Steven Richardson of UHSM Telehealth by Healthrive: “Education is key to lay out the boundaries of telemedicine in each patient’s respective state”

You need to look at telemedicine as an addition to the primary care team, and not rely on it to take care of the problems of primary care physicians. This will build trust within the telemedicine organization and close the gaps in healthcare delivery. One of the consequences of the pandemic is the dramatic growth […]

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You need to look at telemedicine as an addition to the primary care team, and not rely on it to take care of the problems of primary care physicians. This will build trust within the telemedicine organization and close the gaps in healthcare delivery.


One of the consequences of the pandemic is the dramatic growth of Telehealth and Telemedicine. But how can doctors and providers best care for their patients when they are not physically in front of them? What do doctors wish patients knew in order to make sure they are getting the best results even though they are not actually in the office? How can Telehealth approximate and even improve upon the healthcare that traditional doctors’ visits can provide?

In this interview series, called “Telehealth Best Practices; How To Best Care For Your Patients When They Are Not Physically In Front Of You” we are talking to successful Doctors, Dentists, Psychotherapists, Counselors, and other medical and wellness professionals who share lessons and stories from their experience about the best practices in Telehealth. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Steven Richardson.

Steven Richardson is the chief population health officer and a board-certified physician assistant at Unite Health Share Ministries (UHSM) Telehealth by Healthrive. Richardson works with UHSM’s vast network of providers, which include board-certified physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners, to provide a modernized approach to health sharing.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Prior to joining UHSM (Unite Health Share Ministries), I served as the chief operating officer at Synergy Med, where I managed the operations of a new start-up in direct primary care and reviewed contracts with HMOs to decrease re-hospitalizations throughout California. I was also responsible for implementing house calls and telemedicine to a Medicare advantage population. I held the position of provider network manager for Physicians Alliance Medical Group.

Currently, I am responsible for the management and implementation of new programs through Healthrive, the third-party (TPA) administrator of UHSM’s telehealth program. I have oversight over the UHSM members’ telemedicine network, one of the very few in the U.S. that can effectively diagnose COVID-19 and order testing through the First Health PPO Network, an Aetna subsidiary, or through local and regional drive-through facilities. Additionally, I lead the team behind the company’s essential organization, telemedicine and medical symptom tracking system.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

During 2017, I was able to leverage our nationwide telemedicine platform to assist those who where affected by Hurricane Harvey. A very interesting story arose out of this tragic situation. During the hurricane, we were in contact with the Cajun Navy to facilitate any medical needs that rescuers would require that were not life threatening. A particular case comes to mind that involved a mother and a child with special needs. The mother and child where stuck in a hotel in east Houston and were not able to escape because the roads where flooded. The Cajun Navy dispatcher contacted us via Zelle — a dispatch application because 911 was down — and stated the son with special needs needed medications for his seizures. Our telemedicine team reach out to the mother and discussed the medications needed. The medications needed were not your common medications that you could pick up from a CVS or Walgreens; it was a special compound medication that required a specialized pharmacy. Our team and I began to leverage our resources in the Houston area to find a compound pharmacy that was open. Through our search, we found a pharmacy located in Magnolia, about 45 miles north, that would facilitate the order. We then connected the Texas provider with the patient’s mother to facilitate the telemedicine visit and the e-prescription. However, that was the easy part. The difficult part was how to get the medication to the patient. I then connected with a friend on Facebook, that was in Magnolia, who had a lifted truck that was able to go through high water to get to the Cajun Navy drop off point. From that point on, airboats would take the medication to the stranded patient. These transactions took over two days to complete, but the mother was relieved that her son got the medication. At that moment, I knew telemedicine would be the future and become a pivotal player during times of natural disasters.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late,” — Ried Hoffman Co-Founder of LinkedIn.

My life is founded on executing an idea, or product, quickly and work backwards from there. Life is too short to hesitate.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have never been asked this question, ever. As I read through this question, I had a range of emotions go through me. I cannot say there is one person responsible for my success but rather a team of people that include family, co-workers, and friends that I am grateful towards. If there is one person that was a key catalyst into the launch of my career, it would be Paul Gunnels. Paul was the Assistant Fire Chief for College Station Fire Department and lead paramedic at the station where I worked. We would work as much as 72 hours together in a remote fire station in Bedias, Texas. Thus, many conversations would take place and he became my earliest mentor that I owe my success to, although he has never known the impact he had on my career decision.

