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Welcome to the digital health revolution. As the country faces a growing shortfall of physicians, telemedicine is on the rise.

According to a study by the Association of American Medical Colleges released in March, the U.S. stands to face a shortage of between 40,800 and 104,900 physicians by 2030,

The California Primary Care Association calculates that the state will need 8,243 additional primary care physicians by 2030.

Meanwhile, the popularity of telehealth, visiting a doctor via a computer or smart phone, is growing by leaps and bounds.

In 2015, the global market for telemedicine technology was estimated at $17.8 billion, and is poised to reach approximately $78 billion by 2025, according to Research and Market’s Global Telemedicine Market Outlook 2020.

Telemedicine provides instant access to doctors, allows for home health monitoring, and more specialty care and chronic disease management. It can be particularly beneficial for patients without access to access to reliable transportation, in medically underserved communities and those in rural geographical locations where clinician shortages exist.

Colleen Carmichael is the executive director at Reach for Home, a homeless services organization that serves northern Sonoma County. Among other services, it houses 65 individuals for a year while helping them get back on their feet.

“A lot of our clients are working two jobs, and don’t have time (to go to a clinic). And for the younger generation, I think it’s (telemedicine) the wave of the future. It makes sense with this population,” she said.

San Francisco continues to top the list for having the most digital health deals in the country. StartUp Health counted 116 deals in digital health amounting to $1.5 billion this year, more than Boston, New York or San Diego.

One of the most popular is Doctor On Demand, with offices in San Francisco, Minneapolis and Washington D.C.

The company is backed by Google and the television personality Dr. Phil McGraw, and has seen triple digit growth each year, said Ian Tong, chief medical officer. Tong is also a professor at Stanford University Medical School, which operates its own virtual care clinic.

The company, which started in 2013, has seen more than 1 million patients.

Backed by almost $87 million, the company recently partnered with national labs Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp to offer diagnostics.

Cost for a 15 minute medical consultation is $75. A psychology consultation is $79 for 25 minutes, and $229 for a 45 minute initial psychiatry consultation. Before the consultation ends, patients have the option to extend the call for an additional fee.

There is a 3 - 5 minute wait time to see a doctor, and mental health consultations are always by appointment.

During the wildfires, the company offered its services for free for those in affected areas.

Visit volume in the affected areas increased by 34 percent during that time, and 31 percent of those were mental health related, the company said.

Tong also noted that mental health visits also increased from areas just outside the counties affected as well.

Sonoma County is feeling the pinch in mental health providers, with one for every 373 residents. That compares to one for every 280 in the state, and the U.S. average of 202, according to a 2016 St. Joseph Hospital Mental Health Needs Gap Report.

Alliance Medical Center in Healdsburg has but two psychiatrists on staff. Each devotes only eight hours per week to the center, said Maria J. Alvarez, Ph.D., Bilingual Bicultural Psychologist, director of the center.

If Alvarez has a new patient who is bipolar, for example, the wait to see the psychiatrist for medication is about five months.

“We juggle the schedule, we beg, we plead to get the urgent patients in. There is incredible stress. Sometimes we have three (of these patients) per week. It’s an amazing challenge,” Alvarez said. “There’s a lack of doctors, and it’s going to get worse.”

Cynthia Sweeney covers health care, hospitality, residential real estate, education, employment and business insurance. Reach her at Cynthia.Sweeney@busjrnl.com or call 707-521-4259.