No kidding, I was in the process of composing a blog about how we really really really need Uber for things like healthcare and policing. And then I see this:
Darren Gold had a stomach virus the first time he used an app called Heal to summon a doctor to his Beverly Hills home. He liked the Stanford-trained doctor who showed up so much that he called Heal again when his 2-year-old son had a fever, and again when the whole family had colds.
The charges—$99 each for the first two visits; $200 for the family—weren’t covered by insurance, but Mr. Gold, who owns a corrugated-box company, says that was still a bargain compared with taking time off work to go to the doctor. “Now, whenever my son bumps himself, he says, ‘Daddy, we need to get the doctor here,’ ” Mr. Gold says.
Heal is one of several startups putting a high-tech spin on old-fashioned house calls—or “in-person visits,” since they can take place anywhere. The services provide a range of nonemergency medical care—from giving flu shots to treating strep throats and stitching lacerations—much like a mobile urgent-care clinic.
Such ventures are fueled by a confluence of trends, including growing interest in the so-called sharing economy, where technology connects providers with excess capacity and consumers who want on-demand services. Many doctors and nurses who work for hospitals are eager for extra work in their off-hours, the companies say. The services carry malpractice insurance, but say overall low overhead keeps prices down.
And thanks to the boom in mobile-medical technology, providers can carry key equipment with them, from portable blood analyzers to hand-held ultrasounds.
Many of the services bill themselves as an “Uber for health-care”—but to date, they haven’t sparked the kind of opposition from traditional doctor practices that the ride-sharing service has from taxi drivers. That’s in part because the house-call companies are new and small and in part because they employ licensed medical professionals—generally doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners with experience in primary care or emergency medicine, looking to earn extra money in their spare time. The providers generally take home about half of the house-call fee, and make fewer than 10 calls a day. But many say they enjoy the chance to take their time with patients. “I love my Pager shifts—it’s back to real medicine, just you and the patient,” says Kimberly Henderson, an ER physician at Beth Israel Hospital in New York who works for Pager one or two days a week.
Caren Misky, a nurse practitioner with True North Health Navigation in Denver, says she recently responded to a call where an Alzheimer’s patient had fallen and cut his head. She was able to staple his wound at the kitchen table while he had breakfast. “His wife said the last time that happened, they spent eight hours in the ER and had a $10,000 bill,” Ms. Misky says.
True North is one of the few services that is reducing ER use. It was founded in part because local fire chief Rick Lewis wanted to offer 911 callers who had minor, nonemergency health issues an alternative between no care and a costly ambulance ride to the ER.
Now, if the 911 dispatcher determines that the caller has a low acuity case, the True North mobile unit goes to the scene along with the fire department’s paramedics. Once the paramedics confirm the situation isn’t life-threatening, the caller can choose between being treated by a nurse practitioner on the spot, for $200 to $300, (which is covered by most Colorado insurance plans) or going by ambulance to the ER, which typically costs $3,000 or more.
“You essentially get the same person who would see you in the ER, with a lot of the same equipment, for a lot less money than you’d pay there,” says Chief Lewis.
Now if they can just figure out a way to route around things like medical licensing and FDA restrictions, etc. (as Uber has with taxi regulations) we might find that healthcare actually starts to heal itself.