I’ve been reading that more patients are using telemedicine this flu season, which is great. It can not only save you money, but keep you home where you’re comfortable and not spreading germs to others. This post was originally published May 2016, but I’ve updated the information.
Time is money
Maybe you have affordable health insurance and a doctor you like.
But have you ever had the experience of calling for an appointment for a sore throat, a bladder infection, back pain, or some other minor ailment and being told that the doctor’s next available appointment is in six weeks?
Or you get a same-day appointment, but then have to take time off work, drive to the clinic, perhaps pay for parking, and then wait to be seen by the doctor. For a five-minute appointment.
It’s frustrating, sure, but it’s also costly when you consider the time off work.
A trip to urgent care is expensive, too, especially if you’re charged a $200-$500 “facility fee” on top your medical care.
Cost and convenience are two reasons why the telemedicine industry is booming. More and more employers and insurance companies are offering these services. It’s partly about saving money, but it’s also about making health benefits more consumer centric and increasing patient satisfaction.
My insurance company, Premera, began offering its members access to Teladoc last year. I don’t have to pay Teladoc’s monthly subscription fee, and I only pay a $35 co-pay, just like my usual primary care visit.
Related post: What is Teladoc?
The convenience factor is a huge draw. And younger people, or those used to Skyping, FaceTiming and video conferencing, are just more open to using computers, smartphones and tablets to get medical advice.
Who are the major telemedicine players?
Telemedicine companies offer 24/7/365 access to licensed and board-certified physicians, usually within the hour. You typically need to create an account and provide some health history before taking to a doctor.
All can handle a variety of urgent—but not emergency—health care problems, such as sore throats, ear aches, bladder infections, yeast infections, pink eye, nausea/vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, fevers, coughs, headaches, gout, skin rashes, sprains, and more. Their websites are more specific about what they do and don’t handle.
Telemedicine companies can also provide e-prescriptions for most medications.
- Teladoc contracts with employers and insurance companies and is not available to the general public;
- $49 visit fee, unless covered by your health plan’s co-pay;
- Doctors are assigned based on who is available first;
- You can schedule an appointment for a time that is convenient for you;
- Teladoc provides typical urgent care services, as well as dermatology (need to upload photos), behavioral health counseling, smoking cessation, and sexual health counseling;
- Amwell (American Well):
- There is no monthly subscription fee and anyone can use Amwell;
- $49 visit fee;
- Visits can be via phone (1-844-SEE-DOCS), computer, smartphone or tablet;
- A mobile app (Apple or Android) is available for your smartphone or tablet;
- You are given a choice of doctors, and can see their experience and ratings before you choose;
- Amwell provides typical urgent care services, as well as online behavioral therapy and nutritional counseling.
I’ve added links to other telemedicine/telehealth companies on my Resources page.
Who benefits from telemedicine?
You might consider using a telemedicine service if:
- You have a minor ailment and are in general good health;
- You live in a rural area with no health care providers (although if there’s no internet connection, a video consult won’t be possible);
- It takes days or weeks to get an appointment with your primary care doctor;
- You cannot afford to take time off work for a doctor’s appointment;
- It’s a weekend or after clinic hours;
- You are traveling out of town (but still in the States);
- Your employer or insurance company offers the service at no additional cost;
- You don’t have health insurance.
Who shouldn’t use telemedicine?
- You need emergency care, or have an injury or illness that requires hands-on care, such as a broken bone.
- You have a complicated health history or unstable medical condition (the telemedicine doctor will not have access to your complete medical record, making it more difficult to treat you safely);
- You aren’t comfortable talking to a doctor you don’t know;
- You aren’t comfortable with the technology; although it can be as simple as using a landline phone.
Check with your employer or insurance company to see if they offer access to a telemedicine company.
Some hospitals and clinics are also offering their own telemedicine services; ask your physician’s office if they do.
Keep your personal health records up-to-date! If you do take advantage of a telemedicine visit, make sure they or you forward a copy of the visit notes to your primary care physician.
Telemedicine isn’t for everyone and it isn’t perfect in terms of continuity of care. But with our increasingly expensive and fragmented health care system, I think it’s a reasonable way to save both time and money.
Have you used a telemedicine service? If you’d like to share your experience—good or bad—please leave a comment!