Technology brings back the housecall

Technology brings back the housecall

Summary: A dad who had a hard time getting medical help for his baby girl started a company that puts people in contact with doctors for virtual consultations.


Clint Phillips, founder and CEO of 2nd.MD, believes that everyone should have access to a specialist when they need one. Frustrated when he and his wife couldn't locate a pediatric neurologist for their four-month-old daughter without extensive travel and hardship, he decided to change things for other people in his shoes.

Phillips says that 2nd.MD was "founded on one simple principle: to bring the world's leading doctors to those who need them the most, when they need them the most."

Phillips goes on to say, "It's crazy that we can buy a stock in Tokyo online or find a rare book, but we can't talk to a doctor online when we need it. We don't believe that paperwork, geography, or insurance should limit a mother from speaking to a pediatric specialist, or keep a son or daughter from being able to find help for an aging parent."

This sounds like a really intriguing and helpful idea, so I spent a little time poking around the 2nd.MD website. You can use a pull-down menu to bring up doctors by category of specialty, or type something appropriate about what's ailing you into the search bar. I did a search, and a list of doctors came up.

Prices ranged from $80 for 20 minutes of one doctor's time, to a whopping $1332 for 20 minutes of another doctor's time. Click on a given doctor to see a bio, picture, and more in-depth information about educational experience, state of licensure, the types of patients he or she typically likes to treat, professional interests, and some info on the doctor's personal hobbies and interests, as well.

The doctors appeared qualified. They looked kind, smart, and friendly in their pictures. They seemed to have put some work into their bios. It looked like most of them went to some real effort to appeal to their potential virtual patients, which I sort of appreciated.

The MDs on the site are billed as "some of the world's best doctors." I don't know what kind of vetting process is in place at 2nd.MD, but if I were actually going to use the service I'd probably do what I could to independently check into the doctor's credentials before making an appointment. For example, a Google search seems to corroborate that the $1332 guy is actually the Chief of Neurology at a hospital, and I'd imagine that takes some real medical chops.

The 2nd.MD website clearly states that, "doctors you visit aren't going to perform treatments, physical evaluations, or write you a prescription. What they will provide is their expertise to help you have access to a level of information that few people in the world might have, giving you peace of mind when YOU need it most."

It strikes me that there might be issues with practice across state lines. I am not sure how those are being addressed. But it also seems to me that that there would be tremendous value in being able to pick out a doctor whose expertise, background, ratings, and price suit you, upload or email the information you want that specialist to view, make a timely appointment that you can attend from the privacy of your own home (or across the world), and just have a video conference to ask your questions and get some answers.

There have been many times when my insurance company offered me less choice and availability of doctors than I found on the 2nd.MD site. There have been times when I really wanted a second opinion, but insurance didn't cover the cost of what I wanted or needed. There have been times when I paid rates higher than some I saw on the website for a doctor's appointment, only to get five minutes of divided attention from a physician with one hand on the doorknob the whole time.

There have been times when I didn't have any insurance, or times when I didn't want to wait to get an appointment or sit in a waiting room. There have also been times when I wanted to ask some hard questions about a condition a far-away loved one was suffering from, but paperwork or lack of access to their physician got in the way. I'd have jumped at the opportunity to pony up PayPal or a credit card and video conference with a doctor in some of these situations.

It's a bit of a gamble. But you don't really know what you're going to get when you visit a local doctor for the first time either. And sometimes you just want to talk to somebody who is qualified and cares. I mean, I've paid $80 for Microsoft tech support incidents, so why not do the same for a question and answer session with a doctor?

If I ever do actually try the service, I'll be sure to blog about my experience here on ZDNet Health. In the meantime, I'd love to know what you folks make of the idea.

What do you think of this and other opportunities to virtualize a house call? Would you do it? Have you tried this service or something else like it? Tell us in the TalkBacks below.

Topics: Banking, Browser, Enterprise Software, Software Development


Denise Amrich is a Registered Nurse, the health care advisor for the U.S. Strategic Perspective Institute, and a mentor for the Virtual Campus at Florida's Brevard Community College.

Nothing in this article is meant to be a substitute for medical advice, and shouldn't be considered as such. If you are in need of medical help, please see your doctor.

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  • RE: Technology brings back the housecall

    Sounds very interesting. I really like how insurance is not involved and hope it stays that way. Aside from complicating matters, if we knew the true cost of a visit to the doctor, precsription, procedure, etc. the way we know the price of milk, we would be making very different decision about our healthcare.
  • Call me cynical

    but my experience leads me to believe that medicine is the most bass-ackwards industry in existence.