The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them of course, is how doctors treat their patients. Many doctors have started treating their patients remotely. Telehealth can of course be very different than working with a patient that is in front of you. This provides great opportunity because it allows more people access to medical professionals, but it can also create unique challenges. To begin, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main benefits of having a patient in front of you?

There are many benefits of physically seeing a patient and we will need to keep some in mind so that the physician-patient relationship does not become so distant. We know the obvious benefits of taking a blood pressure or listening to the heart, but I would like to touch on the benefits that we often forget about — emotional connection. I think we could all agree that there is a missing emotional connection between our families and co-workers during the pandemic due to social distancing. This connection is also missed and is needed to make a physician-patient relationship work. The patient needs that pat-on-the-back assurance that they are going to get better, or that handshake to solidify the relationship and without this, medicine becomes too robotic. There needs to be a balance in telemedicine to ensure the patient is getting its emotional needs met through both in-patient and virtual visits.

On the flip side, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main challenges that arise when a patient is not in the same space as the doctor?

The biggest challenge in telehealth is not having the in-person connection that a traditional doctor visit will give you. However, telehealth still provides you an opportunity to build a relationship with a medical professional and uses mediums, such as video calling, to mimic a traditional medical experience as much as possible.

Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges? What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Best Care For Your Patients When They Are Not Physically In Front Of You?

You need to look at telemedicine as an addition to the primary care team, and not rely on it to take care of the problems of primary care physicians. This will build trust within the telemedicine organization and close the gaps in healthcare delivery.

Communicate with their primary care physician!

Know what resources you’re working with. (i.e. pharmacies, rural areas, lack of insurance, etc.)

Take the time and listen.

Educate the why.

Clearly define the boundaries of what telemedicine can and cannot do.

Can you share a few ways that Telehealth can create opportunities or benefits that traditional in-office visits cannot provide? Can you please share a story or give an example?

What people are quickly realizing is that telemedicine is the best avenue for most non-emergency health care. It’s safer, faster and less expensive for everyone. Telehealth provides an opportunity for people who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 to speak with a medical professional. Patients can now seek the benefits of telehealth, even outside of the COVID-19 crisis. They’ll be able to stay home and still get the medical help they need.

Many tools have been developed to help facilitate Telehealth. In your personal experiences which tools have been most effective in helping to replicate the benefits of being together in the same space?

I do not have much experience with tools that have dramatically improved the telehealth space. There is room for innovation as there are many hurdles in the telemedicine field. I believe the next generation of tools will need to improve the way data and patient-physician collaboration takes place. The future involves patient unique ID’s, patient data ownership, and augmented reality to be keys in improving the telemedicine experience.

If you could design the perfect Telehealth feature or system to help your patients, what would it be?

A perfect system would be a decentralized process of healthcare data where patients own their own data and are able to use it at their will. I would include features like a family member putting on a pair of Google glasses to have a guided physical exam from a physician on the other end, to another family member that is ill.

Are there things that you wish patients knew in order to make sure they are getting the best results even though they are not actually in the office?

Education is key to lay out the boundaries of telemedicine in each patient’s respective state. UHSM provides triage and this education prior to the member seeing a doctor to make sure it is impactful and efficient for both parties.

The technology is rapidly evolving and new tools like VR, AR, and Mixed Reality are being developed to help bring people together in a shared virtual space. Is there any technology coming down the pipeline that excites you?

I am really excited about Microsoft HoloLens and its use of artificial reality.

Is there a part of this future vision that concerns you? Can you explain?

Over the past 5 years I have noticed an increase of product-specific telemedicine. These are companies that solely focus on lifestyle and could be considered luxury or boutique healthcare, which rely on a doctor to write a specific medication. This practice is disruptive to the healthcare community because these curative programs can cause a disconnect between the physician-patient relationship, furthering disparities in access to care. Telemedicine should be created and used to support access to care and decrease disparities amongst all demographics of a population.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Not a movement that is incredibly popular, but one that will radically change healthcare is an accountability movement. We need to be accountable for our healthcare actions and take real leadership in true education.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

It is not the individual work that I have done, but the collaboration of work that is done by UHSM. You can view our work at www.uhsm.com.

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