Dr. Ricardo Febry has always been fascinated with complex biological systems. Beginning as a student of marine biology, Dr. Febry decided to turn to the study and eventual practice of internal medicine. Although such a pivot may seem surprising, Dr. Febry explains why it was a logical switch for him. “We are all animals,” he explains, and “the most complex physiological and cardiovascular systems are found in humans – that is where my interest evolved.”
A current resident of New Orleans, Dr. Febry was born and grew up outside of San Juan, Puerto Rico. After completing college there, he moved to Miami for graduate school. It was in Miami that he met his wife, a native of New Orleans. After moving to her home town and completing his residency at Tulane, Dr. Febry decided to call this city home and has been practicing medicine locally for nearly 20 years.
Dr. Febry worked in a primary care group for seven years at the well-known Touro Hospital. Afterwards, he decided to launch his own practice and eventually took over a long-term care service in which he managed over 400 patients. Currently, Dr. Febry continues his own practice, but now enjoys a formalized contract with the local East Jefferson Hospital. In the practice, each of the four doctors specialize in internal medicine. According to Dr. Febry, this specialization is ideal for his practice as he witnesses an increased demand for “hospitalists,” or doctors who specialize in hospital medicine and care. “We are not surgeons or interventionalists,” he explains. “Our internal medicine practice specializes on adults and encompasses the entire body.”
Despite his clear success in the demanding and complex field of internal medicine, what makes Dr. Febry unique is his focus on a much more innovative type of care. Specifically, it is telemedicine that Dr. Febry firmly promotes. What may sound like some futuristic form of care involving Jetson-esque technologies is actually a very simple concept that many have found more convenient than tradition trips to the doctor’s office.
Explaining how patients can access telemedicine through websites like Dr. Febry’s TeleMD360.com, he compares it to technology that is common to virtually everyone with a smart phone. “It’s similar to an application like Skype or Googletalk, but behind a security wall to protect information.” Instead of visiting your doctor in his or her office, one can simply hold a video conference in the comfort of your home or your place of work.
To those who may worry that the quality of care would necessarily be lowered under such unconventional parameters, Dr. Febry makes a firm counterargument. He explains that TeleMD360 is not selling any new services, but is simply allowing the traditional doctor-patient relationship to evolve. “It provides tools for doctor-patient relationships and makes them compatible with different types of devices and systems.” More specifically, through remote monitoring, one’s weight, blood pressure, temperature and other vital signs can be taken and monitored much more frequently than through normal visits. Typically, doctors may have access to three or four data points per year when a patient visits the office; with telemedicine and remote patient monitoring, it is possible to gain many more date points. In comparison, “three to four data points a year during visits vs. 20 to 30 data points a month provide a much better picture” and, ultimately, better care by enabling doctors to gain a clearer understanding of a patient’s base line and any symptoms they are experiencing.
Nevertheless, easier access to care does not directly translate into cheaper costs. One problem facing this new type of care is the variation of legislation across states. Another challenge is the hesitation of insurance companies to cover such types of care. Dr. Febry is, however, optimistic and he explains that “there is a movement in this country to push to decrease the barriers to telemedicine and increase trans-state licensing,” and he is personally engaging insurance companies on coverage issues. Matter-of-factly, he noted that Louisiana law “requires insurance companies to pay for services equivalent to an office visit,” opening the door for more flexibility in the accessibility of telemedicine. Further, with a “new generation of people growing up with the notion that access to internet services are a given, we need to bring new technology to the practice or it will not survive.”
If an outstanding record in the practice of internal medicine and an inspiring vision for the future of health care service is not enough, Dr. Febry’s involvement in the community is also worthy of recognition. For many years, Dr. Febry sat on the board of Neighborhood Housing Services where he helped improve impoverished and broken areas of the New Orleans community. This was done through the structural renovation of buildings as well as the selling of new homes to first-time home buyers at very low interest rates.The catch was that each buyer was required to complete a course in “Home Buying” to insure that they understood the responsibility they were taking on in purchasing a new home. Overall, the efforts of the organization were successful and Dr. Febry points out that the well-known Freret Street is just one example of that success. “This is the kind of success story that shows how this kind of organization can be a game changer.” Dr. Febry should know--as a game changer in his own field, he is constantly looking beyond hurdles and challenging convention.