Is this mHealth's Uber Moment?

By John DeGaspari

There's no question that Uber, the car-service start-up, is giving the traditional taxi industry a run for its money. But truly disruptive ideas have a way of making themselves felt in other industries as well--and it's impacting mobile healthcare via the modern day house call.

Now, mHealth technology is providing the tools for patients to summon doctors and other caregivers to the patients' homes or offices. It diversifies care venues by literally placing the tool for on-demand care in the hands of the patient.

A number of these services have been cropping up in major U.S. cities. Case-in-point: Heal, a smartphone app launched in Los Angeles in February of this year, according to the New York Times. For a flat fee of $99, a physician arrives at the patient's home within an hour, together with a medical assistant and health tools to diagnose and treat moderate ailments.

In another example, an eye exam service called Blink was launched in New York last April, which is available on the Internet and the mobile web, according to MIT's Technology Review. The service brings the eye exam to the patient's home or office, administered by a technician, known as a "visioneer." During a home visit, the visioneer uses smartphone-enabled devices that replace the bulky equipment in traditional offices.

In an email, David Schafran, the founder and chief product officer of Blink, explained that about five years ago he started looking into smartphone-based point-of-care diagnostics and telemedicine as a space to start a company. He said he saw the potential to dramatically increase access to care for everyone.

Blink provides eyeglass prescriptions for people who want to buy new glasses and need a new prescription. It does not offer prescriptions for contact lenses, nor does it conduct comprehensive eye exams, but it flags people who are at risk for eye health problems, and refers them to local optometrists.

Schafran noted that "traditional optometric tools haven't changed in decades, fill an entire room and cost thousands of dollars. We have shrunk three major tools that can cost up to $20,000 into smartphone powered tools that fit in a briefcase, and all three of the products we built are FDA registered."

Asked about how smartphones will affect healthcare over the next few years, he said they will empower patients, in some areas of medicine, "to take care of themselves, getting ample knowledge from their apps to make decisions." Doctors, in those instances, "will play an increasingly important role on the analysis and interpretation of all of the data that our phones are collecting, in order to create a custom treatment plan that is unique to the individual human being that is under their care."

Go2Nurse is a newly-launched service that brings a nurse to homes in Chicago and Milwaukee. I recently spoke with Edward Ben-Alec, technology business strategist for Go2Nurse, who co-created the start-up with Meg J.P. Kubiac, R.N., the company's founder and CEO. He explained that the idea for the start-up came from their work developing assistive technology for disabled patients. Those patients spoke of their difficulty in finding suitable in-home care, which happened to coincide with the rise of Uber--which provided the spark of the idea for the start-up.

Go2Nurse developed the app in February 2014. The Go2Nurse app provides a connection to nurses, certified nursing assistants and medical assistants. It allows users to request a home visit by a caregiver, and includes built-in real-time spoken language translation (available through Google Translate), as well as dispatching, scheduling, access to electronic medical records for professionals, and allows access to personal health records by patients. Ben-Alec said that at the present time, the app is primarily used by caregivers in the home.

These fledgling services suggest that smartphones can have profound impacts on how and when healthcare is delivered, as well as how caregivers interact with patients, with a more collaborative relationship between patients and providers. - John (@johndeg)