They say what's old is new again—and never is the phrase used more in healthcare than when it comes to the subject of doctors making house calls.
But while plenty of doctors may have thought about taking their practice on the road—and finding more flexibility and less burnout in their daily schedule—a company called Heal may actually help them do it.
Launched in 2014, Heal allows patients to call a doctor for a same-day visit in their home using an app and pay less than $100, while allowing doctors to take more time with their patients and have time left over to finish required documentation, says Founder and Chief Medical Officer Renee Dua, M.D.
The idea was born from her own experience trying to balance too much between her medical practice and her family.
"I was incredibly busy as a kidney specialist and I got home from work one day and realized, 'I'm being terrible as a mother, terrible as a wife and terrible as a doctor. So which thing do I want to be the least terrible at?'"
The company has raised millions of dollars and backing from investors like singer Lionel Richie and BET cofounder Robert Johnson and recently raised another $20 million for expansion and to lobby for policy changes to allow Medicare patients to more easily take advantage of house calls.
Dua launched the company with her husband, CEO Nick Desai, after they began brainstorming an easier way for her to deliver care to her own patients. She only envisioned coming up with a way her own patients could ping her for care in the same way they might call for an Uber.
Desai, an engineer, connected with a developer to build the app. It took about a month to make, she said.
"It was a day I'll never forget. He came home and showed it to me and it was already so sophisticated and easy to use," she said. "I thought, 'You're going to change the whole construct of how people access care ... That's where we rerouted."
The company's physicians are in-network with all the major PPOs in California, Virginia and D.C., or they accept a $99 payment directly from the patient. "There is no urgent care or emergency room that is going to offer you care for less than $100," Dua said. "In our minds, it makes a hell of a lot more sense to call a Heal doctor on a Sunday than use the emergency room to access care."
While $20 million sounds like a large influx of cash, she said it's small compared to the company's ambitions.
"We have a long way to go and that's peanuts," Dua said. "Health care is expensive, it's highly regulated, we're going to have to change legislation for the purpose of house calls, especially if we want to take on seniors or people who rely on state-funded health insurance plans."
Dua said the money is being used not only for expansion but to lobby at both the state and federal level for changes to the laws that block many seniors who are Medicare patients from taking advantage of house call services—even if they want to pay for the service themselves—unless they are considered bound to their home.
Dua said the company has recently expanded its total footprint in California and is looking to expand into states like New York, Nevada and Washington. She said it would be difficult to estimate just how large a market the company is chasing.
She said her biggest fear used to be that patients wouldn't be convinced the best healthcare comes to their house—but as attitudes about other service industries have evolved, they've changed in healthcare, too.
"Three years later, everyone comes to your house," Dua said. "You need gas? You can have someone deliver gas to you. You need your hair done? Someone can do a blow out in your house. There is no reason the best doctors can't come to you."