MediTelecare has proudly partnered with Slice of Healthcare for a podcast series, where we’ll share more information about MediTelecare as a company, the people behind the scenes, and the critical role telemedicine plays in today’s healthcare industry.
Our first Slice of Healthcare podcast interview (episode #122) features Ed Mercadante, MediTelecare CEO and founder. Below we recap the podcast interview, which covers Ed’s background as company founder, how he got to where he is today, and what the future holds for the company.
I’m an Italian immigrant to the U.S. and a pharmacist by training. Before founding MediTelecare, I started a health services company providing psychiatric and psychology services through clinicians to residents and patients in skilled nursing centers. I grew that company, and it became the biggest in the nation, servicing more than 200,000 patients throughout the U.S.
Through that process, I recognized that there was an accessibility problem: there weren’t enough psychologists and psychiatrists to treat the elderly population with which I was working. Also, there was difficulty in accessing what was largely an elderly population. After I sold that company, I founded MediTelecare – a completely virtual telehealth company. When I founded the company, there was still the traditional healthcare paradigm: many people still didn’t even know what telehealth was, and most of the people I spoke with didn’t think he could possibly disrupt the existing healthcare model – which consisted of only face-to-face, in-person interactions and visits with clinicians.
Then the pandemic came along, and that changed everything. Now, the paradigm for telehealth is the new norm, and it’s the real disruptive technology that’s taking over healthcare. MediTelecare is certainly at the right place at the right time.
When I founded MediTelecare, I’d been working in various areas within the healthcare industry for over 30 years – mostly with elderly patients. In looking at the U.S. economy and healthcare dollars spent, the vast majority of all healthcare expenditures are on the elderly – people 60 to 65 or older.
I recognized, working in long-term care – such as skilled nursing, assisted living, or independent living – that most older adults have an immensely difficult time getting care, especially those types of care for which they may feel stigmatized. Mental health and behavioral health fall squarely into that category. While any elderly person will talk about their diet, blood pressure, or cholesterol, they have a hard time talking about their memory – and they certainly don’t want to talk about depression.
What’s prepared me to get where I am today is an understanding of the elderly and adult communities, and how telehealth is perfectly suited to break down stigma and give the elderly patient population one-on-one access to behavioral health care through a computer or mobile devices.
The “why” is there’s an extreme need for behavioral healthcare amongst the elderly community, and they have a hard time accessing that care. If a typical person or family member begins to think that their loved one is struggling with cognitive impairment or depression, they have a tremendously difficult time finding a clinician who will treat him or her. The “why” is easy to answer because, through telehealth – as well as the network that we bring together with hundreds of clinicians – we break down and fix that problem.
As far as “what” we deliver, it’s a combined treatment protocol, which uses psychiatry and psychology. Psychiatry is defined as the medicine of mental health, and psychology is described as talk therapy. We combine both talk therapy and psychiatry through a digital environment for patients or residents. This method can reduce the use of antipsychotic medications and psychotropic medicines that often result in other dangerous side effects – such as falls that lead to hospital readmissions, for example.
Our “how” is through our technology. MediTelecare has a virtual toolkit used for digital diagnoses. We can also monitor and meet with patients via a face-to-face telehealth solution – whether it’s on a tablet, browser, or on a workstation on wheels in a hospital or long-term care setting – such as a nursing home or assisted living environment.
You’re right, I feel really good about where we’re at and to have made the decision to sell a brick-and-mortar company and go totally virtual, if you will. We’re a byproduct of our past; I’m at the age where I’m now considered an older adult. Yet 20 or more years ago, I developed one of the first online pharmacies and disrupted the space. At that time, I thought to myself: what would be the next disruption? I knew telehealth was an easier way to reach patients, and an easier way for patients to reach clinicians.
From there, we had to build the digital tools – some of which didn’t yet exist – and then we had to convince clinicians across the country that they could care for a person via a telehealth interaction. We then had to figure out how to get the patient records to the patient, our nursing home partners, or other stakeholders.
What has complicated the business, yet also facilitated it, was the pandemic. I started this company in 2018, and the pandemic came along in 2020. We were still building and learning, but all of a sudden nursing homes throughout the U.S. became the epicenter of the pandemic. It’s been a sad state of affairs. They’ve been seriously hit by the virus, and have lost a lot of people. But the need was there: all of the elderly adults in these facilities were isolated, and they couldn’t talk to their families or friends. They couldn’t even come out of their rooms, in many cases, and felt like they were in prison. The means of getting to those individuals to help them – particularly through talk therapy – and providing an empathetic psychiatrist, is one of the few things that has made me feel good throughout the pandemic. We’re not just a business, but we’re providing something beneficial for people.
Fortunately, we’re coming out of this crisis, though we’re not out of it yet. But I do think that the healthcare paradigm has changed; elderly folks are now more aware of telehealth, and more open to accessing that care. There is still a stigma associated with mental health and therapy, however, and through an accessible means of care for our vulnerable elderly population, I’m very proud of what we’ve created at MediTelecare.
We already have over 20,000 patients on the MediTelecare platform and have conducted more than 250,000 visits to skilled nursing facilities and assisted living centers. We’re very proud to have penetrated that market and to be in 26 states.
Our objective is to reach more older adults, who are often neglected, through an app that addresses their needs. We’re really excited because we’re about to launch a consumer offering, which is targeted toward older, ambulatory adults. The offering will be available both on desktop as well as Android or iOS devices.