Uber-inspired apps bring a doctor right to your door

The American Medical Association says telemedicine is useful for both patients and the health care industry as a whole.

Story highlights

  • Smartphone apps let doctors make house calls to treat patients at home
  • Doctors treat nonemergency conditions, such as the flu and cuts that need stitches
  • Patients should go to the emergency room for more serious problems
When you're sick, sometimes it feels impossible to get out of bed, let alone get to the doctor. And the last thing anyone wants to do is spend hours at the emergency room.
So Silicon Valley is retooling a service that was common almost a century ago: the house call. Several companies have developed smartphone apps that bring doctors to patients, often in less time than it would take to seek treatment elsewhere. With apps like Pager and Medicast, a patient can request a doctor with the push of a button.
In the 1930s, physician house calls accounted for 40% of medical visits, according to a 2011 article in the journal American Academy of Family Physicians. By the 1980s, that number had dropped to 1%, due in part to a lack of funding by insurance carriers.
Elizabeth Krusic, a mother of two young children from Seal Beach, California, knows how difficult it can be to take a sick child to see a doctor. When her daughter developed an eye infection, she took a friend's advice and tried Medicast, calling a doctor into her home and saving the stress of getting her small children ready and out of the house.
The doctor arrived in 30 minutes and had the necessary prescription medication on hand.
"My son was able to sleep during the entire visit, because the doctor came to the house," Krusic said. "The doctor came into my daughter's room and conducted the visit there, where she was comfortable."
The house call also removed the risk that her children would be exposed to illnesses in a waiting room.
Inspired by Uber
In early 2014, Uber co-founder Oscar Salazar saw room for improvement in the health care system and seized the opportunity.
The app he developed, Pager, offers house call services for customers in Manhattan and, starting next week, Brooklyn. Pager's doctors are available from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., 365 days a year, with an additional after-hour fee for nights and weekends.
Toby Hervey, Pager's head of marketing and business development, said that several aspects of Uber informed Pager's approach. Like Uber, the app is structured as a mobile, location-based service.
"Convenient access to quality health care when you need it is a real problem," he said. "We're using technology to make the house call -- one of the best ways to get personal care -- viable again."
Hervey said customers range from parents not wanting to take a sick child to an emergency room to businesspeople with no time to see a doctor during the day.
A similar company, Medicast, started in South Florida in late 2013, with services now also available in San Diego, Orange County and Los Angeles.
"Long wait times are frustrating for everyone," Sam Zebarjadi, co-founder and CEO of Medicast, said. "With the proliferation of technology and increasing levels of education, we knew there were alternate ways to get amazing health care."
Dr. Kimberly Henderson is a Pager physician and works in the emergency room at New York's Beth Israel Medical Center. For her, the idea of being a part of a new practice of medicine was appealing.
"I believe we will see a shift away from medical practice exclusively in the brick and mortar model," Henderson said. "Medicine will become, or return to being, more mobil