Weird things happen on the Internet, even to doctors.
These days, anyone with an Internet connection can reach a doctor at anytime and from anywhere. Typically, it costs about $40 to $50 to schedule a video visit with a physician, via a crop of venture-backed mobile apps like MDLIVE and Doctor on Demand.
The doctors using these apps typically deal with colds and flus, but from time to time, something a lot more horrifying happens: Full frontal exposure.
Specifically, male patients are flashing their doctors.
"There was a period where it was happening to some of our doctors once a week," recalls Bob Kocher, an investor in Doctor on Demand. Kocher says it did not happen more frequently to female doctors, as the user didn't know who they were going to get once they requested a visit.
The sign-up process for these apps takes about 5 or 10 minutes, and users are asked for basic personal data and their health insurance details. But in many cases, these individuals will attempt to hide their identities by using aliases.
"One of the challenges was in blocking certain individuals, if they used false information," said Ian Tong, Doctor on Demand's chief medical officer.
Tong says the company tried to fix the problem by canceling accounts of known offenders and attempting to connect these people to mental health support whenever possible. It also shuttered marketing campaigns that offered free trials, which tended to attract this kind of behavior.
MD Live CEO Randy Parker has similarly dealt with inappropriate behavior, especially when users believe they are anonymous. And Jay Parkinson, CEO of Sherpaa, which charges a flat fee for access to a doctor via an app or on the phone, received more than 30 pictures of men's genitals after launching a partnership with Vice, where anyone could text a doctor to get their health questions asked.
"It's the Internet," he said.
This behavior might be commonplace among social media apps -- Snapchat famously began as a sexting app -- but it brings up some intriguing questions about privacy and anonymity when it occurs in a health care context. The burgeoning market for telemedicine is expected to reach $24 billion by the end of 2020, given the changing regulatory environment and the challenges for people who live in rural areas to access a physician.