More and more, people are foregoing the headache of an ER or doctor's visit, and instead summoning physicians to visit their home for a fee.

In an increasingly crowded field, startups like Heal and MedZed are trying to disrupt the healthcare industry by providing on-demand services. One of the most recent companies to join the competition is Pager, a mobile service that will dispatch a doctor or nurse to your home or current location to provide non-emergency services like sutures, flu shots, and strep throat treatments.

Visits aren't typically covered by health-insurance plans, so patients must pay an out-of-pocket fee. This can be paid from health savings accounts, or by filing an out-of-network insurance claim. 

"Health care is the most vital service out there," says Pager co-founder Gaspard de Dreuzy.

In 2014, Dreuzy, Philip Eytan, and Uber's former founding CTO, Oscar Salazar, launched the company in New York City. The three wanted to explore ways they could leverage modern and mobile technology to inject "efficiency" back into healthcare.

Pager charges $200 for an in-house consultation from a doctor or nurse, transported by Uber. The company, which has 50 full-time employees, operates in all five of New York City's boroughs and has treated roughly 5,000 people since it launched.

While some might question whether a trio of techies really have the legitimacy and ability to run a healthcare business, Dreuzy argues that the philosophy behind health technology -- and other areas like financial technology, which happens to be his expertise -- is fundamentally the same. "If you want to disrupt an industry as big and old as healthcare, you need to think out of the box," he says. 

The so-called "Uberification" of health is unique to its industry. Unlike the transportation sector, where giants like Uber and Lyft are seen as stealing away business from taxi drivers, services like Pager are leveraging certified doctors and nurses, as well as medical assistants and nurse practitioners -- often in their spare time. Many physicians even say they relish the opportunity for extra work. Although the company wouldn't disclose its revenue breakdown, it notes that transportation and other related costs are built into the $200 fee. 

A major concern with services like these is the extent to which they are helpful to lower-income families. As analysts view in-home visits to be more and more cost-effective for the wealthy, those without hefty savings may have trouble coughing up the fees, a recent Wall Street Journal article notes. 

Dreuzy insists that it's Pager's goal to become affordable by accepting in-network policies in the not-too-distant future. "We have to start somewhere," he says. "It's a very challenging thing to do because health plans and regulations change state by state. When we are in-network, we don't want to offer the same broken experience." Pager's technology, he says, should be able to "streamline" the process with future in-network insurance providers.    

The likelihood of cultivating a more intimate relationship with your physician, and in the comfort of your own living room, may be enough to offset concerns over pricing. At the very least, investors are optimistic: Pager alone has raised $24 million in venture capital funding, and from high-profile firms such as Sound Ventures as well as Ashton Kutcher.

The bigger picture: "We're trying to come up with a new way of changing the industry and developing healthcare," Dreuzy adds. "We're playing by the rules."

Published on: Aug 11, 2015