According to CNN.com and the American Academy of Family Physicians, traditional house calls by doctors declined from 40% in the 1930s to 1% in more recent times. Costs played a key role in this change. Given this decline, the desire to avoid long waits in physician offices and the concerns about health costs, what are other options for patients?
The American Medical Association’s June Report on the Council of Medical Service shows that telemedicine is providing more benefits to patients and the healthcare industry in general. More specifically, telemedicine is increasing access to quality care along with reducing healthcare spending. If you are wondering what form telemedicine is taking, you might want to pull out your smartphone. Apps such as Pager, Medicast, Doctor on Demand, Ringadoc and HealthTap offer new ways for doctors to make house calls or treat patients with nonemergency issues such as the flu or eye infections.
Started in 2014, Pager (developed by one of the founders of Uber) provides house call services from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day. Currently, it serves patients in Manhattan and Brooklyn. In 2013, Medicast began providing similar house call services in Florida, and it now serves patients in Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego.
Using these house call apps typically involves a brief video conference to help doctors evaluate whether patients require home visits. If visits are not needed or the doctors advise going to the emergency room, the patients are not charged. Doctors then follow up with patients by phone and remain available to answer any questions that arise after the visits.
Based on a slightly different business model, apps such as Doctor on Demand and Ringadoc allow patients to utilize the expertise of doctors by telephone or video conference. HealthTap offers patients access to 50,000 physicians throughout the country. With this access, HealthTap allows patients to ask questions and receive expert opinions from multiple doctors.
Keep in mind these apps along with other telemedicine services are still in the early stages. Therefore, refinements will continue to occur. These refinements include making them available on both iPhone and Android platforms. The developers of these apps also need to establish relationships with insurance providers so that patients can have at least part of the costs covered by their health insurance. Currently, house calls are about the same price as visits to urgent care facilities.
As patients continue to balance the demands of busy lives with the need for timely and quality healthcare services, telemedicine can provide another way of meeting these needs while helping to slow down the rate of healthcare spending. For more information, see Uber-Inspired Apps Bring a Doctor Right to Your Door and House Calls.