The New House Call
App makers are betting that less hassle equals more health care.
There's something so analog about doctors' visits: The too-public sign-in sheet at reception, filling out a clipboard full of forms, killing time in a waiting room more packed than an Apple Store Genius Bar. All that seems to be steeped in medical tradition. The part that's being digitized is the need for a hands-on visit at all. The new norm for everyday ailments may become connecting with a physician or other health professional via apps.
It’s the way of future in medicine, says Robin Berzin, M.D., a New York-based functional medicine practitioner with experience in health technology (for example, she helped create the physician messaging app Cureatr). She now sees patients virtually. “Healthcare should meet us where we are and 99 percent of your health is determined outside the doctor's office,” Berzin says. “These technologies also mean many more people will have access to better care across the world, and access to doctors' expertise won't be limited by geography.”
There are potential downsides, she says. Virtual visits can be impersonal; doctors don't know as much about you if you're "seeing" them for the first time, plus they have strict time limits, which could precipitate a less in-depth analysis of what’s really ailing you. But if the idea of seeing a doctor without coming out from under the covers sounds dreamy, these five apps can provide everything from dermatologist evaluations to strep throat cures to therapy sessions.
This is a comprehensive clinic for women’s health, with a roster of gynecologists, nurse practitioners, midwives, mental health specialists, and more, to provide what founder and CEO Katherine Ryder calls a one-stop shop for the millennial female. “For instance, if you're pregnant, you might need a nutritionist, physical therapist, and OB/GYN in the same week,” she says. Appointments take place via video chat or private messaging and are generally available within the hour (in select states, with expansion happening nationwide throughout this year).
Founder Ray Bradford says dermatology lends itself perfectly to mobile care, since wait times to see doctors are typically long and skin conditions are the number one reason for doctor visits in the U.S. Spruce focuses on common issues like acne and rashes, while justifiably demurring from more high-risk scenarios like performing mole checks for cancer. Users fill out a detailed case report and submit photos of the condition they’re looking to be treated for; then a derm reviews it and sends back a diagnosis and treatment plan (including sending prescriptions directly to a pharmacy you choose). The practitioners are vetted by Spruce and users can see their credentials and education, Bradford says. The hope is you'll have such a good experience with one MD that it'll be the start of a long relationship.
There's that moment when you feel like hell and you talk yourself out of going to urgent care because it's such a hassle. Which is a messed up reason not to get help in a first-world country. Pager is like a way more convenient version of urgent care that combines virtual medicine with in-home visits, depending on what your condition requires, from a urinary tract infection to strep throat. “We provide a simple and direct way to find and receive healthcare, including texting with a nurse, or speaking with a doctor via a tele-consult," says EVP of Sales and Marketing Andrew Chomer. And if you're in New York City, they can even send a doctor or nurse to your house within two hours.
A “therapist in your pocket” is how Talkspace sells its app, which connects users with a network of licensed therapists that provide on-the-go therapy for those facing anxiety and depression. Unlike most apps that work via individual appointment, Talkspace employs a membership model, so you pay a flat rate and then have unlimited access to therapy consultations when you need them, via messaging (not video).
The app seeks to take a larger view of people's (mobile) medical care needs, with tons of options when it comes to ways to manage your general health woes. You can set up one-on-one doctor appointments via video, voice, or text, but there’s also a huge library of information to reference, including doctor-provided answers to all kinds of healthcare questions, tips, and checklists you can use to meet specific wellness goals in areas like exercise, diet, and a healthy pregnancy.