluation identified it was the perfect answer to the company's question, as it was a "highly-convenient plug and play solution". This approach, he believed, would give the team the ability to know where paramedics are at any given time, and so allowing managers to dispatch them in the most efficient way to meet client needs.

Talk to a Doctor installed the system into six of the vehicles in August. It seems the main benefit back so far has been on the client service front. Macfarlane said: 

We have SLAs in place around response times, and we're talking minutes here to respond, not hours. As such, every second really does count in getting resources moving in the right direction as quickly as possible, so being able to easily visualise exactly where our fleet is at any given time is invaluable.

The software has also helped bring down insurance costs, he adds, as the company can prove vehicles are being used as pool cars rather than company cars. Another benefit: the ability to geofence each car by being able to set up drop off points and storage locations in a range of accessible destinations, not just at the main vehicle bases. This allows shorter journey times to pick up the pool vehicle, and reduces the carbon footprint significantly - overall CO2 emissions have gone down significantly as journey distances have been shortened, data shows.

‘Not meeting our SLAs can bring financial penalties'

How did staff react to the introduction of tech designed to tell the boss their every move, though? An unexpected surprise out of the move into fleet management was actually how well the team has responded to having their movements monitored; Macfarlane reports a lot less pushback than expected.

As long as they know why we are doing it and how we are using the data, they are fine with it.

So how did fleet management help this small but growing UK business? For Macfarlane, the answer centres around business advantage through smart technology. He said: 

We're always looking for technological solutions to help improve the way we do business, and this solution fits in very well by helping us to optimise efficiency and be fully accountable and transparent.

Efficiency matters to Talk to a Doctor. The company is paid annually by clients rather than by dispatch, so not meeting its SLAs on response times can bring financial penalties. So a system like this helps enormously in optimising the efficiency of the Talk to a Doctor North West fleet to meet and satisfy those targets, Marcfarlane confirms.

Every business wants to outperform its clients' expectations; with such high-profile clients as we're winning, it's vital that they trust in us to deliver; their reputation rests on our reputation. As such, we're always looking out for best-in-class innovation and ways of doing things well, and this solution is a perfect example of just that for me.

All this also matters for the company's future. It's currently engaging in an investment round and its preferred investment partner is likely to open up more opportunities for Talk to a Doctor in the healthcare sector, Macfarlane notes. A possible expansion of its face-to-face offering beyond pure telemedicine could be the next step in its overall development-bringing the need to increase the size of its fleet of responder vehicles accordingly.

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