Everybody’s been there — sitting in an emergency room or urgent care clinic for tedious hour after tedious hour, listening to crying children, coughing patients and trying not to touch anything for fear of germs.
It’s a scene that’s replayed around the nation, 1.2 billion times a year, and it’s only going to get worse as hospitals and clinics brace for an expected onslaught of new patients in January, as people who’ve never before had insurance start accessing care. Doctors expect delays for appointments, leading to long waits in urgent care clinics and ERs.
But it doesn’t have to be that way — at least not in Colorado Springs.
Noel Boyce, a registered nurse, has started a new company called Urban Mobile Health. He and a nurse practitioner — who can prescribe medicine — will come to homes and offices to treat most illnesses normally seen in urgent care facilities. They’ll also perform wellness checkups for employees in business offices, whenever asked.
There’s no wait, he says, and no more exposure to sick people. They started seeing patients earlier this week.
I can’t find anything else exactly like it anywhere in the country.” — Noel Boyce
“This is something new,” Boyce said. “I can’t find anything else exactly like it anywhere in the country.”
This isn’t home health care for the elderly, he explains. It’s urgent care at home for all ages.
“Anyone who has a sick child, is sick themselves or anyone who needs a check-up and can’t leave work,” he said. “That’s who we’re focusing on.”
And it’s inexpensive as well as innovative. A visit with the nurse costs $49. while seeing the practitioner costs $79. The two don’t take insurance, but say their price point falls within the co-pays for most insurance plans.
“It’s certainly cutting-edge, especially in Colorado Springs,” said Jeff Spicher, a nurse practitioner and professor at the Beth-El College of Nursing and Health Sciences at UCCS. “It’s an interesting concept. And I think we’re going to see more of this out-of-the-box thinking in the future.”
Spicher says there’s already been a rise in “concierge medicine,” where people pay more to a doctor who has fewer patients and can spend more time with them.
“This is the opposite of that, though,” he said. “I think he’ll find a market here.”
That’s because the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, solved the issue of getting more people on insurance rolls, but didn’t really address access to care. Spicher says in the future people will begin seeing both nurse practitioners and physician assistants instead of family-practice doctors.
“There’s more money in specialties,” he said. “So people in medical school tend to choose specialties instead of general practice,” he said. “That leaves room for nurse practitioners to fill a gap. And there’s a desperate need for primary care.”
Basically, nurse practitioners have master’s degrees in nursing and an extra certification, he said. Having a nurse practitioner at Urban Mobile Health Clinics makes sense — because that person can write prescriptions.
But it’s not just about making house calls, said Boyce. The new mobile clinic will also provide a video link with primary-care doctors and family practitioners, in case follow-up care is needed.
“I think there’s an opportunity to really connect emerging technology with health care,” Boyce said. “That’s really what I’m interested in.”
Boyce earned his first bachelor’s degree in economics, then worked at T. Rowe Price. He says it was a great job, but he wanted something different.
“I wanted to do something more fulfilling, so I went back to school to become a nurse,” he said. After graduating from Colorado State University in Pueblo, he started working in the emergency room at Parkview Medical Center there.
It was during some of his research for classes that he first had the inkling of an idea for Urban Mobile Health, he said.
“In school, I discovered a passion for telehealth, information and technology and medicine,” he said. “While I was in class, I put together a program that allows people to access the Internet for solutions to health care needs — including doctors’ consultations. In sub-Saharan Africa, there’s a low concentration of doctors and health care providers. They started a program to send texts to a provider and then video-chat with a provider. And it worked with all kinds of issues. It’s a solution that’s gaining traction out there.”
The two at Urban Mobile Health are boot-strapping the business, with no startup loans and no other financial backing. But they’re convinced that with a combination of hands-on care and innovative technology, they can bridge the gap in access to care.
“This is better than Skyping or a video chat,” Boyce said. “There are already websites that do that for various fees. This is being there in person to take vital signs, to see people as individuals with needs. And to do it without the very long waits for care in traditional office settings.”
The business isn’t without its challenges, he said. Using his fondness for all things technical, he’s trying to reach potential patients via Facebook and Twitter. The online response has been positive, and Boyce hopes that it will translate into patients.
“If it takes off here, we hope to be in a position to export the idea to different cities,” he said, “to turn it into a franchise opportunity. If there are other nurse practitioners out there who want to practice in a different way, we can show them how to do it — set it up for them.”
He acknowledges that level of success is in the future.
“It’s a matter of getting awareness out there that there are different ways of getting health care,” he said. “It’s not an either/or solution. We can see more people during the stress on health care infrastructure from the ACA.”
Spicher is optimistic about Urban Mobile Health’s chances for success.
“He’s focusing on episodic care,” Spicher said of Boyce. “There’s no reason it can’t succeed here. Twenty years ago, there were no urgent care clinics. Now, they’re everywhere. This model could be the future, and could very well serve as a primary care provider, as a medical ‘home’ to its patients.”