Bitcoin is a popular topic in the news. With countless articles spelling out the future of the currency or its demise, it is easy to understand why businesses might be wary of accepting it as a method of payment. The opposite is true for a growing number of big players that see value in Bitcoin’s future. Microsoft, Reddit, Wordpress, Overstock.com, Dell, and Expedia, to name a few, have started accepting Bitcoin because they believe it will maintain its value.
Canadian startup Ask The Doctor, an online medical advice service, recently began accepting Bitcoin as well, but not just because it increase their customers. Ask The Doctor believes that Bitcoin offers quite a few benefits to their consumers which is why they ultimately made the decision to start accepting it for payment. I connected with CEO Prakash Chand and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Michael Warner to find out how Bitcoin helps patients.
What first gave you the idea to start accepting Bitcoin as a method for payment?
Warner: In the realm of healthcare, most consider the foundation of patient privacy as restricting access to the content of the doctor-patient interaction. In digital health, securing the content of such interactions is absolutely necessary but may not offer certain patients the level of privacy they require. Our customers share with us privileged and sensitive information. Until we added Bitcoin, our services had to be purchased using a Credit Card or Paypal. To some, having a banking paper trail documenting a transaction with “Ask The Doctor” did not provide them with a sufficient level of privacy.
The other reason to offer payment through Bitcoin is to maximize accessibility to our services. Credit cards are not universally available. In some cultures, women do not have the same financial freedom as men to obtain them. Two-thirds of our customers are women and we have customers in every country in the developing world. Our overall goal is democratize access to health care, and offering Bitcoin is consistent with this goal.
Why is anonymity important for patients?
Warner: Many patients are fortunate to have a relationship with a physician where they feel completely comfortable disclosing the most private medical concerns. However, there are other patients who do not have the luxury of having access to a physician or access to a physician with whom they have this degree of trust. For these patients, their only alternative may be to suffer in silence or hope that they can find an answer to their health care questions somewhere on the Internet. We once had a young woman from the Southern US who had engaged in unprotected premarital intercourse and was concerned she was pregnant but due to the religious affiliation of her family and her physician, she could not approach either to inquire how to determine if she was pregnant or not. In another instance a married woman from Saudi Arabia was concerned she had contracted a sexually transmitted infection from her husband. She could not go to her physician with this concern as she would have to be chaperoned by her husband and the physician (also a male) would not be accepting of her indirect accusation that her husband may have been unfaithful.
What technological and/or administrative efforts were needed to begin accepting Bitcoin?
Chand: After performing our due diligence and researching Bitcoin we then had to decide which company we would partner with to make transactions possible. We found a vendor whose API met all the privacy rules we were looking for and they make it very easy for merchants like us to get remunerated.
You're also accepting 5 other currencies, what’s the benefit to opening up to more currencies to users?
Chand: By introducing more currencies than just the American dollar, it makes it easier for users to pay for advice/knowledge from General Physicians and Specialists. We think this service has immense value for patients so we want to make it as accessible to everyone as possible.
Warner: Patients are also most comfortable paying for services in their own currency. It is easier for them to determine the value of our services when the prices are in the currency they are familiar with. We plan to offer more currencies in the future so we can offer affordable prices in the local currency to patients in developing nations. Overall, we strive to democratize access the medical advice from a physician.
What's the long term vision for an ask and answer medical advice service like Ask The Doctor?
Chand: Our goal is to replace users using Google and WebMD for medical advice. At the end of the day nobody can give a better answer to your medical question than a trained General Physician and/or Specialist.
Warner: The long-term vision of Ask The Doctor is to grow and develop our two interrelated businesses: Answering patient’s medical questions and building our Q & A content as a larger scale health database.
To do this, we plan on offering our service in every language and accepting payment in every currency. As we scale we plan on charging prices which are country-specific and affordable to the majority of residents in that country. In particularly disadvantaged regions we plan on offering our services for free, allowing physicians to provide philanthropic medical care by answering questions to patients residing in these areas.
We are also building the world’s largest medical question and answer database. We collect questions from patients in every country in the world. The content of these questions clearly identifies the unmet healthcare needs in each jurisdiction. We encourage patients to search our Q & A repository and use it as a resource to learn about the disease or medical topic they are wondering about.
The Future of Bitcoin for Payments
As Bitcoin continues to mature in both popularity and public opinion, more companies like the ones above will have to consider integrating it as a part of day to day operations. The benefit for consumers? Increased choice and control of personal decisions, along with the potential for anonymity when it comes to sensitive information.