I’ve written a couple of times about telemedicine, featuring companies that offer convenient access over the phone to licensed doctors for consultation, diagnosis, and treatment of relatively simple primary care needs. The savings for self-pay patients can be significant, and they can provide critical access to care at times when other options are limited or would be very expensive.
Each telemedicine company is set up a little different, but the basics are generally the same. Patients sign up in advance, provide the company with a medical history, and then when needed they can call up, speak with a doctor who has access to their medical records, and then get a treatment recommendation or prescription, depending on the need. There are several different companies providing this type of service, including Connect2Docs,*24/7DocRx,*DocDial,* Consult A Doctor, Ameridoc, Teladoc, and CallMD.
There are also opportunities to speak with your doctor face-to-face over the internet through services like Skype. A few days ago I read this article by Chelsea Day at the blog Someday I’ll Learn:
…A company called American Well reached out a couple weeks ago to share their cool, helpful tool: on their website, you can see a doctor online within 10 minutes for $49. No insurance required. In fact, many insurance providers actually cover the cost of online doctor consultations. Even if they don’t, though, it’s a pretty big time-saver. My copay alone is $25. Is it worth an extra $24 to avoid the hassle of loading up my two kids, driving half an hour to the nearest urgent care and sitting in the disease-ridden waiting room for an hour?
Yeah, that’s a rhetorical question. I leapt at the chance to give it a try.
I picked the very first doctor on the list, and she was kind (she waved at my baby over the screen!), succinct and to-the-point. She listened knowingly to my gross descriptions of yellow boogers and green-tinged mucus. Diagnosis: bacterial sinus infections. It’s not normal for anyone to feel this bad for this long, and she got us all set and out the proverbial door with prescriptions in-hand within 10 minutes.
I was able to manage my own healthcare and Sidekick’s through a single account (though I did have to setup separate consultations for each of us, just as you do with most doctors in-person). One thing I’d remind parents of ahead-of-time is that it’s important to know your child’s current weight and whether or not their immunizations are up-to-date. That’s information they’ll ask you for since, unlike their typical in-house doctor, they won’t have all of the charts in-hand.
… As a parent, I can’t imagine not having someone on-call at all hours. It’s such a relief to be able to access a doctor at 3am and know that you’ll have an answer ASAP – or in the case of American Well, even a prescription sent over to your local 24-hour pharmacy – for just $49. And if you’re too sick to roll out of bed, you can just grab for the handheld electronics you undoubtedly keep on your nightstand. Yeah, there’s an app for that.
Readers, give American Well a try for yourselves using coupon code THEDAYS. It’s good for one coupon or nutritionist visit per account until 2014.
For those who’d like a little more interaction than a phone call with a doctor can provide, including the ability to have the doctor actually see something like a rash or cut, telemedicine delivered over the internet with a video connection might be a good option.
The costs do look like they’re a little more than what a phone-based telemedicine service might charge (it can be tricky to make direct comparisons though, because many of them are monthly subscriptions or have add-on services like the bundle of services offered by Connect2Docs) while AmericanWell charges on a per-use basis. Teladoc also offers a face-to-face video connection as well as an over the phone consultation, but their prices aren’t available online, at least not that I could find.
It’s great to see another company in the healthcare market that caters to self-pay patients, providing another convenient and affordable way to access medical care. It seems to be a growing industry, which can only help people who are uninsured, have a high deductible health insurance plan, or just need access to a doctor at 3am but don’t need to go to an emergency room!