Lauren Goode

Recent Posts by Lauren Goode

Can a 24/7 Medical App Save Your Life? Better Thinks So.

Imagine this scenario: You’re flying across the world for a business conference, and something goes wrong — with your health. You’re in a foreign country, and you’re not sure of your options for medical care.

You reach for your mobile phone, and instead of calling for help, you open up an app. A doctor is on call for you, 24 hours a day. Private care and a flight back home are quickly arranged.

That’s the world imagined by Better, a new company funded by the Social+Capital Partnership. Better has made a mobile app that taps into the vast database of the Mayo Clinic to provide immediate health care information and assistance.

Appearing onstage today at D: Dive Into Mobile, Better founder Geoff Clapp gave a demo and explained his vision for better health care through his new mobile app.

Feigning stomach pains, Clapp went through a “symptoms checker” on the iPhone app, which pointed him to celiac disease as a top result. He pressed a button to call a Mayo Clinic nurse (who, for the purpose of this demo, was waiting for the call — but Better promises nurses and doctors can be accessible in everyday situations, as well).

The nurse, Linda, asked him a few questions, then explained that celiac disease is a medical term for gluten intolerance. Her diagnosis was inconclusive over the phone, but she offered some suggestions. The Mayo Clinic knows that he’s traveling on the East Coast right now, so the clinic scheduled a blood test for when Clapp arrives back in California. The nurse also emailed him a list of gluten-free restaurant options nearby in New York.

“What happens when you Google this? You have celiac — or an aneurysm. This is unbelievably scary stuff for most people,” Clapp said.

Better is available as a beta app now, and is expected to officially launch this summer. It will be iPhone-only to start; the company also plans to create an Android app.

There is a free version of Better, but the pricing is where it gets interesting. For free, you get access to the Mayo Clinic website, and you can create health records for you and your family. The subscription plans are still being worked out, Clapp says.

One, for example, might include a personal coach for weight loss or quitting smoking. Another subscription level would include 24/7 access to a Mayo nurse, who can coordinate appointments, tests and prescriptions for you. The next level would include an always-on-call, Mayo-trained doctor — and emergency services that include travel bookings. That’s the “black card,” Clapp says, comparing it to the American Express card for high rollers.

This will all range from around $90 a month to several thousand dollars a month, although Better believes the sweet spot is between $100 and $500.

With health care costs in the U.S. increasingly getting pushed onto the patient, shelling out $100 to $500 a month might not be ideal. Clapp was quick to point out that Better is HIPAA-compliant and can be paid for using pre-tax health savings account dollars. And, he says, if Better isn’t something you feel you need for yourself — maybe you want it as a supplemental health care product for your family.

Even at the less-expensive levels, “You can send in a picture of your child’s rash, or research diabetes,” he said, knowing the data you get back is coming from the Mayo Clinic, not Dr. Google and every source on the Web.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald