Healthcare Startups Can Save Lives, Rake in Money, And Introduce Competition.

Ron Gutman is on a mission to bring back the village doctor. But he’s going about it in a different way than we are. He runs a three-year-old startup called HealthTap. They offer an online service that replicates a house call. With his app, you can instantly connect with physicians via the net and ask them personal medical questions.

“You can’t bring back the village doctor himself,” says Gutman, the founder and CEO of the Palo Alto, California startup. “But you can bring back the notion of a village doctor using technology, using data, using more immediate access — easier, cheaper access.” We, of course, beg to differ, because we do do home visits here. However, we’re in Wichita, Kansas. The fact is that we as direct care practitioners can’t scale up and answer all the questions that HealthTap can.

Wired thinks that this is a poor substitute for the good ol’ days of Marcus Welby. However, it’s a step up from today’s status quo — where it takes 20.5 days on average to get an appointment, and where a phone call isn’t guaranteed. Gutman’s company is obviously a step above not being able to talk to a doctor, or even worse, using a tool of misinformation and fear mongering like Web MD. Gutman says that more than 7 million people visit the HealthTap site each month, conversing intimately with a pool of about 46,000 doctors. And in some cases, these visitors are paying good money for private online consultations on the site.

But for Gutman, this is only step one. He believes the service translates into quicker advice for patients. This in turn means fewer visits to the doctor’s office. While his products initially target consumers, he envisions a system where the big insurance companies will eventually pay for their members to use the HealthTap service too.

In the spirit of competition, we’re glad to see apps like this hit the market. Fact is, we’re offering the same service to our patients, using the same technology, but on a one-to-one level. It’s more personal. We’re here to develop long-lasting meaningful relationships. That’s part of our value proposition as a business. We wholly believe in the power of direct care, en masse, to revitalize healthcare. But how that’s going to look down the road is up in the air. Anything that gets patients good information, and gives them influence through their money and their choices seems like a win, though.