Monday, February 28, 2005

Take two aspirin and iSight me in the morning

These guys stole my idea! Or at least, I had the same idea they did, except that they actually did it first.

Namely, using Macs and iSights to conduct online housecalls.

According to this article ("Telemedicine on the cheap") from, is an online concierge telemedicine service that is giving 1000 of its participating physicians an iBook and iSight as part of a pilot project in order to allow them to more easily videoconference with patients. Of course, it only works if the patient has a videocam on their end, too.
Michael Chalkley, MyMD's CEO, said he sees the video conferencing service as a supplement to a normal health care regimen -- not a replacement. And he said that for its relatively low fee -- $4 a minute, or $50 for 15 minutes, the service is cheap enough to be useful when patients need advice on something they feel confident is a minor concern.

Unless there is a discount, the cost of the service to patients actually runs $3.99 per minute or $59.85 for a 15 minute call. If they consider this cheap, then my in-office rate of $50 per 15 minutes must be a bargain, too. The consultant physician gets to keep $1.89 of that per minute fee answering medical questions. That works out to $113.40/hr, without the hassles of insurance. I'm sure this sounds like a dream job for many overworked primary care doctors, but I wonder how many patients really use this service.

Is it a way to offer better medicine? The example listed in the article had a mother sticking an iSight down her daughter's throat to help the doctor diagnose strep throat. Now, given how difficult it is to diagnose strep throat even in person, it would appear to me to be sub-optimal at best.

This article talks about the future cybermedicine industry. However, the article's date is telling. August 3, 1999. Given that cybermedicine hasn't really taken off in the 5 1/2 years since then, I don't think we'll be practicing medicine from the comfort of our beds anytime soon.

One positive that I see coming out of this is that 1000 physicians will get to see how easy and useful the Mac operating system is, compared to Windows.

I think some day I'll get an iSight and offer "virtual housecalls" too, but only for established patients whom I've actually met in person. And while videomedicine appeals to the high-tech side of me, there's no substitute for actually being there. There is healing power in the human touch, after all.