When Oakland resident Christine McGeever woke up last week, she couldn't talk.
"I had a really sore throat, low fever and a headache," McGeever says. "I was nervous about it being strep."
She had a stack of deadlines and needed to catch a business flight in a couple of days—she wanted a quick diagnosis and treatment. But it was Wednesday, the day her primary care physician has off.
So she did what most online users would—she turned to Yelp. There she found a nearly perfect review of Direct Urgent Care, a private, urgent care facility in Berkeley that advertised online booking for same-day appointments.
When she arrived, the staff knew about her previous medical history and her symptoms, which she had submitted online.
"They were already informed when I walked in the door," McGeever says, "which was amazing."
Direct Urgent Care's online system is called NextPatient. It's available—for free—to every medical practice in the U.S. that wants it.
"If we can shift the waiting experience from the waiting room to your living room," says company founder David Rodriguez, "it’s a much better experience."
But Rodriguez calls online urgent care booking "a sweet spot." Only 11 percent of patient appointments are currently available online and urgent care scheduling helps people avoid unnecessary visits to the emergency room.
"A lot of emergency room visits are non-life-threatening," says physician and Direct Urgent Care president Caesar Djavaherian.
They are also costly.
"Most patients are paying so much for the overhead," Djavaherian says. "Like if you go into the ER, you are subsidizing the MRI machine and the cat scanner, the nurses that are there, even though you might just need an evaluation."
As McGeever points out, "urgent care isn’t always urgent." Sometimes it's just a matter of seeing someone if your primary care physician is unavailable.
Instant access to care is something digital healthcare companies are rushing to provide, according to Bain & Company healthcare consultant Josh Weisbrod.
"Many companies are vying to be the Uber of healthcare," Weisbrod says.
"The ultimate winner in this space could come from one of many possible spaces—startup-apps, health insurers seeking to differentiate, provider systems seeking to capture visits that leak out of their systems today."
Djavaherian says online booking for healthcare is part of the future people will come to expect.
"Everything else is on demand—there’s Postmates and Instacart," he says. "Medicine is one of the few areas that you can’t immediately access—yet."