The house call is back, as in doctors coming to you at your residence or your place of work.
It’s not science fiction. It is an app-based reality in the greater Los Angeles area of California, pioneered by a start-up firm called Heal. Responding to a smart-phone medical app, Heal pledges to have a certified doctor delivered to your door in an hour.
This is not the so-called concierge practice that only takes care of the rich. The goal of Heal is to leverage technology to make affordable primary care accessible on demand and covered by most health insurance.
Granted, this is the densely populated Los Angeles area. The “Uber doc” solution wouldn’t work everywhere. Also, regulations governing health care and health insurance vary state by state.
But the very existence of California-based Heal suggests a new approach to primary care that has some common expression in markets of all sizes. Practitioners in the health care industry are frustrated by paperwork and bureaucracy that limit their time with patients.
That was part of the motivation right here in Powell for the establishment of 307Health, a direct primary care practice with a paid membership base. Direct communication between patients and the physicians of 307Health is encouraged by telephone, text or email virtually around the clock. And, yes, 307Health is known to make house calls on occasion, too.
The reality in health care too often is that patients go to the hospital emergency room for primary care needs. Costs in the ER are higher, and too often the bills go unpaid, contributing to mounting uncompensated care write-offs for hospitals. In the end, hospital debt translates into higher cost of health care.
The success with direct primary care is changing that. In the case of Heal, 60 percent of its patients say they would go back to the ER if it were not for the efficient, integrated health care delivery to the door.
Heal saw its first patients in March 2015. The firm today has 8,000 patients, seen by 70 family physicians. The doctors say they want to work for Heal because they get to spend maximum time with their patients — time for disease management, for medication management, for education.
Of doctors coming out of medical schools in recent years, declining numbers have said, “I want to be in family practice.” One of the promising things about the evolving direct primary health care model is it has the potential to make primary care appealing again for young physicians.