Video telemedicine is about to become the way we all visit all of your doctor, proclaims Wired magazine. While there have been predictions for decades about providing medical care via video chat, and pioneers like Google have been testing it out for awhile. A new decision by the country’s largest health insurer shows that telemedicine is finally entering the mainstream.
In April, United Healthcare announced a partnership with three telemedicine companies to cover video-based doctor visits just as it covers in-person visits. Members will only have to pay their usual co-pay. For now, these virtual visits will be available only to United Health Care’s self-funded customers, with the plan of expanding to most members by next year.
A majority of Americans say they would be willing to use videos for a doctor visit, according to a Harris Poll survey. Of the 64 percent of patients who said they would visit their doctor via video, 61 percent said convenience was a deciding factor.
How video visits work?
Frustrated by long patient wait-times in their clinical decision units that handled urgent and short-term observation care. This requires patients to go to the clinical decision unit and connect by video with a remote examining doctor. A nurse or clinical assistant with the patient can aid the doctor by applying a stethoscope or other instruments under the doctor’s direction.
The United Healthcare model does not require patients to go anywhere for a video visit. Rather, they can dial in on their phones and have almost-instant access to one of 1,400 licensed doctors who can provide them with a diagnosis and a prescription by video. About 92 percent of cases on Doctor on Demand require no in-person follow up.
According to Andrew Watson, the chief medical director of telemedicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, “Telemedicine is moving like lightning. We’re able to do so much more than before.” Will eye exams of the future be by video telemedicine? I don’t think purchase of your Chanels or RayBans will be part of your telemedicine exam for those of you who were hoping.
Easing the burden on doctors.
We know what’s in it for patients: convenience, lower costs, and greater access to care. But how do doctors benefit from video visits? Virtual visits can help offload some of their more easily treated cases in order to focus on patients who really need in-person care. These visits keep the colds and flus and allergies and bumps and bruises out of the offline settings. That frees up the waiting rooms, so doctors can treat more pressing issues.
Patients indicate that convenience is the biggest advantage of video visits. Can your practice do anything to expand your after-hours care offerings, such as evening or weekend hours?
In the Harris Poll survey, 70 percent of patients said they would prefer to receive a prescription via online video visit versus an in-person office visit. Making prescription refills quicker and easier, say, by offering online refills, might be just as effective as video for meeting your patients’ needs. Video chats are only one of the many technology solutions currently available that make both patients’ and doctors’ lives easier and health care better. Keep watching to see if your doctor provides video telemedicine and television care!
Dr. Warren Johnson | Dr. Do Nguyen