Virtual Doctor Visits

Category: Health

Americans are pretty satisfied with their doctors overall, according to a new Harris Poll released on January 20, 2016. Some 88% of respondents were satisfied with their doctor visits. But when it comes to online interactions, there’s a big gap between what patients want and what doctors offer.

The Doctor Is In (...and Online)!

The recent Harris Poll on satisfaction with doctor visits indicated that 25% of patients had online access to their medical records, but 59% did not, and rated such access “important.” Email access to doctors stands at 19%. Online appointment-setting is available to 17% of patients, and 15% can pay their doctor bills online.

About half of patients said these options are important but they did not have any of them. The biggest gap between access and perceived importance was in online cost-estimation; only 7% of patients have access but 62% feel it’s important.

This Harris Poll survey did not address the availability or importance of online “office visits,” in which patients consult interactively with physicians via videoconference, chat, or other real-time online channels. But virtual doctor visits are happening, and they can save everyone enormous amounts of time and money.

Telemedicine and virtual office visits

In the Tucson, Arizona, area, Northwest Healthcare is offering online doctor visits for non-emergency conditions through an app called VirtualHealthNow. Board-certified doctors trained in telehealth techniques can diagnose and prescribe for minor conditions such as sinus problems, fever, ear infections, cold and flu symptoms, allergies, migraines or stomach pain. Average wait time after requesting a doctor is 5 minutes or less; the cost, $49 or less. VirtualHealthNow is currently available to residents of Arizona, Washington, Idaho, and Oklahoma.

In southwest Missouri, rural businesses are making telemedicine available to employees at work. CoxHealth, a regional system of hospitals and clinics, launched the DirectConnect tele-medicine program two years ago; now, 20 employers have set up workplace videoconferencing facilities where employees and their families can see a doctor online for non-emergency conditions. Patients too sick to go to work can access DirectConnect from home via computer, tablet, or smartphone. Employees of participating firms pay $45 per visit; the general public pays $59.

If your regular doctor's office is closed, or you can't get an appointment, your only option is to visit an urgent care center or hospital Emergency Room. But telemedicine changes that. VirtualHealthNow, DirectConnect and other telemedicine services are appealing because the cost is reasonable, you don't have to travel, and there's usually no appointment necessary. When a doctor visits via your smartphone, tablet or computer, you can get a diagnosis and treatment recommendation, including a prescription if needed.

A Wall Street Journal article from a year ago, titled The Future of Medicine Is in Your Smartphone, says that smartphones and wireless devices can be used together to take blood-pressure readings, do an electrocardiogram, perform an exam to detect ear infections, or evaluate a patient's mental health. They can also transmit information such as temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and blood glucose levels to your doctor electronically. The WSJ article also mentions the prospect of being able to take a smartphone X-ray selfie if you’re worried that you might have broken a bone.

What About Insurance Coverage?

According to the American Telemedicine Association, “29 states and the District of Columbia require that private insurers cover telehealth the same as they cover in-person services. Many other insurers cover at least some telehealth service--and many more have expressed interest in expanding their telehealth coverage."

To find out if your insurance company covers telehealth services, contact your benefits manager. The ATA has a very useful FAQ, including a report on every State’s Medicare and Medicaid rules regarding telemedicine reimbursements.

If insurance won’t cover telemedicine, some employers will pick up the tab for employees. Employers are beginning to see telemedecine’s benefits in terms of work time saved and the value of a healthy workforce. It's also a boon to people who are house-bound, or those who live in rural areas. The cost can also be charged against a tax-free health savings account, or paid out of pocket.

Do you have online access to your doctor's office, or your medical records? What do you think about virtual office visits? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Virtual Doctor Visits"

Posted by:

22 Jan 2016

Here in this area of NC, the 2 major medical groups vary in how they provide patient care on-line. My primary-care physician's group does it via e-mail; my cardiologist's group sends an e-mail to notify me that a message is waiting for me on their secure website. I prefer the latter. I can check my records, schedule appointments, and ask some questions of both of these. Full access to either physician is not yet available. I do not use the e-mail connection to my primary-care. (They are trying to force me to use Gmail. I don't like being forced to do anything. Hear me, Microsoft & Win-10?)

