Monday, April 21, 2014

Is the Internet Giving Old-Fashioned Physician House Calls a Shot in the Arm?

Is the Internet Giving Old-Fashioned Physician House Calls a Shot in the Arm?  At least one innovative healthcare company is hoping to do just that.  As profiled in several commentaries here, internet and smartphone technologies are disrupting healthcare delivery in many ways.  We've got online doctors, online doctors for the webcam challenged, online dermatologists who can treat most skin conditions remotely and a growing number of web and smartphone enabled monitoring and testing devices (like a smartphone ekg) now available to consumers.  Driven by growing demand to make healthcare more convenient and more affordable, innovative companies are busy developing solutions and services that are reshaping consumer expectations about healthcare delivery.

So far a common theme in these new web and smartphone enabled solutions is the absence of any real contact with a healthcare practitioner.  To be sure, many of these new service options involve real-time webcam consultations where patient and provider interact.  And for some common conditions and for some consumers, that degree of interaction will suffice.  However, for many consumers a webcam consultation, even if only used for diagnosing and treatment of minor health conditions, seems inadequate.  We all know that a certain amount of good doctoring requires a tactile examination and more than a two-dimensional visual inspection.

If you happen to be a consumer who likes the idea of more convenient doctor visits, but are wary of the virtual consultation, keep an eye on service solutions like the one offered by Medicast.  The Medicast model allows a consumer to set up an account online or through a mobile app and then request a house call from a participating primary care physician.  After a house call request is made, a Medicast participating physician will call the consumer for a preliminary review of the consumer's symptoms and to arrange a specific time for a visit.  Physician house calls are made within 2 hours and are arranged at the consumer's home or office, or even a hotel room if the consumer happens to be visiting from out of town.  Services provided range from check-ups to urgent care, including the issuance of prescriptions and the administration of intramuscular injections. 

The Medicast service is available 24 hours a day.  Services can be purchased on-demand or on a monthly subscription basis.  Depending on the subscription plan purchased, monthly subscribers are entitled to a set number of free doctor house calls each year, stipulated discounts on additional house calls and services and certain other benefits.

Right now the Medicast service solution is only available in Miami.  However, the Company is indicating that it will be launching its services in Los Angeles/Orange County and the Kansas City markets in the next few months.  And it is actively working on plans to launch its service in the New York City and San Francisco markets in the not too distant future.

Medicast is an early entrant into this space, but it is unlikely to be the last.  In various markets around the country consumers can already use telephone-based services to arrange physician house calls.   Expect many of these service-providers to soon be integrating internet and smartphone based technologies into their platforms, giving the old-fashioned physician house call service model a shot in the arm.