SUMMARY: Recently we discussed a number of options for walk-in care, comparing urgent-care centers with primary care and retail medicine with membership medical groups. To read that blog post, click here. Well now we have another option to throw in the basket: Telehealth. Read more, or …
Telehealth or telemedicine is an affordable healthcare alternative that allows you to talk with a doctor via phone or video consults. This encompasses preventative and curative needs. Basically, a physician will listen to you (or look at you using video programs such as Skype) and help diagnose your problem. The nurse or doctor can also prescribe medication and have it sent directly to your pharmacy.
Although there may be private clinics offering similar services, Teladoc is currently the largest national provider of telehealth, offering care to individuals with nationwide doctors that have agreed to join the program. And now the company is looking to partner with medical centers and hospitals – the first of which is Continuum Health Partners, Beth Israel Medical Center in New York.
Beth Israel has partnered with Teladoc to provide telecare to patients for an annual medical fee of $30 a year or $50 a year for families. Once the membership fee is paid, individuals may call the Teladoc line to consult a physician (U.S. board-certified practitioners) for $38, offering an affordable alternative to urgent- or walk-in care.
Beth Israel is the first medical center to partner with Teladoc. The company has partnered with insurance providers in specific states such as Blue Shield of California and Aetna of Alaska. Patients under these health care providers have open access to Teladoc’s services.
Although Teladoc is the largest national telehealth provider, it is not the only one. Other companies include: Consult A Doctor, American Well, Healthcaremagic.com, CallMD.com and MDlive.com. Prices for consultations range from $10 to $40, depending on the provider. Whether the consultation is offered via phone, e-mail, video or all three also depends on the provider.
One of the benefits of telehealth over many walk-in clinics is that the service is offered 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. However, Teladoc only handles non-emergency matters, such as:
- Cold and flu symptoms
- Poison ivy
- Pink eye
- Urinary tract infection
- Respiratory infection
- Sinus problems
- Ear infection
The main benefit of Teladoc is that it allows patients to avoid expensive premiums and inconsistent out-of-pocket prices and still have access to 24/7 care.
Given increasing demand for affordable health-care alternatives, the market for telehealth has great potential for growth. According to a 2010 Health Data Management survey, nearly three-quarters of U.S. consumers say they would use telehealth.
We asked Susan Moscou, Associate Professor of the Nursing Program at Mercy College, what she thinks about telehealth:
“Telehealth has been used to reach populations in rural areas, home-bound patients, and access to specialists,” she said. “It is typically used by nurses to manage home-bound patients (e.g. heart failure patients who need daily weights). Without telehealth, many of these populations would not receive health care services in a timely manner.”
However not everyone supports telehealth. In the state of Oklahoma, for example, any form of telehealth is illegal. Patients are required to see a physician face-to-face.
Also, anyone who’s called a doctor over the phone can tell you that quite often a phone diagnosis is difficult to make, and the answer might be “come in to get seen.”
Is telehealth covered by insurance plans? Check first; we know that any answer we give will be dependent on your plan.
What do you think of telehealth? Would you use it for the $30 membership fee and $38 consultation cost? Write us!