During an Addiction Epidemic, Safety First
With help from Berbix, a telemedicine practice ensures that only the right patients get the right prescriptions
When Circle Medical, a digital-first primary care medical practice in San Francisco, faced the emergence of Covid-19 last year, its leaders knew that much more treatment would need to be offered virtually.
Gone were the days when 80 percent of patient coverage at Circle Medical’s several Bay Area clinics was handled in-person. The situation for the other one in five patients—the ones who had already begun receiving treatment via telemedicine sessions, pre-pandemic—would now become the norm.
“We’re still a full-service primary care practice,” says Sam Beushausen, Senior Product Designer of Circle Medical’s patient-facing mobile app. “But when the pandemic happened, those numbers switched around immediately.”
Fortunately, since opening in 2015, Circle Medical has been at the forefront of innovation. Using technology to make positive change is something the practice, which is affiliated with the University of California San Francisco and its Bay Area medical centers, has become known for.
The practice is majority-owned by WELL Health Technologies, a Canadian company founded in 2010 and valued at $1.6 billion CAD. WELL owns and operates a host of North American primary-care facilities. Many of them, including Circle Medical, tout themselves as digital-first practices that use AI-based tech platforms to make quality care accessible at scale—and without charging a membership fee.
Its health services centers also practice innovation on their own. Faced with a considerable demand for Covid-19 testing, Circle Medical early on made a deal with LabCorp, a medical testing giant, to offer convenient Covid collection kits that patients could use at home. The tests, covered by most health insurance plans, often followed a telemedicine visit with a Circle Medical primary-care provider.
“Eventually, we’re going to evolve into a place where you can have all of your medical records accessible through one app, and forward looking, personally tailored care plans,” Beushausen adds.
But as the pandemic plodded on, Circle Medical was forced to deal with an immediate problem—one that didn’t fit into its own set of tech solutions. As calls for mental health services exploded, in part because of a Covid-era demand for ADHD counseling, the practice soon had some questions about how best to handle that growing patient load online: How could the practice safeguard the prescriptions its providers were writing during telemedicine visits, while easing the minds of patients who were asked to digitally verify their identity?
Circle Medical leaders knew that for some people receiving mental-health care, the pivot to online treatment can be anxiety-producing. It could mean having to get prescriptions from care providers whom they didn’t meet in person or verifying their identities and insurance information over the computer screen.
Meanwhile, providers who, in the interim, had been put in charge of asking patients to produce their IDs on-camera, were put in the awkward position of having to judge whether a person was who they said they were.
“We would have our providers on a call ask patients to hold up their ID. The provider would verify it on the spot,” Beushausen says. “They were doing a good job of it, but you can imagine that it’s not a foolproof way to do it. Plus, it takes up valuable appointment time.”
Circle Medical knew it would need to develop a stronger system to make sure that only those who truly need psychoactive drugs--many of them controlled dangerous substances managed under strict federal guidelines--get them. And the practice understood that, as the nation grapples with unprecedented levels of addiction that result in the deaths of at least 70,000 each year, safety must come first. Eliminating people who misidentify themselves in the hope of illegally obtaining drugs would be Job One.
Even though the practice is tech-savvy enough to create its own digital solutions, Circle Medical decided to look outside for a tech provider who could help it guarantee safety, which also allowed the Circle Medical team to focus on building other features, like proof of COVID vaccination.
To validate identities in a fast, reliable and secure way, Circle Medical turned to Berbix. The ID-verification platform, developed and unveiled in 2018 by the two technologists who had minted the online security system for Airbnb, has been growing in popularity, garnering a host of clients throughout North America.
Offering almost instant pluggability and an accuracy rate of 96 percent, Berbix is designed to digitally scan an ID card and compare it with a selfie, usually taken by a customer or patient on their mobile device, to verify a person’s identity. The system also includes some fallback options. When Berbix flags a person’s ID/selfie combination for potential fraud, Berbix users can manually doublecheck to make sure a patient is who they say they are.
"The speed of implementation was a huge factor in bringing Berbix on board,” adds Beushausen. “Berbix’s history of HIPAA compliance, the smoothness of the transition, and the speed of the system were very important to us. We looked at a couple of other ID-verification systems, but Berbix’s speed and strong front-end for customers stood out to us.”
The Berbix solution contains the added advantage of making mental-health patients feel more comfortable. It reduces the amount of anxiety that can come when people fear being judged or shut out of treatment, as well as helping to guarantee they can get the medicines they need without fear of interruption.
“The process is very easy and very smooth and adds a high level of trust so people can see we are a legitimate primary care practice. We’re also able to automatically weed out people who are bad actors before they ever get to an appointment.
Provider satisfaction has improved because of that. You can imagine what would happen if we had 1,000 patients a day and five percent of those patients were bad actors.” -Sam Beushausen
In the past year, Circle Medical’s patient tele-visits have increased to over 1,000 patients per day and growing rapidly. Berbix can take some credit for that growth, Beushausen says.
A strong partnership from the start, Berbix and Circle Medical have continued to improve on the system. “Berbix has been extremely responsive. There have been a couple of instances where we’ve needed additional information. Berbix has responded within 24 hours every time,” Beushausen says. “When we decided to take Berbix on, we thought they’d be the easiest option to work with, and they have been. They check all the boxes for us.”