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By Monica E. Oss

There is a lot happening in the app space for health care. Recent data analysis shows over 165,000 mobile health (mHealth) apps are available to consumers, with a quarter of consumer apps focused on disease and treatment management and two-thirds targeting fitness and wellness (see Patient Adoption Of mHealth). These apps add to a market with an estimated global value at $5.1 billion (see Mobile Health Device Market Valued At $5.1 Billion In 2013; Estimated To Reach $41.8 Billion By 2023).

For the entrepreneurs starting new companies in this space, the goal is to be the next “breakthrough” app, or so Melinda Beck notes in her article, Startups Vie To Build An Uber For Health Care, in The Wall Street Journal. She wrote:

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.

One of the big categories for these new apps is in house calls – the ultimate in consumer convenience and a cost effective option to urgent care visits. Using these new technologies is turning physicians, nurses, and nurse practitioners into “gig” workers (see The Gig Economy – Welcome To The World Of Microentrepreneurs and Choices In The World Of The “Gig” Worker). But, there hasn’t been the push back to the “Uberization” of health care visits like there has been to Uber ride-sharing services from taxi drivers. According to Ms. Beck, this is because the “house-call companies are new and small and in part because they employ licensed medical professionals – generally doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners 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. But many say they enjoy the chance to take their time with patients.”

While the exact number of “on-demand” house call services isn’t known, I thought I’d do a quick survey of the field and see what some of the most popular services are – here is a look at some of the tech available.

Curbside Care – This service offers house calls in the Philadelphia and Boston areas at a cost of $99 for a nurse practitioners, and $199 for a medical doctor, and offers treatment for over 50 different conditions, including depression.

Doctors Making Housecalls – This service, available in North Carolina, is a medical group practice of 62 clinicians that specializes in elderly, complex consumers but also provides service for any non-complex consumer age three and older. The service accepts most private and commercial insurance (including Mediare), along with a $95 fee to compensate physicians for travel time.

Heal – This service allows consumers to use an app to contact a family doctor or a pediatrician, who then arrives in 20 to 60 minutes for a flat fee of $99. The clinicians come with a medical assistant, and offer services for cold, coughs, fever, flu, headaches, rash, ear infections, strep throat, sport injuries, and stomach aches.

MedZed – This organization offers services in the Atlanta-area, and sends a nurse to a patient’s home to do a preliminary exam, and connect online with a doctor who then provides the treatment remotely. The service provides pediatric services and geriatric services for acute and chronic care management, as well as post-procedure follow up, and post-hospital discharge.

Pager – This service is available in New York City, Manhattan, and Brooklyn, and provides house call services for common illnesses, minor injuries, minor skin conditions, physicals, pediatrics, and prescription delivery, at $50 for the first visit, and $200 for subsequent visits.

RetraceHealth – This service is available in the Minneapolis area, and combines a consultation with a nurse practitioner via video for $50, with a $150 house-call when actual hands-on care is necessary.

The distribution of health care services using on-demand apps has two implications for payer organizations, care management organizations, and provider organizations serving consumers with complex needs:

  1. Can these specific “house call” app services be used to provide selected primary care services for consumers currently managed in health homes or other specialty medical homes?
  2. Can these technologies be used not for primary care, but to dispatch case managers, peer support specialists, home health care aids, or nurses on an “on demand” basis for this population to address urgent situations and prevent hospital readmissions?

I don’t know the answer to those questions, but I think in the very near future we’ll see organizations “test” those premises. The push to managed care, the penalties for readmissions, and the increase in home-and community-based waiver programs are all calling for a more robust model for serving consumers in their homes – and this may be part of the equation.

For our recent coverage on new apps in health care, check out these resources in the OPEN MINDS Industry Library:

  1. Mental Health Apps Becoming More Relevant With Therapists & Consumers
  2. com To Deliver Virtual House Calls Via Phone & Video
  3. HelpAround Launches App That Uses Apple HealthKit Data
  4. Centerstone Research Institute Releases appImpact
  5. iMedicalApps Picks Best Medical Apps In April

And, if you’re organization is trying to “connect the dots” between the avalanche of new apps and successfully competing in the new environment, don’t miss our sessions on the topic at The 2015 OPEN MINDS Technology & Informatics Institute. First, our keynoter, David C. Mohr, Ph.D., Director, Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies & Professor, Preventive Medicine, Northwestern University, will deliver the session, 165,000 Health Care Apps & Counting: What We’ve Learned & Where We’re Going With Digital Mental Health. And, for a deep dive in technology selection, check out the session, Everything An Executive Needs To Build A Successful Tech Strategy: Budgeting For & Implementing New Technologies, featuring OPEN MINDS Senior Associate Joseph P. Naughton-Travers, Ed.M., and Marc Upchurch, M.B.A., Chief Information Officer, Mental Health Systems.

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