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Startups Vie to Build an Uber for Health Care

Melinda-Beck-WSJ

Are house calls better than ER visits?

Melinda Beck writes: 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.

“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.”

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.

“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.”

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.

“And thanks to the boom in mobile-medical technology, providers can carry key equipment with them, from portable blood analyzers to hand-held ultrasounds.”

The companies use slightly different models. Pager, in New York City, dispatches doctors or nurse practitioners via Uber, for $200. Heal, in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Orange County, Calif., promises to “get a doctor to your sofa in under an hour” for $99. (A medical assistant goes along to do the driving and parking.)

RetraceHealth, in Minneapolis, has a nurse practitioner consult with patients via video (for $50), and only comes to their homes if hands-on care like a throat swab or blood draw is necessary (for $150).

 uber-of-health-care-wsj

“The companies are attracting venture-capital investment and partnerships with hospital systems, which increasingly see in-home care as a way to reduce unnecessary ERs visits and readmissions.”

Atlanta-based MedZed sends a nurse to a patient’s home to do a preliminary exam. Then the nurse connects via laptop with a doctor who provides a treatment plan remotely. Several Atlanta practices use MedZed as a way to offer patients extended hours without having to keep their offices open.

Most of the services don’t accept insurance, but they say patients can pay with health savings accounts or submit out-of-network claims.

[Read the full story here, at WSJ]

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.

The companies are attracting venture-capital investment and partnerships with hospital systems, which increasingly see in-home care as a way to reduce unnecessary ERs visits and readmissions.

Health systems “are experimenting with many different options to get patients the right level of care,” says Pam Nicholson, senior vice president for strategic initiatives for Centura Health, Colorado’s largest hospital chain. Centura is teaming up with True North Health Navigation, a Denver startup that offers on-scene care to 911 callers as an alternative to a costly ambulance ride to the ER. Centura plans to offer True North’s home-care services to its own employees and other patients whose costs it is responsible for under insurance contracts.

House calls, which accounted for 40% of all doctor visits in 1930, dwindled to less than 1% by 1980 as physicians found it far more efficient to see 20 or 30 patients a day in an office than just a handful in their homes. But in-home care is starting to be seen as cost-efficient again—particularly for the most expensive patients. A pilot project…(read more)

WSJ

Write to Melinda Beck at HealthJournal@wsj.com

 

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