One of the worst feelings in the world is having a sick child. Nothing eats at your heart and soul more than the feeling of helplessness that is watching your kid feel ill. Like all parents, I’ve had plenty of harrowing experiences with my children ranging from hospital stays with viral meningitis to a one year old turning into a blue balloon with serum sickness. Nothing makes me more sad and anxious than seeing one of my kid come down with a bug.
Another unfortunate thing about kids being sick is having to physically go to a doctor’s office for just about everything. Some pediatricians do some form of telemedicine, many through Klara in my experience, but they’ll seldom diagnose or prescribe anything without seeing the child in person. At first I thought it was understandable, but so many of these diagnoses are rather rote and can be done with a photo or video. The other downside of having to physically go into your pediatrician is that you can never see them when you want, which is always as close to Now as possible. The options are normally wait a couple days or make your way to urgent care. More often than not what a parent wants is to simply know that things are fine and that tylenol/ibuprofen are good for now.
Last year I learned of a service called Summer Health that enables you to text with a pediatrician 24/7. The communication is pretty much synchronous and I love it because it nearly instantly provides me peace of mind. Every time I text Summer I’m sent a link where I can view the credentials of the pediatrician I am speaking with, and I enter a real-time SMS conversation with them within minutes. I’ve talked to them at all hours of the day about things ranging from head bumps, questions about strep throat, how to remove excess silver nitrate on one of my kid’s faces from a procedure at an ENT, whether you can administer antibiotics if they’re expired but have lived in the refrigerator, what medications are okay to take with norovirus, how to know if your child is a carrier for strep, and many more things from the mundane to quite serious. They also call in prescriptions and frequently ask for photos or video to better understand a condition. All of my interactions have been pleasant. And while the doctors don’t always nail the condition (eg maybe they think something is croup instead of another respiratory issue), I get an educated opinion quickly and know whether I can wait a day to take my kid in or if I should get a move on things. The service is roughly $20 per month which is an easy price for me to stomach paying for the peace of mind I get from it.
I’m really interested in this space for a whole host of reasons. First and foremost it’s a personal problem I have – I’m a parent of two children and they sometimes get sick. I also appreciate that I can instantly communicate with a real pediatrician over text. It’s like being able to text a family member that practices medicine – it’s an invaluable resource. The channel of communication makes it special along with the fact that it’s a real human being.
There are two things about its future that intrigue me most. The first is whether I’d be okay chatting with an AI. One of the things I’ve been doing recently is cross-referencing things I’m learning or recommendations from doctors with ChatGPT and I’ve found that ChatGPT nails most every question succinctly. I’ll sometimes start a medical search on google and end up on a research paper and find my answer (eg how would you calculate the dosage of this specific drug?), then I’ll go to ChatGPT and get a nearly identical answer. The results are pretty astounding, so for me I do think I’d be perfectly fine communicating with some chat-based AI, especially if I know there is a human in the loop somewhere and I can ripcord to them. The second thing I’d like to see happen is a suite of remote diagnostic tools more broadly utilized and made available to every household. One of the reasons why pediatricians want you to come into the office is because they physically want to see your child so they can evaluate them with a stethoscope and otoscope. There’s enough hardware out there now that should enable remote visualization of ears and throat and listening to breathing. It’d be a lot easier to stream or send a video of an ear canal, see an ear infection, and have antibiotics delivered to your door within hours than waiting 24 hours to see your pediatrician or in a waiting room for hours at urgent care. It’s obvious that this is where the future of care will end up, it’s just a matter of time (and not just for pediatrics but for all care). It’s also important that this trend will make healthcare meaningfully more accessible to people all around the globe, even in the most remote parts of the world.
I’m very excited by these trends. It’s incredible that something as simple as on-demand text based communications can change healthcare access and the healthcare experience. It’s a great building block and entryway to a much broader world of healthcare, and I hope it advances quickly because it’s going to help a lot of people and provide them much needed peace of mind when they need it most.