Posted by:

Dave Moran
22 Jan 2016

You may want to check out GMail as when we were looking to move from on premise Exchange, google was not HIPAA certified. We had to go to MS hosted (cloud) email. We are a in part a healthcare provider.

Posted by:

22 Jan 2016

With my physicians, I do not have video access to them, but, with the Clinic's secure online website, I can ask questions, ask for refills, check on my appointments and see my health record.

My Clinic has a wonderful Electronic Health or Medical Records (EHR or EMR). I think, my Clinic called it's program an EHR. Anyway, I am very pleased with this whole program.

The last time I was in the hospital, one of two where my Clinic is located - All of my records were available to the Hospitalist, where they could record my progress, but not change any of my standing records. This worked extremely well, my PCP knew what was going on and when I went in to see him, he was on-track with my progress and further initiated Home Health Care.

I was very pleased with the whole process. I needed Home Health Care, for Physical Therapy, Nurse Visits, and Bath Care. Bath Care was so important, I wasn't able to get around much, yet alone take a bath or shower. All of my caretakers were fabulous.

I wouldn't mind having video conferences with my PCP. He knows my husband and I so well, that it would be easy for all of us. So far, I have seen anything like that being planned.

Should I be sick, I can always go to the Clinic's Immediate Care, that is what it is for - When you don't feel well or maybe hurt yourself, to check things out. Again, my records are available to the Immediate Care Doctor or Physician's Assistant. This really helps, especially with all of the medications that I take on a daily basis and my allergies. :)

Posted by:

Rhonda Lea Kirk Fries
22 Jan 2016

My Anthem plan offers LiveHealthOnline. I haven't used it, but the terms are the same as for my regular doctors.

In my state (and in most states), prescriptions are available, if required for the condition. For simple issues, it seems to be a good, economical solution for everyone. I can imagine, however, that some patients will not be satisfied if they bring complex issues that cannot be addressed in a teleconference. Sometimes specialists and tests are necessary, even for what seems uncomplicated to a patient.

Posted by:

22 Jan 2016

Oh - Forgot to add - My Clinic's program is HIPPA certified. This is very important. All of my daughters are allowed to access both my husband and my accounts. We are older and that is the wisest thing to do, if, you can. I don't care of your children live across the country, they should be able to find out what is going on, too.

Posted by:

Monte Crooks
22 Jan 2016

Pretty hard to "catch" anyone else's germs, even or especially your Doctor's, from your computer, phone, tablet, etc. This is truly the way to go for minor issues. Unfortunately, my wife, who is diabetic, needs to have her Doctor physically diagnose the circulation and sensitivity in her feet by hand. There may, someday, be a means to do this via offsite video connection; but, until then, she really needs to see her Doc in his office. Still, I'll be following this tech with excited anticipation! Thanks, Bob for keeping all of U.S. on the frontline of tech development.

Posted by:

23 Jan 2016

The Doctor On Demand app on your phone is awesome. Started by Dr. Phil and his son, it has every kind of doctor you could want and only the best. Even psychologists that offer online sessions. I believe the first visit to a doctor is free. At one time they had a whole month free.

Posted by:

Sam Hagen
24 Jan 2016

Nothing like that here in Australia. Yet.

Posted by:

Prasanta Shee
24 May 2018

Use of video conferencing software such as R-HUB HD video conferencing servers in healthcare sector, has greatly benefited doctors in terms of virtually reaching out to rural areas, better collaboration by doctors with their counterparts regardless of their geographical locations. Doctors, medical professionals, etc. are able to keep up with persistent demands at a greater speed and efficiency.

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