Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Bringing the Housecall into the Twenty-First Century, Part 2

My July 2 post concerned Medicast, a service that arrived in Los Angeles with the goal of bringing the housecall into the internet age. Anyone can download the Medicast app. Clicking connects you to a dispatcher who records your credit card information and sends a text message to the doctor on-call who arrives at your “home, office, or hotel” within two hours. You can Google Medicast.

Its fees are less than those of traditional hotel doctors (who don’t advertise) and much less than the entrepreneurial concierge doctors who do.

Always alert to competition, I contacted Medicast whose directors expressed delight at my experience and welcomed me aboard. I attended an orientation where doctors learned to deal with their software. We left carrying an iPad.

Over thirty years, a dozen national housecall services have come to Los Angeles and, mostly, gone. Size is their great obstacle. When I collect a fee, I keep it all. After paying the doctor, a service has other people to pay. Success requires either a high patient volume or high fees.

My maximum volume has been about 2,000 calls per year, and I have never grossed more than $130,000 – a great deal to most of you but peanuts for a doctor. It’s unlikely any organization can match my volume.

One national housecall service has operated since the 1990s. Its site emphasizes the quality of its doctors, and this was certainly true when I was one. It called 26 times between 2000 and 2002 when I stopped working for them. I collected my usual fee. The service charged three times more, but dispatchers often failed to tell guests how much. As a result, when I handed over my invoice they expressed shock. Worse, they blamed me for the fee and did not hesitate to express their displeasure to the hotel. This cause me some difficulty. I'm sorry not to mention its name, but I'm as paranoid about being sued as the average doctor.

Getting back to the present, over the next two months, I received 16 calls from Medicast, the last in mid-July. Last week a director phoned to explain that calls were increasing but not to the extent they expected, so they were adopting a different business plan. Two days later, a courier arrived to reclaim the iPad.

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