Uber for Healthcare

I was in San Francisco this week for the J.P. Morgan conference. I wasn’t there for the conference itself, but for meetings with people in town.

Interestingly, most of the people I met with weren’t attending the conference either. It’s mostly an excuse to get a lot of industry people in the same place. I guess that’s the point of any conference, though some of them try hard on the curriculum side.

It felt as though like the J.P. Morgan conference hit a tipping point this year. Almost everybody I know in health IT was there.

If you are in San Francisco — especially in a high-density area like around a conference full of blazer-wearing guys — you can’t help but notice the huge number of black cars and black SUVs. The vast majority are Uber powered. Uber is brilliant. I’ve written about it before when I’ve used it in places like Chicago. It’s amazing to use a mobile device to control the real world, and that is exactly what Uber allows you to do.

Uber caters to the very specific swath of the population that can afford private cars. You can use taxis or even UberX for cheaper rides, but black cars and SUVs are the Uber signature. Uber also requires a smartphone, but adoption of those is obviously widespread.

A news story caught my eye this week about a new company doing Uber for doctors and with the involvement of one of Uber‘s founders. People use phones or the Web to quickly schedule a physician visit to their home, office, or hotel. They pay, they are examined, and they are prescribed drugs or other simple treatments as needed. Maybe next we’ll see drones delivering meds on demand.


Medicast is already doing Uber for doctors. It is available only in South Florida. Customers pay per visit, or they can pay monthly for 2-4 visits per year. They are seen within two hours of their request. Medicast works with a national association of direct primary care and concierge providers to build out its network.

I see the value of Uber for healthcare services, but I’m just not sure the Uber model translates as well to healthcare. The real Uber works swimmingly because nobody cares about the identity of their driver. It’s convenient to order and pay for a car and any driver can get you from Point A to Point B. This doesn’t translated well to healthcare providers, especially when the service targets the small, high maintenance part of the population that can afford a $199 home visit.

People tend to care about the quality and identity of providers. I don’t think reviews alone will solve this. These Uber home care services might get around this by trying to link people up with previous providers, but then it’s essentially a home-based concierge model in which customers can page providers, which they can do today in most concierge and direct primary care practices.


It comes down to convenience vs. high-touch experience. If you simply want to get a clinical assessment and treatment, Zipnosis seems like a better fit at $25. It’s just as convenient, just as fast, and the result is the same. Services like Zipnosis have state medical board issues to get past that a service like Uber doesn’t, but these issues are starting to resolve. If you want to pay for the experience of a home visit, that’s a very different target population.

I would bet on both, but I see Zipnosis as having a much bigger impact on consumer health behavior than Uber for doctors. Medicast and the new Uber for doctors company are fine with that since they are targeting the top one percent of the population.

It’s interesting to look at the customer segments in healthcare and the solutions being created for each of them. The segments have varying levels of appeal for funders as well. No “one size fits all” solution will work when it comes to patient-driven healthcare.


Travis Good is an MD/MBA and co-founder of Catalyze. More about me.

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