In a Nutshell: Dr. Talib Omer founded the QuickMD telehealth platform to deliver urgent care, women’s health, and pediatric care, and now offers Suboxone treatments, driving change in a transforming marketplace. QuickMD provides medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to individuals with opioid use disorder more effectively than do traditional providers that may require monthly in-person patient visits. And as the COVID-19 pandemic prompted regulators to create more inclusive telehealth guidelines, QuickMD grew into a nationwide provider for underserved patients.
Telehealth — or virtual healthcare delivery — has a long history in the US. But before the COVID-19 pandemic began, providers, patients, and insurers still strongly preferred traditional in-person care.
That quickly changed during the public health emergency in early 2020. Agencies suspended telehealth delivery regulations, and the public largely stayed away from clinics and doctors’ offices.
During that time, QuickMD grew into a leading telehealth provider. The organization launched in 2019 to deliver urgent care, women’s health, and pediatric care online. Over the years, it expanded into providing medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to addiction patients in Los Angeles. Today, its team of 100 practitioners provides addiction care, urgent care, and family health services to 20,000 patients a month.
With the average bill for an emergency visit topping $2,000, more US consumers turn to QuickMD to meet noncritical healthcare needs. The organization charges only $75 per urgent care visit, undercutting the average urgent care bill by 50%.
In 2019, Dr. Talib Omer worked as an attending physician at a free addiction clinic associated with LAC + USC Medical Center in Los Angeles. He saw patients with opioid use disorder (OUD) arrive for in-person visits that sometimes required them to wait all day for a 10-minute consultation.
MAT is the preferred methodology for OUD. It involves cognitive and behavioral therapy combined with the drug Suboxone, which reduces the craving for opioids without threatening patients with overdose.
Prescribing Suboxone typically required patients to visit a clinic every month, but California allowed doctors to dispense MAT drugs and therapies online. After seeing success in urgent care and women’s health, Omer began offering QuickMD “teleMAT” care to addiction patients in Los Angeles.
The new way of delivering MAT saved patients time and money and made addiction care more efficient and effective. According to QuickMD COO Jared Sheehan, the service steadily grew, spurred by the continuing demands of the OUD crisis.
“Dr. Omer started putting his experience working with MAT patients out there by marketing QuickMD through search engine optimization and organic search.” Sheehan said. “He was the first QuickMD doctor.”
Virtually Delivering Medication-Assisted Treatment
Although the OUD crisis has been designated a national emergency in the US since 2017, overdose deaths continue to rise. Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control indicates that in 2020, the first year of the pandemic, more than 92,000 Americans died from drug overdoses, a 30% increase over 2019. During the 12 months ending in December 2021, deaths have topped 110,000.
Synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, carry a high risk of addiction and dependence and are the chief instigators of the OUD epidemic. Suboxone has been the preferred drug therapy for MAT since coming on the market in 2002.
Because it contains the opioid antagonist naloxone and the partial agonist opioid buprenorphine, Suboxone has a low potential for abuse.
“It’s very safe and proven to reduce the craving components of OUD,” Sheehan said. “It helps people get their lives back in order.”
In addition to being more convenient and affordable, QuickMD also helps MAT patients circumvent widespread stigmas around addiction care.
Sheehan said remote patient visits and prescription deliveries preserve confidentiality and keep patients in the system.
“You’re an opioid addict — that’s the stigma,” Sheehan said. “Pharmacies don’t want to dispense the drug, and doctor’s offices don’t want to have those types of patients.”
QuickMD’s MAT intake process makes treatment more accessible. Booking an initial $99 MAT video appointment requires no in-person visit. The doctor investigates the patient’s history of opioid use and assesses the motivation to quit and the availability of social support. Individuals judged to be good candidates for MAT often receive their first prescription for Suboxone that same day (Note: some states only allow three days of Suboxone initially).
Expanding Services for Mainstream Health Consumers
COVID-19 emergency mandates took effect in early 2020. Many states loosened telehealth regulatory bottlenecks, and federal agencies cleared the way for interstate telehealth practice and national online delivery of MAT. QuickMD became the first national teleMAT provider on March 31, 2020.
“That’s when things really took off,” Sheehan said. “Talib was the first mover in the teleMAT space. There was immediate and massive demand.”
Patient visits and staff numbers started a dramatic upward trajectory, but the mission to provide care for the lowest possible cost remained the same. QuickMD developed use cases beyond MAT for its more efficient and humane delivery model as the public acclimated to telehealth delivery during the pandemic.
QuickMD also provides family health services, including birth control and hormone replacement therapy, STD/HIV and fertility tests, and pediatric care. And it handles some of the more routine aspects of healthcare, including doctor’s notes and medication refills.
Doctors’ notes have long been a component of the US health system, but the COVID-19 pandemic increased their usage. When medically appropriate, QuickMD provides notes for work and school in addition to fit-to-fly notes. QuickMD was recently featured in The New York Times as the leading provider of Document of Recovery notes for travelers stranded internationally.
The platform sends out notes via email or faxes them directly to employers and schools upon request.
Standing in for overscheduled providers to fill prescriptions is another area of emphasis. QuickMD staff can refill medications for up to three months and prescribe new ones when necessary.
QuickMD: Making Healthcare Services More Effective
QuickMD is on a mission to simplify healthcare and lower its cost. It welcomes underinsured and underserved patients and aims to protect marginalized individuals within the healthcare system.
More QuickMD customers bring their own insurance as the service has grown. In most cases, major insurance providers reimburse customers for QuickMD visits. QuickMD is also moving in the direction of accepting more insurance types.
“We’re identifying new and creative ways to make QuickMD as affordable to our patients as possible,” Sheehan said. “The real issue in the medical world is a lack of affordable options, particularly ones where you don’t have to travel to an office or clinic and take time off work.”
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, QuickMD stands to make its mark as a telehealth pioneer. The pandemic taught practitioners and the public that the efficiencies of telehealth are a net positive in the system.
Parents know well, for example, that an in-office diagnosis for a routine but treatable child ailment, including bronchitis or the flu, may cost $200 or more during a visit. Consumers can use QuickMD to help bring down those costs.
QuickMD doctors are on call on a 24/7/365 basis and available directly 18 to 20 hours a day. As it builds new ways to help consumers and patients on the financial side of the healthcare system, it’s also reaching out to new markets and patient cohorts, including rural and remote communities and those in need of behavioral care services.
“We regularly hear from folks that getting on the MAT program saved their lives,” Sheehan said. “We aim to support all populations and areas that typically don’t have good access to doctors.”