Phone-addicted hipsters promote digital MDs

By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon

Enamored of wearing scarves and knit hats on the hottest days, riding bikes without brakes, sipping libations only at craft breweries and using apps to dodge real people, hipsters just might save health care.

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Or maybe health care can save hipsters from nasty tattoo rashes and fake gluten allergies.

Or maybe we’ll all just get a good laugh.

Rocky Mountain Health Plans, a small nonprofit health insurance company that is looking to grow its business, has unveiled a hilarious video titled Save the Hipsters aimed at promoting its new service called MyDigitalMD. The app allows customers to get medical advice any time from Denver ER doctors through video chats or text messages.

Don’t tell the hipsters, but the app has a serious purpose. It aims to keep people out of expensive ERs, get patients key advice when they need it (like the middle of the night) and funnel them back to the best place to keep them healthy: their primary care provider.

The video features just one big stat: “One out of one hipsters admitted to using technology to avoid actually talking to human beings.”

The verdict on that method of solving health problems: “This is bad.”

Fond of collecting more apps on their phones than they can actually use and searching for medical advice on blogs and YouTube instead of at real doctors’ offices, hipsters might preserve their hipness if they pony up for health insurance and participate in video chats where an ER doctor can give them actual medical advice and real prescriptions.

In one segment in the video, a hipster with an obvious cold sits in bed at her “mid-century modern apartment” and video chats with a doctor via her laptop.

Photo from Rocky Mountain Health Plans' Save the Hipsters video.

Photo from Rocky Mountain Health Plans’ Save the Hipsters video.

The doctor’s verdict: “I think it’s more likely to be an upper respiratory infection and not a gluten allergy.”

She’ll be back at the coffee shop in no time secretly eating muffins and bagels.

Neil Waldron, Rocky Mountain’s chief marketing officer and vice president of strategic initiatives, admits that the cooler kids at Rocky Mountain worked with the company’s ad agency to create the hipster video.

“I still don’t know what a hipster is,” confided Waldron, who when pressed, concedes that he’s north of 60.

While Waldron is no hipster, he’s a pro when it comes to health data.

And the early data look good. Rocky Mountain quietly made MyDigitalMD available to customers for a January soft launch. Now it’s hoping to increase its popularity with the new hipster campaign.

CirrusMD created the software for the app while Denver-based ER doctors with Ergentus provide the medical advice.

Thus far, the digital doctors have been able to divert 44 percent of users from going to urgent care and 29 percent from ERs. Of the cases that were resolved, 53 percent were taken care of through “text and dialogue” with a physician, while 39 percent received prescriptions.

“The goal here is to have people use this service instead of first going to urgent care or the emergency room so our digital MDs can assess what care is appropriate,” Waldron said.

“The uptake is what we expected,” Waldron said. “It’s far superior to a nurse line, but you have to constantly communicate in order for people to remember to use it.”

Those who have used MyDigitalMD so far rave about the convenience of getting help when they need it — like with a fussy baby in the middle of the night or for an answer to a quick question that allows them to avoid a trip to the doctor’s office.

Ironically, while young hipsters are usually early adopters with technology, the early users of MyDigitalMD have skewed older. Of those who have tried it out so far, 69 percent have been over age 35.

That may be in part because the so-called “young invincibles” have been the toughest to lure to health insurance even though they now must buy it under provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

As health reform launched, Rocky Mountain ended up getting a disproportionate share of sick patients whose care cost more. As a result, Rocky has submitted steep rate hikes for 2016 health plans. (Click here to read Consumer advocates challenge double-digit rate increases.)

Getting more young, healthy customers could help balance out the older, sicker clientele.

But Waldron said Rocky wants to increase its customer base among people of all ages.

A hipster video chats with a doctor and finds that a cold, not a gluten allergy, likely is making her sick.

A hipster video-chats with a doctor and finds that a cold, not a gluten allergy, likely is making her sick.

“We want a broad demographic and as much market share as we can get,” Waldron said. “Trying to be a niche (carrier) in any one demographic is not a viable strategy.”

Waldron expects to see a lot of fluctuation between carriers in the next few years. In Colorado, one of Rocky’s competitors, a nonprofit health cooperative called the Colorado HealthOP, scooped up a large share of new exchange customers while Kaiser Permanante is expanding from the Front Range to western Colorado.

“We want to grow and be stable,” Waldron said. “Over the next few years, it’ll shake out and we’ll do just fine.”

He said marketing efforts and digital apps alone don’t lure customers.

“This stuff gives you exposure, but it isn’t one of the drivers as to why people select a health plan. Individuals select plans based on benefits, prices and providers,” Waldron said. “MyDigitalMD is an enhancement for our members. It’s a convenience.

“What it’s not designed to do is replace the primary care physicians.”

The digital docs can help stabilize or reassure patients. When an adult or child has needed further medical care, the digital docs referred them 57 percent of the time to their primary care provider.

For the hipsters, the video promises that they’ll be able to text pictures of a rash on one of their 37 tattoos to a doctor to find out if they need further care. Or if you missed the last step as you left your favorite craft brewery because your cool glasses don’t actually help you see, then your friends can take you in their VW Westfalia to the nearest urgent care.

“Don’t let hipsters go without health care and become extinct like the mullet,” the young narrator implores.

“No one wants that,” she says.

“Do what’s right for you and your shirt with snaps.”

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