So you want to get a mobile phone to communicate with your doctor…a photo safari in Downtown Oakland

I am fortunate that so many people (almost everyone) expects that a meeting I have with them will be a walking meeting (see: “The art of the walking meeting“), and usually while in Oakland, the best place to walk is unquestionably Lake Merritt – its gorgeous. Only problem for me is I like urban landscapes, so I decided this time to ask everyone with whom I walked to take me into the city, out of the country.

And so, on a walking meeting with Tim Kieschnick (@Timiti) , the uber-guru of user experience on the web and beyond, through downtown Oakland, we decided to go on a little photo safari to ask the question, “If you lived here, and you wanted to have a mobile phone that allowed you to communicate with your doctor, what would be available to you?”

This presupposes that you have a secure web patient portal that’s set up for you to use to e-mail your doctor (Kaiser Permanente and many other organizations do), or that you’ve entered the app world, as Group Health Cooperative recently has (see: Group Health Cooperative’s iPhone app – Making nurses and doctors accessible via mobile)

The background of all of this is that I’ve read recently about the surge in pre-paid phones and pre-payment in general, which, according to the economist is responsible for 90% of mobile phone growth. (see: The Bottom of the Pyramid)

Take a look at what we saw:

  • Carriers that appeal to the prepayment crowd dominate – Boost Mobile, which is owned by Sprint Nextel, and MetroPCS were visible here, a little T-mobile inside
  • Mostly feature phones, which don’t have modern web browsers
  • One android model is carried by Boost, that is priced as follows:
    • $50/month for unlimited text talk data OR
    • $2/day for web. If you access the web on that day, you can access it all day for $2, if you don’t access the web that day, you don’t pay

There’s no iPhone in this ecosystem, or is there?

We didn’t see a shiny AT&T store in this neighborhood, and definitely not an Apple store. However, take a look at the last photo above for a little surprise. There are iPhones here….just not the way we are used to seeing them.

If we believe that one of the most important aspects of mobile access in health care is the bringing of information and access to health professionals to populations that currently do not have it, will health systems design for this reality in downtown Oakland, which is that the decision to make a connection to your doctor could be a $2 on each time, if you have the kind of phone that will access you?

Or will they design for a different reality, in downtown San Francisco, where everyone has an iPhone (which seizes up in search of oversubscribed bandwidth – not that that ever happens to me, never). Take a look, see what you think.


Ted Eytan, MD