HIStalk looks at the resurgence of house calls, aided in part by government-sponsored value-based care programs, a need for increased market share, and growing consumer demand for app-enabled convenience and pricing transparency. By @JennHIStalk
In today’s technology-driven society, the concept of the house call may seem quaint, evoking Norman Rockwell-esque images of the neighborhood physician toting his black bag down Main Street to Grandma’s house. Mobile health tools, however, are turning that image on its head as providers look to increase market share by increasing patient access points.
While house calls have always been around to some degree, digital health startups like Pager, Heal, and PediaQ are putting a new spin on what it means to “go to the doctor.” Even more traditional home care companies like Visiting Physicians Association are placing more emphasis on the role technology plays in caring for the elderly and chronically ill, often with the aid of government-backed incentives.
This new era of house calls is not without its detractors, however. Some physicians are quick to point out that patients can’t establish a true, trusting relationship with this new generation of house-call providers, and that care coordination will suffer. Others, especially those in more metropolitan areas, point to struggles for market share between the local health system, urgent care centers, and app-based house call companies.
Consumers will likely have the last word, as their increasing insistence on convenience and easy access, plus heightened awareness of healthcare costs, leads them away from higher-priced health system monopolies into the arms of the more tech-savvy (but somewhat unproven) competition.
Dallas-based PediaQ has made technology a core part of its business model. Founded in 2014, the app-based pediatric house call provider has raised $6.4 million to date and has already expanded beyond Dallas to three additional cities in the Lone Star state.
“PediaQ has been developed as a function of change in our culture towards on-demand services, as well as innovation in creating new access points for health systems that are expanding their networks to capture market share,” explains CEO Jon O’Sullivan, adding that the cultural shift to making purchasing decisions via smart phone played a big part in PediaQ’s decision to steer clear of brick-and-mortar locations. “I’ve been on the business strategy side of provider services in healthcare for over 25 years now, and for much of that time I worked with health systems that sought to expand their market share through their provider networks. Throughout that time, I’ve watched the healthcare market evolve to a much more consumer-driven equation.”
While PediaQ’s funding seems to indicate investor confidence, O’Sullivan points out that building trust with customers and the surrounding healthcare community has taken time. “Initially, like any new brand, we had to spend a majority of our resources on consumer education,” he says. “However, once parents started using PediaQ and were able to experience the ease and comfort of a house call for a sick child, the results were nothing short of phenomenal. The main catalyst for our consumer activation and expansion very quickly became the users themselves.”
When it comes to perceived competition with local PCPs, O’Sullivan points out that the company sees itself as an augmenter and supporter of the relationships its customers have with their PCPs. “We’re not out to replace that relationship,” he says, “which is reflected in the fact that PediaQ focuses on after-hours care and ensures that the medical record from the visit is delivered to the PCP the next day.”
Aside from apps, telemedicine has probably had the biggest impact on the resurgence in house calls. It has certainly given companies like Aspire Health and MedZed an edge over more traditional home care companies, especially when it comes to “windshield time.