House Calls: Taking the Physician-Patient Relationship Back to the Future

Share By Sachin Shenolikar

Last month, a woman living in Manhattan started feeling a bit under the weather. She knew it wasn’t anything serious that required a trip to the ER, but she definitely needed to see a doctor. An urgent care center would’ve been fine, if only she had the time to make the trip there. You see, this was a pretty busy time in her life— her wedding was the following week.

The woman picked up her smartphone and pushed an app called Pager. After entering her personal information and symptoms, a list of participating doctors and their credentials appeared on her screen. She selected one, and within seconds, the physician was on the line. When it was decided that she needed an in-person consultation, a schedule popped up. She selected an available time, and the physician arrived at her apartment for the check-up.

The cost: $300, charged to the woman’s credit card and with the bulk of the payment going straight to the physician, minus a small fee to Pager.

Launched in May by a team that includes Uber co-founder Oscar Salazar, Pager is going back to the future, using cutting-edge technology to make doctors available for home visits, just like they were in the 1950s and ’60s. The aim is to bring compassion back to healthcare while also allowing doctors to pocket a larger chunk of the bill and avoid having to wait months for payments.

“The idea is, why not bring the doctor and patient together through technology in the most warm, convenient place in a more personal way?” says Dr. Richard Boxer, Pager’s chief medical officer. “If so many other things can be delivered to people, why not healthcare as well?”

The Pager app is a logical next-step coinciding with the rise of telemedicine — online consultations done using two-way video. According to the American Telemedicine Association (AMA), nearly 10 million patients in the U.S. and Canada used telemedicine in 2013. The organization predicts the number could reach 50 million patients later this decade.

Telemedicine has allowed people to receive care from top physicians in their field who may not even be in the same state as them, and for a lower price than an office visit. It has also been an important development for patients in remote rural areas who may not have a doctor nearby or live in developing communities that don’t have adequate healthcare options.

A decade-long research project by Data Monitor showed that telemedicine has been very effective in serving these demographics. It also helps physicians check quickly on the progress of patients who administer their own daily treatments at home, such as kidney dialysis and blood pressure tests.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to monitor their blood pressure readings daily and detect readings outside of the desired range,” Dr. Susie Lew of George Washington University’ Medical Faculty Associates told GW Medicine + Health. “Therefore we hope to decrease emergency room visits and hospitalizations, because we’ll be able to take care of their medical issues earlier and as outpatients.”

While an application like Pager wouldn’t be a fit for rural areas because of the long travel times, telemedicine apps like this could fix some big issues. According to a survey by Consumer Reports, enormous wait times and feeling rushed while being examined are two of the most common complaints cited by patients. Having a convenient home visit as a healthcare option has the potential to not only impact patients’ health, but boost their happiness as well.

“You can change technology and other things, but you’re not really going to fundamentally change people,” says Dr. Boxer. “People have a desire to have a face-to-face interaction with the care giver, and this is an opportunity to do that.”

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