Technology brings back the housecall

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.
Written by Denise Amrich, Contributor

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.

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