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House Calls Go Digital

Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.

As a child of the 1960s, I grew up watching what many consider to be the golden age of television. From silly, but lasting comedies such as Gilligan's Island and Green Acres to the classic drama of The Fugitive and The Twilight Zone, the shows of the 1960s and their characters have become a part of the American cultural landscape. Everyone knows who Ginger and Mary Ann are, and I bet that most of you can hum the theme song from Star Trek. Better yet, who doesn't think of Mr. Spock every time you hear the word "logical"?

The decade of The Beatles also produced some of the most popular doctor shows of all time. Off the top of my head, I can think of Marcus Welby, M.D., Ben Casey, Dr. Kildare, and Medical Center.

In most cases, these shows mirrored the times in terms of American values, gender roles, and respect for authority. Doctor characters were both popular and revered.

Or course, with any television program 45 to 55 years old, a lot has changed since then. Doctors aren't just men, they wouldn't be caught dead smoking in an examination room, and they don't make house calls -- or do they?

I recently discovered that the lost art of the house call has been resurrected in a number of cities across the country. Combining the ease of smartphone apps with Uber-like service delivery, patients today are able to quickly find and direct healthcare providers to their houses or places of work. So, while the lab-coated doctor with the little black bag might be a thing of the past, the personalized care that comes from a one-on-one meeting with a qualified healthcare provider in the privacy of your home is not.

After learning that such services exist, I poked around the Web and found a number of different providers that offer different healthcare options. While no one is advertising anything equivalent to a mobile emergency room (for that you still need to call 9-1-1), they are more than able to help with what might be termed as "urgent primary care." For instance, colds, small cuts and lacerations, flus, and other conditions that don't require immediate evaluation. I even found that some providers will dispense medications and provide patients with IV fluids.

Like Uber, the healthcare providers themselves often have a lot of leeway as to how they choose to interact with patients. Within certain guidelines, they work when they want by simply marking themselves as available via an application.

Using either a telephone or a smartphone app, a patient requests help. That request is evaluated for the necessary skillset in terms of the patient's condition and location. An available doctor or nurse who meets those requirements is then identified and dispatched. It's as simple as that.

While I haven't been able to discover of any of these apps that employ WebRTC, this would be a great place for the technology. Adding in-band voice, video, and data channels to patient care would turn a good app into a great one.

As I previously mentioned, there are a number of different providers of these services from which patients can choose. If you are in North Texas, you can use Family Health On Call. Folks in San Francisco have Heal. Pager is there for New Yorkers, and Dispatch Health appears to focus on Colorado.

There are a number of ways to connect a provider to a patient in need of care. All the providers offer smartphone apps, telephone numbers, and Web pages to schedule service. The smartphone apps use GPS to determine service availability and the Web pages ask potential patients to enter a ZIP code.

It should be noted that this is not a last minute decision. If you want to take advantage of mobile house calls, it's essential that you plan ahead. For instance, it would be pointless for someone living in Saint Paul, Minnesota to download the Dispatch Health app since he or she would be out of their service area.

For folks outside any covered house call areas, live chat and video options are available, but that's a blog article for another day.

No one plans to get sick, but it happens to the best of us. Be it a fever or a sprained ankle, there will come a time when everyone needs to see someone to help put us back on the healthy train. So, while some really great things from the past may never come back (I miss "real" rock and roll), personal, on-demand healthcare in the comfort of your home isn't necessarily one of them. The jury is still out as to whether this is a passing fad or a lasting affair, but the number of mobile house call providers is growing and their coverage areas are expanding. Who knows, there may be a GPS-directed, Uber-delivered Marcus Welby in your future.

Andrew Prokop writes about all things unified communications on his popular blog, SIP Adventures.

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