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Uber for Health Care

Several start-up businesses in the United States are using developments in technology to bring back the storied concept of the doctor house call or “in-person visits” since they can take place anywhere.

These businesses are fuelled by a convergence 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. And thanks to the advances in mobile-medical technology, providers can carry key equipment with them, from portable blood analysers to hand-held ultrasounds. The services provide a range of nonemergency medical care—from giving flu shots to treating sore throats and stitching lacerations—much like a mobile urgent-care clinic. A typical patient may be a young mother with one sick child and others she does not want to bring along to the doctor’s office too or leave at home. “Health checks,” in which a nurse does cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and other tests for $75, are also popular—even in office settings.

Many of these ventures brand themselves as an “Uber for health-care” but to date, they have not yet sparked the kind of opposition from traditional doctor practices that the ride-sharing service has from taxi drivers. That is in part because the house-call companies are new and small and in part because they employ licensed medical professionals—generally doctors and nurses 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.

The companies use slightly different models. Pager, a New York-based company started by one of Uber’s co-founders, Oscar Salazar, dispatches doctors or nurse practitioners via Uber, for $200. Heal, in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Orange County, California, promises to “get a doctor to your sofa in under an hour” for $99. RetraceHealth, in Minneapolis, has a nurse practitioner consult with patients via video (for $50), and only go to their homes if hands-on care is necessary (for $150). Atlanta-based MedZed sends a nurse to a patient’s home to do a preliminary examination. The nurse then 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. Medicast offers solutions that include custom branded mobile apps for patients and providers with technology that manages and optimises the scheduling and dispatch of remote providers as well as providing data analytics on provider efficiency.

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

The companies say that most people who try the services become repeat users. “Once you’ve had pizza delivered, you rarely go pick up pizza again,” says Thompson Aderinkomi, a health-care economist who founded RetraceHealth in 2013. It seems “Uber for health-care” has the potential to effect a sea of change in health care delivery.

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