Interview: Dr. Hodge, the first iPhone Doctor

By Brian Dolan

Dr. Natalie HodgeYou might call her the first iPhone Doctor. If Natalie Hodge, MD, has her way, though, she won't be the last.

Hodge's start-up Personal Pediatrics aims to equip a fleet of self-starter pediatricians in major metro areas with iPhones, cloud-based practice software and the marketing know-how to court new parents, families and corporate health programs alike. The company's plan points to a growing trend of doctors returning to what was once a mainstay of the profession: the house call. 

Hodge has already established that the iPhone doctor model works -- after more than a decade working in a pediatrics office in St. Louis, Missouri, where she saw up to 35 patients a day for about 10 minutes each, Hodge traded in the patient assembly line to launch Personal Pediatrics. That was three years ago. Back then she had her laptop and Palm Treo in tow.

Since then the convergence of advancements in smartphone technologies, culminating in the iPhone, plus the growing popularity of so-called "concierge" medical practices, where patients typically pay out of pocket for the convenience of house calls or more personalized care, convinced Hodge that pediatricians could provide better care and make more money by leaving the doctor's office behind.

MiM iPhone App"We intend to be an entirely mobile platform --there is no need for an office, at least for pediatricians," Hodge said. "I have found that everything I need for my practice could fit in the trunk of my car," Hodge told mobihealthnews in a recent interview.

"Some would call Personal Pediatrics a 'concierge medical practice,' but I prefer to call it a direct medical practice," Hodge explained,"because we're connecting patients who want house calls to physicians who want to make them."

Moving doctors and patients into direct relationships leads to better care, Hodge expained. When a doctor visits a child and its parents at home, the visit typically lasts much longer than the usual 10 minutes at the doctor's office. Hodge said she formed deeper and more impactful relationships with her patients by making six or seven house calls a day, instead of the 35 ten minute appointments she had with patients under the office-based model.  

Personal Pediatrics provides its physician "affiliates" with a retainer-based pediatric web portal with secure access to patient medical records, a cloud-based house call practice platform provided by a third-party with full HIPAA compliance, software and hardware support as well as encrypted remote data storage and firewall protection. Hodge said that once the iPhone 3.0 version comes out, which is supposed to debut in June, the Flash 7.0 update to the phone will enable her company's physician affiliates to access all features of the company's cloud-based platform from their iPhones.

"We had five people in my old doctor's office," Hodge said. "Two dug through the paper records, two answered the phones and one person begged the insurance people. It costs about $200,000 a year to run a pediatrician's office that way. With this new model it costs about $50,000 and the revenue is about the same. It's an office-less, [almost] staff-less model. You might need one person on-staff to handle admin duties but you certainly won't need five anymore."

Hodge is recruiting pediatrician affiliates and believes the model would work well for any recent medical school grads who are tech-savvy and interested in starting their own practice. Hodge is in the process of re-locating Personal Pediatrics from St. Louis to San Francisco, which should help the start-up attract a CEO with executive experience at an established healthcare company. The start-up founder also expects the city to be an ideal setting for a new fleet of iPhone Doctors.

"I like to think of patients as customers, and in any business the customer will always win out," Hodge said. "They don't like making phone calls, waiting for callbacks or waiting at a doctor's office for an hour."

For more on Personal Pediatrics, see the company's website.