    Behind the curtain, you have some of the most advanced technology in existence. The world's most powerful supercomputer, Folding@Home, is a part of that field. Mapping the human genome, understanding neurons and how they interact, designing cures for diseases...all about as high tech as it gets.

    The people who put that kind of thing into practice...they are among the slowest to adopt any technology I've ever seen. It's a lottery jackpot's chance of getting a doctor to talk to you OVER THE PHONE, a technology developed when my great-great-great-grandfather was still in diapers. Now you're going to convince me that the Head of Neurology at Stanford Medical Center has enough spare time to videoconference?

    I think it's a good idea, but I'm still sketchy over this mashup of skype, eHarmony, and WebMD, and it's not due to the technology - it's due to the people who are on the other end.

    • RE: Technology brings back the housecall

      Talk to you for free over the phone, no. Video Conference with you for money, yes.

      I'm not convinced it will work well any more than you are that it will work at all.
  • RE: Technology brings back the housecall

    Fine...for those who have money and can afford it. I think there should be a cap on what doctors can charge for 20 minutes of their time, though. $1332/20 min sounds like thievery to me and I doubt I would ever use that doctor, on principle alone.

    I do like the housecall idea, though. I'm old enough to remember when REAL doctors made REAL housecalls. Nowadays, doctors are too caring about status and salaries and less caring about their patients.
  • RE: Technology brings back the housecall

    What a great Idea. This really empowers patients - so often we have limited options and access. Even for people with modest means it should be a very cost effective way to get really informed health care options. I am going to show this to my sister who recently was just diagnosed with a serious condition and doesnt feel comfortable with the answers she is getting.
    Fishbowl guy
    • RE: Technology brings back the housecall

      @Fishbowl guy
      Good luck to you and your sister. Please email me through the site and let me know how it goes with the service.
      Denise Amrich, RN
  • RE: Technology brings back the housecall

    As the founder of 2nd.MD we are honored to be mentioned on a site we respect. We agree the challenges are great. Many doctors out there care only about salaries and many don't want to adopt technology however... everyday we find doctors who care about service, people, and have incredible insight into complex diseases. The doctors represent 12 of the top 20 institutions and we are just getting started. Only billionaires had this level of choice and access before today. We were as frustrated with insurance, lack of access, and hassle as much as everyone else and think we have an amazing system to solve a lot of this. It gets our clients to help us rate the doctors, rewards the good doctors and helps them be more effective across the globe. If we have our way, with the help of our clients, we can in many places eradicate wait rooms, waiting times, poor service, bad advice, and bring back relationship, respect, and a level of access to expertise the world has never known. I hope that no one, especially a parent, will ever have to suffer again, like we did with my daughter when we needed a neurologists advice. Help on the journey is welcomed. Gratefully. Clint
  • USA = 4th World!

    I consider myself extremely fortunate not to live in the USA.

    My home, the UK, "suffers from" a touch of what is often described by the utterly ingnorant on these boards as the "evil" of socialism. Those commenters wouldn't know the meaning of the word if they studied it for 4 years because they are too damn thick! The whole point of socialism is to care for your fellow man and not rob him blind. The rates being charged for a 20 minute "guess" are more akin to the principles of prostitution than the Hippocratic oath. These aren't doctors, these are people trying to outdo the highest paid escorts in the world and care as much about their "patients" as the escorts do their clients. At least the escorts have the decancy and honesty not to pretend they care!
  • RE: Technology brings back the housecall

    Even for $80, I would probably rather not waste 20 mins of my own time, let alone 1300!!!
    • RE: Technology brings back the housecall

      Fishbowl guy
  • RE: Technology brings back the housecall

    Figure out what is costs you to go see a doctor - even if your insurance covers it. Time away from home or work, waiting room, gas, parking etc. Then really understand the experience and expertise of your specialist. This isn't meant for primary care - but after you already have a serious diagnosis. Is the doctor that you were sent to or that you found in your city a TOP specialist? I would have to get on an airplane AND maybe wait 6 weeks to get an appointment with a top doctor - maybe to be told that I need more tests? or that the treatment they want me to have is not being done anymore in major medical centers. Why isn't that worth it?
    Fishbowl guy
  • RE: Technology brings back the housecall

    $1330 for consultation, and no prescription or treatment? I suppose technology is to make health care affordable according to Obama?
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