The botched launch of the Healthcare.gov has brought the healthcare industry — and its dysfunction — to center stage. But in the private sector, startups like ZocDoc and iCouch.me are quietly reinventing the ways patients are discovering and buying healthcare services locally, building a familiar feature set that navigates the complex network of insurance companies, doctors and healthcare providers.
Enter Medicast. The Atlanta-based startup connects patients with doctors by allowing doctors to come to patients’ homes, offices or hotels to provide care in two hours or less. The company, which thinks of itself as the Uber of healthcare, aims to deliver better quality, affordable care, all in the comfort of one’s home. Currently servicing the South Florida region, Medicast has plans to reach more patients by expanding across other areas of Florida, San Francisco and New York — and eventually internationally.
Street Fight recently caught up with Sam Zebarjadi, Medicast’s co-founder and CEO, to find out more about how digital healthcare tools are being shaped for local markets.
There’s been a ton of attention paid to healthcare as a national issue recently. How does that translate to the local market?
If you look at the future of healthcare, everything is going to be hyperlocal: you benefit from having a local doctor who understands your socioeconomic pressures and the environment in which you live in your neighborhood. … Moving forward, physicians are going to start building a closer relationship with people in hyperlocal settings.
We are moving away from a large systemic healthcare approach, with doctors wanting to get more local. In the next few years we will be in a transformative space, where we are going to see a lot of changes and everyone has the common goal of making healthcare more affordable, within closer reach, and of providing more preventative care.
We’ve seen the impact which companies like Uber have had on the taxi industry. How does this translate to the healthcare industry?
One of the big things behind Medicast’s concept is that we have not only looked at the challenges of what patients and doctors think, but we have taken into consideration how everyone is moving toward the concept of on-demand. Everyone wants to click a button and get what they want. So why not bring doctors to do what was done back in the day, and disrupt that using mobile devices that we look at 150 times a day?
Companies like ZocDoc have found a lot of success in reinventing the search and discovery experience for the healthcare market. Where’s the next white space for technology companies?
Players like ZocDoc have done a great job at addressing discovery, but waiting rooms and how long you spend with the doctor are still an issue. The other areas where we see competitors is in the space of telemedicine. There are a lot of those players popping up that sit a doctor in front a computer, let you speak with a doctor over the phone, video or text. That has some merit, but we don’t see how that is a long-term viable solution, because 90% of a diagnosis a doctor does comes from a physical examination.
When you take a doctor out of that scenario and put them in front a computer, you put the diagnosis back in the patient’s hand where a thermometer may not accurately convey temperature. Or they can’t take blood pressure. And it makes it difficult for doctors to prescribe medication. So that, coupled together with the fact that telemedicine is outlawed in nearly 20 states across the U.S. — we don’t see that as the way forward. We see a big need for physical interaction between patients and physicians and we see that as the next wave of care being delivered.
John Doerr, a partner at VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers called Healthcare “the most screwed up industry in the nation.” Is this good news or bad news for startups?
The healthcare industry, from both the technology and startup perspective, has remained historically untapped, and I think there are a lot of ways to disrupt it. A lot the innovation has been technologies centered around the existing system and the industry as it stands. I don’t want to say it’s “screwed up” because it’s worked for a lot of people so far, and having the healthcare governance in place has been vital until now. I think there comes a point at when some of that governance and red tape may get in the way of innovation, and we’re starting to see that.
The big push now is toward the “quantified self,” with people becoming more cognizant of their healthcare with wearable devices; and with technologies like Medicast which are empowering people, saving the healthcare industry precious dollars and increasing patient outcome. So it’s time to find ways for startups and technology companies to collaborate with the healthcare industry and governmental agencies to make that change more efficient, to make sure it has a better outcome for our future generations. I think we’re just on the first page of that wave right now where we’re really starting to disrupt.
From a market perspective, what shifts do you see occurring with the economics of healthcare?
I think we’re seeing a shift in both supply and demand, and there’s going to be a shortage of 65,000 primary care doctors in the next 10 years. So that’s changing people’s mentality of how care is delivered.
One big part of that is primary care is a difficult space, people don’t want to get into it. Doctors already in primary care are looking into more private types of care or they’re looking to specialize, build up concierge type practices which are more local, and build close relationships with their patients. The whole ecosystem is going to shift being driven by doctor’s delivering more value and being more locally.
Outside of policy, what’s holding back innovation in the local healthcare market in the U.S.?
When you look at healthcare from a local perspective, it’s patchy. There are communities of people who are under-insured, people uneducated on what their options are, and a fear of government getting in the way of their healthcare. There is a lot of room for education.
As a general public, there’s a lot more that could be done by educating people to inform them of what is affecting them in their neighborhood, city, town, state, and region, and what they need to be cognitive and aware of moving forward. Initiatives are popping up around the country, and people need to be more open about it. Healthcare is one of the most important things that affect every person, so once we can get over these views of being stuck in our ways of thinking and educating ourselves, is when we will see progress towards better health in general.
Myriah Towner is an intern at Street Fight.