At the beginning of 2020,ConvenientMD was looking toward expansion. The Portsmouth-based company had plans to open multiple new locations, and continue to offer more intensive services that are usually reserved for hospitals, like infusions for patients with long-term conditions like multiple sclerosis or arthritis. The company was also preparing to launch a telehealth platform, but more for balancing loads between locations than for delivering care to patients directly.
However, the leadership of the company, including Co-founder and Executive Chairman Gareth Dickens, was also monitoring the coronavirus emerging in China. Before the virus was declared a pandemic, Dickens and his team could see what was coming, and began stocking up on personal protective equipment. Soon, a conference room at the company’s Portsmouth headquarters was transformed into a PPE holding space.
With plenty of masks, gloves and gowns on hand, ConvenientMD was able to respond when the coronavirus made it to the Granite State in March.
“That was game-changing for us because it gave us the ability to provide COVID responses that others were not able to achieve because they didn’t have the supplies necessary to provide the services,” Dickens said.
ConvenientMD — which has 26 locations in New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts, 12 of which are in the Granite State — set up some of the first drive-through testing sites. However, visits for non-COVID related issues evaporated, Dickens said.
“Every retail location suffered. We were no exception,” he said. “We quickly had to figure out how to protect the organization.”
The team decided that telehealth was one solution. They revamped their approach to the platform so that it could be used directly between patient and provider, rather than between providers at different ConvenientMD locations. Soon, ConvenientMD was providing virtual appointments, and directing people to the nearest clinic only if absolutely necessary.
Still, the volume of visits was down over 2019, despite the fact that ConvenientMD had more locations than it had the year prior. To keep people employed, ConvenientMDs clinical staff began working on contact tracing efforts through contracts with the state.
“We were able to keep everybody paid and employed,” Dickens said. With 763 employees just in New Hampshire, that was no small feat.
As the effectiveness of contact tracing died down with cases booming, ConvenientMD pivoted again. In addition to doing more testing, the company began working with schools and universities — including UNH, Dickens’ alma mater — to develop screening and testing programs. The nonstop adjustment was a challenge.
“In a normal situation, you’re usually thinking 2-3 years ahead. You’re calibrating your organization around that future state,” Dicken said. “During COVID it’s looking forward 2-3 months instead of 2-3 years. It’s constantly forecasting and estimating how the environment is going to change.”
ConvenientMD is now preparing to help with distribution once vaccines are more widely available (the National Guard is overseeing the initial vaccine distribution in New Hampshire). The company is also preparing to launch an at-home test kit that will give next-day responses to people in the Granite State. The test kit, which ConvenientMD developed and produced, has received emergency use authorization from the Food and drug Administration, and should be available in New Hampshire in mid-March.
“It’s a constant three-month look forward,” Dickens said.
Although 2020 was trying, Dickens believes that the pandemic will have a positive impact for his company.
“Long-term, it’s a huge tailwind,” he said.
The pandemic has left consumers, providers, regulators and payers more willing to try innovative approaches to healthcare — something that ConvenientMD has been pushing for since it was founded in 2012.
“It has accelerated the vision,” Dickens said. “There’s a lot more openness from investors and payers… a willingness to disrupt.”
ConvenientMD has always focused on providing more cost-effective and patient-centered care, Dickens said. When he thinks about the problems in our healthcare system, he sees more people willing to embrace innovative solutions after 2020. The widespread pivot to telehealth last year is just one example.
“A lot of doors have opened as a result of the pandemic,” Dickens said.
Responding to the pandemic in such a critical way — launching the first testing sites, becoming one of the biggest testing providers in New England, and preparing to do the lion’s share of vaccine distribution — has also been a confidence booster for ConvenientMD.
“We’ve proven to ourselves that we can move mountains in very short periods of times,” Dickens said. “When I think back over 2020, it’s honestly tear-jerking for me. I can’t believe what the team was able to lift.”
Dickens isn’t yet looking past the pandemic. He’s focusing on vaccine distribution and worried about variant strains of coronavirus, particularly the one that has emerged in South Africa. However, he is looking forward to using the lessons from the pandemic to accelerate the growth of ConvenientMD.
“The team is culturally just ready for some really fun patient experience focused, care-enhancing initiatives,” he said. “We’ve proven to ourselves that we can do really incredible things.”
This story is part of the 50 Businesses, 50 Solutions series, shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative, that aims to highlight how business leaders across the state, from mom and pop shops, to large corporations have adapted to meet the challenges and disruptions caused by the novel coronavirus in the hopes others may be able to replicate these ideas and innovations. Tell us your story here. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.