Virtual Doctor Visits
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.
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. http://goo.gl/pQccpC
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...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 22 Jan 2016
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Virtual Doctor Visits (Posted: 22 Jan 2016)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved