(Bloomberg Business) — Julie Moss, a a program-scheduling director at HBO, had an appointment for a checkup. But instead of hailing cabs and waiting in a doctor’s office, she had the doctor come to her.
Actually, a nurse practitioner. She set up a makeshift medical station in Moss’s New York office, laying out a bandage, needles, gauze, and other doctorly contraptions on a disposable sheet on a table next to the couch. She began with a finger prick for a cholesterol check.
The phone rang. Moss, now with a bandage on her index finger, trotted over to take it. It was her boss. While they chatted and scheduled a few meetings, the nurse practitioner ran the blood sample through a reader. After the call, Moss had her blood pressure, temperature, and other vitals checked. The appointment took less than half an hour and would have cost $75, if not for the current promotion that made it free.
Moss, 37, had coordinated the visit through an app called Pager, a sort of Uber for doctors, or Seamless for sick workers, or pick your startup analogy. Pager, based in New York, launched a little over a year ago as a modern twist on the old-fashioned house call. Instead of sitting in the emergency room or scheduling a far-off visit to the doctor, busy ailing people can tap their phone and get doctors and nurses affiliated with major New York City health systems to their door in two hours or less. Most people use the app for in-home care, but Pager says it has seen thousands of workplace users. Similar services, such as Heal and Go2Nurse, are available in Los Angeles and Chicago, respectively.
“You have a condition, infection, a minor injury, you’re in pain, you’re in stress — you push a button and a doctor comes to you within an hour,” said Gaspard de Dreuzy, Pager’s 39-year-old CEO. Prices range from $50 for a phone consultation to $200 for an urgent-care in-person visit. The app doesn’t accept insurance yet, although Pager says that’s coming soon. For now, the service can be billed as an out-of-network provider.
When employees don’t go to the doctor because it’s inconvenient, they risk getting sicker, which is more inconvenient than going to the doctor. From a boss’s perspective, that means more time away from work recuperating, and high medical bills that increase insurance costs. Flu season alone costs U.S. employers $10.4 billion in hospitalization and outpatient visits, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That doesn’t include productivity losses from illness, which cost the U.S. economy $227 billion a year, according to a 2012 study from the Integrated Benefits Institute.
In fact, Moss, who has a toddler at home, hadn’t been to her internist in years, until she had a stroke this year that knocked her out of work for months.
See also: Young people are getting more strokes
She has since made almost a full recovery and is back at HBO. Now she schedules regular doctor’s appointments.
Services like Pager and Heal are making a dent in the avoidance problem. But as convenient as it is to see a doctor at work, it can be awkward, too, especially in the office-less modern office.
Marjorie Ajero, the vice president of HR at the digital media company Thrillist, one of Pager’s first corporate clients, is among the few people at the company with their own space. She lent her office to a colleague for a recent Pager visit to treat an infected bug bite on her arm. “I wouldn’t want to show a doctor a rash anywhere else out in the open,” Ajero noted. When I ordered a Pager doctor to the Bloomberg offices, we squatted in a coat closet as she asked me about my sexual history and the regularity of my periods.
In June, Pager launched Pager for Business. Companies pay a flat fee to fold the app into their benefits packages, and employees get access to on-demand health care for themselves and their families and to company-wide physicals, shots, and phone consultations. As with many health benefits, the cost to employees depends on how much the employer chooses to cover. Last week, Pager announced$14 million in funding from Ashton Kutcher’s Sound Ventures and New Enterprise Associates to expand outside of New York to San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
Many company wellness programs offer health perks, like flu shots. The startups’ claim is quick, easy access to doctors and nurses for more comprehensive care. “A lot of employees wait [to see a doctor]. They say: I’m going to tough it out, I’m going to be fine,” said Ajero of Thrillist. “That’s usually when they wait too long, and now somebody has to go to the hospital, and they have to treat something worse.”
Access to health care at work isn’t entirely novel. Some bigger employers have on-site health clinics staffed with nurses. Benefits packages can include access to telemedicine services, like MDLive, Doctor on Demand, and American Well, which provide consultations over the phone or by video chat. “Over video you can treat 17 out of the top 20 things seen in urgent-care centers,” said Doctor on Demand CEO Adam Jackson. Most Doctor on Demand consultations happen at home over video chat, but a quarter of organizations using the platform set up dedicated rooms with iPads for work.
Like many perks of the modern office, telemedicine and doctors on demand are a productivity booster masquerading as a convenience.
“You keep your employees healthy, and at the same time, if they’re sick, you make it so fast and convenient and efficient to access care that they spend less time going to the doctor’s office,” said Pager’s Dreuzy.
Pretty soon you’ll never have to leave work again.
Isn’t that great?