There's probably no patient more nervous about their health and well being than the expectant mom or first-time parent.
The First Opinion iOS app focuses on the preventive process of care for just this healthcare consumer by matching users with a personal doctor—who also happens to be a mom—to answer individual questions via text message. The app acts as a communication system for users to ask "Mobile Dr. Mom" health-related questions, including questions about pregnancy, child development, illness and injury, lactation, nutrition, and sleep training.
The service is not meant to diagnose or treat, but to help users answer simple questions that they would otherwise have to wait hours, or even days, to have answered if they were to call their local physician's office.
First Opinion (FO) doctors, who are part of the company's own network of physicians, are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with an average response time of 9 minutes or less.
As of January 2014, when the start-up raised $1.2 million dollars in seed money, there are more than 700 consultations per day.
The network of doctors employed by FO has grown every month during the first few months of operation.
CEO McKay Thomas thinks everyone, but especially pregnant women and first-time parents, should have the ability to text message a doctor any time, night or day.
Thomas, also the co-founder of Baby.com.br, the "Diapers.com" of Brazil, developed the idea for First Opinion during the time his wife was pregnant and the couple was living in a foreign country; they struggled to communicate with her personal physician thousands of miles away.
When he returned to the U.S., Thomas teamed up with co-founder, Jay Marcyes, to build First Opinion. The app launched in December 2013. It quickly hit the fourth spot in the App Store's health category and saw 10,000 doctor "consultations" in its first month.
Mobile Dr. Mom: How First Opinion Works
Once a user downloads the FO app, they are matched to one of the startup's vetted network of doctors.
The match between user and physician is made based on gender, the type of help needed, how many children the user has, and whether or not they're expecting a child.
People can begin a consult-chat with their FO doctor instantly. On average it takes about 15 seconds to get matched with a First Opinion doctor.
The first chat with a doctor is free, and users can ask any questions they would like. After the first chat, the users will be asked to pay for a plan to continue to have access to their FO doctor.
The mobile "doc in your pocket for moms" is available for a monthly subscription fee or in packages of three starting at $12.00.
Once paid, the user will continue with the same doctor for every consult. Having every question answered by the same doctor on each consult gives the user the feeling of having a personal Dr. Mom at his or her fingertips.
Users register only with their first name and email address, which keeps their identity totally anonymous before the consult with the doctor begins. However, users can view basic information about the doctor they're chatting with and may share as much of their own information as they want during the chat.
• Fast Response from Docs. Users will receive a text back from a doctor, on average, in less than 9 minutes, 24/7.
• No Time Limit on any Consult. The consult-chat may take a few minutes or even hours. The user decides when a question has been answered, no matter how long it takes.
• Privacy Guaranteed. Users do not disclose anything other than an unverified first name at sign-up. This limited amount of disclosure of user information sidesteps HIPPA requirements that other apps, which collect private patient health data, have to comply with.
• Same Doctor Every Call. With other mHealth services, users are matched with different doctors based on availability. First Opinion keeps the same user-doctor match from the first call.
• Doctors Follow-up Every Call. First Opinion doctors will personally reach out to their callers after every chat to see how things are going.
Benefits for Patients
First Opinion provides an easy way to get a response from a doctor on minor or routine health issues, especially for parents. It's also reassuring for users to know they'll be linked-up with the same doctor for as long as they use the service.
Benefits for Doctors
For doctors who don't have the time or the additional staff to field routine health education calls from patients, First Opinion may be a great recommendation to make to patients who typically want answers immediately, and who become frustrated when doctors don't call back within a reasonable amount of time (This couldn't be more true of expectant mothers and first time parents, or persons living with, or caring for others with a chronic/debilitating illness).
Doctors looking for a new source of income take note: FirstOpinion has it's own network of physicians who work for the company.
"What we realized is if we wanted to change the experience and actually provide a very high quality doctor experience, we had to be very selective about the doctors we worked with, so the way to do that is by building your own doctor network," Thomas said. "You can't actually have a part-time doctor who is getting the lion's share of their income from someone else ...the only way you get [quality] doctors ... is by becoming their primary source of income." Thomas claims First Opinion has tripled the size of its doctor network every month.
The app website does not provide information about the doctor's backgrounds and identities, something a few test users have wanted to know before using the app. It's not clear if users can request a different doctor, should they not like the interaction with the doctor they've been matched with.