A service launching in the United States this week wants to be the Uber for doctors, making medical practitioners available for consultation by text message, video chat, or even a house visit — for a fee, of course.
The company, FirstLine, which has offices in Boston and San Francisco, revealed its app this week. Two dozen California-based doctors have been contracted to be on call, and the team is hiring and training local doctors with a goal of launching house calls in Boston this summer.
“Really, we can do anything you’d go to your primary care doctor for,” said FirstLine founder Bryan O’Connell, a Harvard Business School grad who is running the company out of the University of Massachusetts’ Venture Development Center.
FirstLine has completed a few months of beta testing with users in California — among their more frequent calls are from new moms with questions about eating and sleeping habits of infants, he said.
Large medical practices have begun to offer electronic access to physicians — a chance to e-mail your doctor or get test results via e-mail. The difference between those services and FirstLine is that its doctors are contractors, meaning you might talk to a different provider each time you log in.
New participants get 24 hours of free texting with a doctor, any time between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. After a $25 initiation fee, the cost is $15 per month for unlimited consulting by video chat or messages. When the California testing launched, O’Connell said, thousands of patients took advantage of the free texting period.
All communication is encrypted, and the company itself does not access that data, O’Connell said. An additional service is a house call, for $199 per visit. At the moment, this visit is not covered by any insurance providers, but O’Connell said his goal is to persuade insurers to get on board.
“I think the general approach makes an enormous amount of sense,” said Dr. David Bates, chief innovation officer and senior vice president at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Bates, who is not involved with the company, compared the service to walk-in “minute clinics” that have been successful at addressing common health complaints such as urinary tract infections and upper respiratory infections.
But he is concerned about some aspects of the service. Because a patient can consult any doctor that is online at the time, he said it is critical that any information gathered is then made easily available to any other medical practitioner treating them in the future. Also, most of his patients who require a house visit typically have complex complaints that need to be seen by a specialist, so that service would probably suit only the fairly wealthy.
But he conceded that urban professionals, who already make transactions for everything from laundry services to dinner reservations on their phone, could find the app a boon.