When I started medical school, my South Asian immigrant parents quietly hoped I would find my way to cardiology or another glamorous specialty. Instead, I spent a decade — first as a medical student, then as an intern and resident in internal medicine — focused on advancing the right to health among poor people and others with little access to quality health care.
Through high-impact nonprofit organizations, political campaigns, and grassroots organizing in urban communities and among health professionals, I was part of an incredible community focused on making American medicine better, safer, and affordable to all.
So when it came time for me to find a “real job” after my residency, I assumed it would be in a nonprofit organization with a laser-like focus on transforming underserved health. Imagine my astonishment, then, to discover my life’s work in Iora Health — a private sector, venture-backed, for-profit primary care startup.
Profit and medicine
Critics have said that for-profit medicine makes money by finding ways to avoid caring for sick people “in their time of greatest need.” It’s also been pointed out that the Hippocratic oath doesn’t mention “money, financing, or making a profit.”
Let’s get the disclaimer out of the way:
We love Uber.
As physicians with roots in the Bay Area, we use Uber all the time. The service is convenient, (usually) swift and consistently pleasant. With a few taps of a smartphone, we know where and when we’ll be picked up — and we can see the Uber driver coming to get us in real time.
When the vagaries of San Francisco public transit don’t accommodate our varying schedules, it’s Uber that’s the most reliable form of transportation. (It might be that we like having some immediate gratification.)
So when we caught wind of the news that Uber’s founding architect, Oscar Salazar, has taken on the challenge of applying the “Uber way” to health care delivery, there was quite a bit to immediately like. From our collective vantage point, Uber’s appeal is obvious. When you’re feeling sick, you want convenience and immediacy in your care — two things Uber has perfected.
And who wouldn’t be excited by the idea of keeping patients out of overcrowded emergency rooms and urgent care waiting rooms? The concept of returning those patients to their homes (where they can then be evaluated and receive basic care) seems so simple that it’s brilliant.
By ALI KHAN, MD, MPP
“So, why didn’t I take the ROAD again?”
It’s a question that I regularly hear from many of my co-residents in internal medicine – and no, we’re not questioning our travel routes to the hospital.
We all know why we chose internal medicine: the intellectual challenges inherent in treating across organ systems, the excitement of primary scientific investigation and diagnosis and the like. As we struggle through the rigors of primary care training, however, it’s hard not to look wistfully at our colleagues in such lucrative, ”lifestyle” specialties as radiology, ophthalmology, anesthesia and dermatology – the “ROAD” to riches in modern medicine – and wonder exactly how green the proverbial grass on the other side might be.
In the wake of the Affordable Care Act’s [ACA] passage, conventional wisdom suggests that we’re about to find out. After all, with the ACA’s passage comes the influx of more than 30 million new customers to American primary care offices and hospitals. In a health care marketplace where just two percent of all graduating American medical students will pursue careers in general medicine (according to a 2008 JAMA study), an exponential jump in supply will mean a requisite increase in demand – with a boost in wages for primary care docs surely close behind.