If you’re thinking of trying out a house call app to diagnose your sick child’s suspected strep throat or your own flu-like symptoms, here are the main points to consider.
Getting an in-person house call from a doctor who has plenty of time to talk with you sounds like a throwback to the 1960s, but technology is bringing it back in a more 21st-century format. House call apps allow you to consult with a certified doctor without leaving your house, thanks to Uber-like apps and websites. If you’re thinking of trying out a house call app to diagnose your sick child’s suspected strep throat or your own flu-like symptoms, here are the main points to consider.
Before you add a house call app to your phone, consider whether you’ll get the treatments you want through the service. Every house call app stresses that they are not a replacement for the ER. If you have a serious condition like chest pain or shortness of breath, or you’ve had a serious injury like a head injury, you’ll have to go to the ER. Doctors who do house calls through house call apps also can’t bring heavy equipment with them like MRI scanners or X-ray machines, so if you need those you should also just go straight to the hospital.
But, there are many treatments that a house call app can perform for you which will save you a lot of time and energy. Parents of small children who use FirstLine, for example, appreciate that a doctor can come and test their child for strep or diagnose their upset stomach without having to drag their sick kid out of bed to wait for ages in a waiting room. Adults suffering from colds, flu, and other common illnesses also don’t like to have to share a waiting room with other people’s germs just to get the medicine they need. Some house call apps like Heal will even pick up prescription medication and deliver it to your door so that you don’t have to leave the couch at all.
You can often get care for minor accidents, as well. Suturing up minor wounds, splinting a broken bone, and checking minor skin conditions like poison ivy are offered by Mend and Heal. Another useful service that you can access through Pager, Heal, and Mend is to get physical checkups done for camps and schools – which can be vital if you can’t get an appointment with your pediatrician in time. Finally, vaccinations like flu shots and treatments like steroid and antibiotic injections are also included in the treatments offered by many house call apps.
Type of Consultation
House call apps fall broadly into 1 of 2 categories. Some provide an in-person face-to-face visit, such as Heal, Medicast, FirstLine, and Curbside Care. These apps are much closer to the description of being ‘Uber for doctor calls,’ although sometimes you’ll be visited by a nurse practitioner instead of a physician, depending on your situation.
Other apps provide medical service through video, phone, or texts. Doctor on Demand is the best-known virtual house call app. It offers video consultations only, which means you can’t get your nasty cut stitched up via webcam, but you can pay a lot less for an expert opinion about your nasty cough. MDLive and Amwell also follow this model. Healthtap invites free users to ask their stable of board-certified doctors Twitter-style questions limited to 140 characters. This is less personal than a video consultation, but it means you can get responses from more than one doctor and compare their opinions. Healthtap’s paid service does offer one-on-one video, voice, or text message consultations with physicians too. The advantage of this approach is that you can share photos of your wound or send test results and get immediate answers.
While most house call apps give users access to a certified physician, some also use other medical practitioners. Pager has a nurse carry out triage via text message and then sends a physician for a face to face consultation. Curbside Care will send either a doctor or a nurse practitioner, depending on your situation. Doctor on Demand is the only service we found which offers consultations with a psychologist (25 or 50 minute slots) or a lactation consultant as well.
Everything has a price, and fast, personalized medicine is no exception. Although some house call apps like Heal and FirstLine do work with certain insurance companies, most of these services are completely private. This means that prices can be steep – a regular visit from a physician costs $200 through Pager, $199-$249 through Medicast, and $199 from both FirstLine and Mend. And, you can expect to be charged extra for an out of hours visit at night or on weekends. But, on the positive side, most house call apps are very clear about how much they charge. There are no hidden fees or confusing legal jargon. Most apps charge a single flat fee per consultation so you know exactly what you owe, and you can pay in-app to make it easier.
House call apps that offer video or phone consultations rather than in-person visits cost less, which isn’t surprising. The average cost seems to be around $50 per video consultation. MDLive and Amwell both charge $49 per video consultation, while Doctor on Demand charges $40 to consult a physician, $50 for a psychologist, and between $40 and $70 for a lactation consultant. Healthtap has a unique pricing offer – users can pay a yearly prime subscription of $99 and get unlimited online medical advice, 2 house visits per year, and free prescription medication refills delivered to their door.
Although house call apps fill a great need, whether or not you can use them might come down to where you live. In-person consultations are only offered in certain large urban areas because it’s easier for doctors to cover the ground, so patients in rural areas aren’t likely to be getting this service any time soon. Many house call apps only operate in one of a few locations. Pager is limited to New York City; Curbside Care operates only in Philadelphia, Mend serves Dallas, and FirstLine serves San Francisco only. Heal has a slightly wider area as it’s active in cities across California and in Washington, DC. Medicast covers cities as widely scattered as Seattle, New York, Nashville, and Miami.
House call apps which provide video or phone consultations can cover much wider areas, including rural neighborhoods. Doctor on Demand, MDLive and Healthtap are all open to residents across mainland US, and Amwell serves 45 states. Healthtap’s concierge service connects prime subscribers with their personal doctor from anywhere in the world.
Although house call apps have much longer hours than your personal physician, not all of them are open 24/7. As you might expect, house call apps that provide video or phone consultations are more likely to be available around the clock. MDLive, Amwell, Medicast, and Healthtap are all open 24/7 and every day of the year. Pager operates every day, but only from 8am to 10pm. Heal has similar hours from 8am to 8pm every day, but in the middle of the night you might have no choice but to make your way to the ER.
One area of concern that’s been raised about using house call apps is that the treatment you get isn’t connected to your overall medical history. A house call doctor could come and treat your flu and then leave without any follow-up care. Most house call apps do make your notes available afterwards through a secure area of the app, but it’s up to you to remember to access them and share them with your regular physician. Medicast’s physicians follow up the next day by phone and are available to answer any further questions that come up, but not every service has this option.
Save the Wait and Consult a Doctor From Your Own Home
Despite the various limitations and drawbacks to using a house call app, they fill a vital role in today’s rushed lifestyle. If you need a professional medical opinion out of hours, in a strange city, or for a child who is too sick to leave the house, a house call app is a wonderful resource that you’ll appreciate being able to access.