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Healthcare & Life Sciences

How Sesame pivoted during COVID-19 to support local healthcare providers

May 7, 2020
Chris Sakalosky

Managing Director, US Healthcare & Life Science, Google Cloud

COVID-19 is forcing us all to adapt to new realities. This is especially true for the healthcare industry. From large healthcare providers to pharmaceutical companies to small, privately run practices, nearly every customer in the healthcare industry is re-evaluating and shifting their strategies. 

To mitigate the spread of the coronavirus and protect frontline workers, most healthcare providers are limiting in-person patient visits to the critically ill and shifting nearly all other patient visits to virtual settings. However, for small, privately run practices, suddenly pivoting to a telehealth model is extremely daunting given their limited IT resources.

To help these smaller providers, Sesame, a recent graduate from our Google Cloud for Startups program, quickly pivoted its offering to an easy-to-use platform that allows them to connect with patients in a fully remote setting. Through these telehealth services, more physicians are now available to handle non-COVID-related issues and ease the burden on the overall healthcare system. Let’s take a closer look at how Sesame made this change to its business so quickly and how it’s helping providers across the United States.

Sesame’s pivot to offer telehealth services

Sesame was founded to provide a new, more innovative approach to connecting patients and physicians. With a mission to make healthcare more transparent, accessible, and affordable for all, Sesame created a direct-pay marketplace that connects patients and care providers directly via the web. The marketplace, which covers everything from skin screening to tooth cleaning to MRIs, highlights cash-based, up-front prices and clear descriptions of services, making it easier for patients to find the right care at the right price. It also gives small independent practices more clarity and control over patient scheduling and billing, and new patient acquisition.

In January, when COVID-19 first entered the global vernacular, Sesame was still operating in two small markets: Kansas City and Oklahoma City. While telemedicine was on its roadmap, it wasn’t a top priority—nearly 100% of its business came through in-person visits with the local providers it had signed on. But, as the pandemic escalated, Sesame quickly transformed its business and introduced a new virtual appointment and telemedicine system built using Twilio and Google Cloud. 

As the pandemic progressed and small practices began shutting their doors to non-emergency care, the Sesame team went to work to come up with a way it could help these caregivers keep patients healthy, while finding new ways to care for them. The team quickly worked up a wireframe for a virtual appointment system that providers could use to administer healthcare remotely. Five days later, the service was up and running. 

As Dr. Rebecca Berens at Vida Family Medicine in Houston said, "Sesame allowed me to quickly and easily launch telemedicine to reach patients state-wide who are in need of virtual services during the pandemic. While I already offered these services locally, they gave me a larger platform which allows me to reach more patients.”

Sesame is now operating in 48 states across the nation, with 86% of its bookings coming through virtual appointments—all because of the team’s ability to pivot and move fast. As Priya Patel, Sesame’s VP of product, explains, “We went from testing our product and strategies in two small markets to being a nationwide service in just a few weeks. It’s been a great experience for the entire company to come together and make a real impact during a critical time.”

Building from the right foundation

Sesame points to the foundation it laid early on as the reason it could move so quickly. When the company was first founded, the product team spent a great deal of time up-front understanding the patient and provider experience, finding ways to make the process of searching, booking, and paying for services as easy as possible for people who might not be technically savvy. It was during this time they made the decision to build on Google Cloud and develop a microservices architecture powered by Google Kubernetes Engine that would allow them to adjust and scale as they learned. 

According to Michael Botta, co-founder of Sesame, that decision paid off when it came to developing a care platform that was not only HIPAA-compliant, but also could scale nationally in a matter of weeks. 

“The only way we could have done this was because we didn’t run a monolithic architecture,” he explained. “We could just build a new microservice, slot it in and have it work with our existing infrastructure to administer payments, manage connections between search and check out, connect to a video conference back-end, and guide customers through the process. Our architecture, the Google Cloud Platform, and our work with the Google team gave us exactly what we needed to build and integrate something of this magnitude.”

The promise of virtual care

While adapting to COVID-19, Sesame has been focused on getting even more providers on its virtual appointment system, making it available for free to providers. Since mid-April, Sesame estimates it has increased its provider network by more than 50%. With more healthcare providers coming on board, Sesame can now offer a greater range of services to help providers serve a wider group of patients, ultimately improving the economics for everyone involved—Sesame, its providers, and their patients. The situation is also opening many people’s eyes to the value of virtual care. 

“Even surgeons are surprised at how much can be accomplished through a virtual appointment,” said Sesame CEO David Goldhill. “Before COVID-19, telemedicine was very much a niche product. But circumstances have changed, and that is encouraging a broad variety of physicians and other care providers to figure out how good care can be delivered in this new way.”

COVID-19 has changed the dynamics in the healthcare industry, fast-tracking the adoption of new technologies. Through partners like Sesame, as well as with our own products like our Cloud Healthcare API, we’re dedicated to working with healthcare organizations to deliver solutions that help them provide the best patient care, while keeping healthcare workers safe.

Learn more about Google Cloud for healthcare.

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