Illness was the inspiration for Andy Jacobson's newest business venture.
The Charlotte, N.C., entrepreneur was on a business trip in Las Vegas two years ago when his wife fell sick.
A call to the concierge at the Four Seasons led Jacobson to a local doctor who made "house calls" to hotels on the Las Vegas Strip. Less than an hour later, Cary Logan, M.D., was treating Jacobson's wife -- and handed over a prescription he had already filled, based on Jacobson's telephone call.
The fee was hefty -- $295 -- but Jacobson started thinking about trying to bring that same old-fashioned medical service to travelers in other U.S. cities. Last week, he and Logan held a news conference at Charlotte's Presbyterian Hospital to announce the creation of their company, InRoomMD.
For $28, travelers will get a week's worth of coverage for consultations, prescriptions and other medical treatment.
The service is already offered in Las Vegas and Charlotte will be the second U.S. city to have it. In the coming months, Jacobson plans to expand to Orlando and Scottsdale, Ariz., followed eventually by other major destinations like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.
Logan told reporters InRoomMD will offer coverage for everything from simple doctor visits to dental service and rentals of wheelchairs and oxygen.
According to InRoomMD's Web site, the service is "an alternative to travel insurance."
"Travel insurance is used most of the time for people who are going on cruises or traveling internationally," company Vice President Andy Dinkin explained. "What they offer from a health standpoint . . . is they really are nothing more than covering your costs after your primary insurance won't cover it.
"It's after-the-fact reimbursement, but it does not help you get better healthcare when you need it."
InRoomMD is designed to assure travelers they will be able to get good care if they need it, offering "peace of mind, convenience and affordability," according to Jacobson.
He bills the service as a bargain compared to what he had to pay out of pocket when his wife became sick.
Logan said about 70% of the calls he answers at Las Vegas hotels are not for life-threatening situations, meaning most patients can be seen as outpatients.
"Most of the time we have the medicine with us so the patient never has to leave the hotel," said Logan, who has eight doctors in his practice. "If some medicine is needed that we don't have, we can have pharmacies deliver it right to their room."
On his own, Logan has offered InRoomMD-style service in Las Vegas alone for about a decade. He estimates his practice treated more than 3,000 patients last year, but on a fee-for-service basis -- not with the type of mini-insurance that InRoomMD is using as its business model.
InRoomMD plans to offer a week of coverage for $28, 10 days for $40 and two weeks for $56. Each doctor visit will incur an additional $20 charge. Most prescriptions will be included in the basic charge.
Jacobson believes the market for such short-term coverage is bigger than might be expected. He said studies have shown that up to 10% of the domestic traveling population has some sort of health need that can get in the way of doing business or simply enjoying a trip.
The service can be arranged through InRoomMD or travel agents, who earn a commission on sales.
If a subscriber requires hospitalization, InRoomMD's physicians call ahead and notify staff that a patient is on the way, Jacobson said. InRoomMD's service does not cover hospital charges.
The biggest value of the service, officials argue, is the peace of mind it gives someone who is about to hit the road.
"It might be better to be sick when you are visiting Charlotte or Las Vegas than if you are sitting in your own living room," said Dinkin.