Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Bringing the Housecall into the 21st Century

Housecall agencies spring up regularly. I keep track of them so I saw Medicast’s web site when it came to life a few months ago.

During an interview with two energetic founders, I learned that they plan to bring the housecall into the 21st century, slashing the cost with volume, marketing, and digital technology. They would launch in June 2014 after a massive marketing campaign. Doctors were rushing to sign up, they added.

I agreed to join them but declined the canvas carry-all they were offering, preferring to keep my traditional doctor’s bag. A handout listed required drugs and supplies which Medicast would sell to its physicians, but they agreed that I could handle my own selection.

They gave me an Ipad Mini. All their doctors receive one. Potential customers download the Medicast app which gives them the choice of signing up for a paying program that provides free housecalls or paying nothing and summoning a doctor when they need one. Clicking the app connects them to a dispatcher who records their credit card information and sends a text message to a doctor on-call. The program then automatically dials the client.

“Hotel guests phone my cell directly, or I phone them,” I said. “Wouldn’t that be quicker?”

“Doctors hate giving out their private numbers,” they explained. “This way you don’t appear on caller-ID, so patients can never bother you.”

A Los Angeles housecall costs $249 during business hours, $349 during nights and weekends. While this is in the ballpark of my fee, Medicast keeps about one third. Medicines and injections cost extra, so a Medicast doctor has the opportunity to earn more – a lot more if he’s creative, and some doctors show a positive genius in this area.

The app includes a tempting feature: a button a doctor can swipe to go “off call.” I don’t mind that hotels and insurance services phone 24 hours a day, but I sometimes can’t resist flipping the button when I go to bed.

Carrying the Ipad everywhere is a minor annoyance, and software bugs still make an appearance. If another doctor answers, the app doesn’t notice, so I’ve phoned patients who’ve already set up a housecall.

Business is brisk. My Ipad chirped nine times in June to announce a call although some may have been software glitches. All were from local residents, so they don’t overlap with my clients, but employees at two hotels have reported visits from a Medicast representative.        

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