High Tech, No Touch: Are Virtual Doctor Visits in Your Future?

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Coming down with the flu, a fever, pink eye or a sore throat is bothersome enough and then there\’s the dreaded trip to the doctor\’s office where you get to sit with other sneezing, coughing and germy patients looking to flee as much as you. Can\’t get an appointment? Maybe you make a more costly trip to the ER.

Wait. Is there an app for that?

\"MDLive\"It almost feels like it, says Grace Hines, a Virginia resident who a year and a half ago paid $49 to use MDLive, for an on-demand and convenient virtual healthcare consultation with a board certified doctor.

With an out of town trip on her calendar and worried about an infection taking a turn for the worse, Hines wanted to play it safe and get a prescription for an antibiotic to take with her on the road. Her physician wasn\’t available so she went online looking for another option and stumbled across MDLive, formerly MDLiveCare.

Hines describes her \”amazing\” experience: A little before 5p.m she got online; by 5p.m. she found MDLive; she filled out the health assessment and opted for a phone consultation, versus video web session or email, and was on the phone with a doctor by 5:08p.m.

\”The physician was very comfortable to talk to and he was very thorough about checking the facts and asking me questions,\” she says.

By 5:30p.m. Hine\’s husband was picking up a prescription for antibiotics at her local pharmacy of choice.

Targeting low acuity or routine medical conditions  – colds and flu, allergies, sports injuries, insect bites, sinusitis, skin inflammation, rashes, and vomiting and diarrhea, for example – that generally don\’t require a trip to doctor\’s office, urgent care or the ER, telehealth is poised to revolutionize healthcare.

\”There\’s already been thousands of e-visitations and there are some fully-fledged systems out there but, today, it lacks public awareness. In five years this will be a fully aware aspect of healthcare,\” says Zachary Bujnoch, senior industry analyst with Frost & Sullivan\’s Healthcare Practice.

Convenient and real-time from work, home, college or on vacation, e-healthcare is cost-effective for consumers, employers and a healthcare industry struggling to offer affordable healthcare models, reduce costs and expand services.
Are you thinking, sign me up now? This next gen scenario for a doctor\’s visit is closer than you think. Referred to as e-healthcare, telemedicine, remote care, etc. there\’s a growing number models for service available today and big name companies are getting onboard helping consumers skip the waiting room.

\"MDLive\"NowClinic Online Care, an internet-based service of OptumHealth, offers a fee for service virtual doctor visits in almost two dozen states; MDLive, founded in 2006 rolled out to self-insured employers and less conspicuously to consumers offers a national network of licensed board-certified U.S.-based physicians and healthcare professionals; Stat Doctors offers 24/7 real-time virtual house calls; and CareSimple is Carena Inc.\’s virtual house call service that was rolled out in 2011.

Seattle, Wash.-based Carena provides health care solutions for self-insured organizations, health insurance companies and health systems.  Companies offering CareSimple to their employees include MicroSoft, Costco and Franciscan or account to close to 500,000 members, according to a company spokesperson.

Looking to transform venues for healthcare Sentara Healthcare, a not-for-profit healthcare system operating more than 100 sites of care serving 460,000 insured residents across Virginia and northeastern North Carolina, recently bought an ownership interest in Sunrise, Fla.-based MDLive.

In October, the company will formally roll out Sentara MDLive direct to consumers, in January will offer it to its 24,000 employees and in sometime in 2013 will roll it out to its 460,000 insured customers.

\”Our goal is to put the patient at the right level of care at a convenient time and at the right cost,\” says Kenneth Krakaur, senior vice president at Sentara Healthcare.

Maybe your insurance company is on the list of healthcare insurers getting onboard with online doctor visits – Aetna, Blue Cross, Blue Shield, Cigna, Kaiser Permanente, WellPoint and United Health to name some. Partners HealthCare\’s Center for Connected Health and CHS Health Services, a national workforce health management company specializing in onsite healthcare solutions recently struck a deal with two big Boston hospitals – Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women\’s Hospital – to provide telemedicine services to Fortune 500 companies around the country.

Options for virtual doctors visits are morphing quickly. If you\’re out and about and in the vicinity of a select Rite Aide store, customers, as of a year ago, can access NowClinic Online Care in the pharmacy area, for private telehealth consultations.
Or, maybe you\’ll prefer to step into the futuristic HealthSpot Care4 Station, a fully enclosed kiosk that delivers primary and specialty care in a private setting in neighborhood pharmacies, supermarkets or the workplace.

\"MDLive\"Currently being piloted in Ohio, the Care4 Station, the private 8-foot x 5-foot kiosk, houses a chair and desktop with a touch screen interface and video screen. The kiosk is equipped with diagnostic equipment including blood pressure cuff, thermometer and otoscope, to look in the ear. There\’s also a camera to capture your height and a scale captures your weight when you step on the floor.

The hands-on virtual visit with a doctor takes 15 minutes on average and includes diagnosis and sending a prescription to your pharmacist, if necessary. A medical record of the visit is saved and accessible to the consumer via a website.

If sharing the diagnostic equipment seems unsanitary, fear not. A medical assistant is on-site to answer any questions, disinfect and keep the diagnostic equipment in hygienic working order. The kiosk, designed by Nottingham Spirk, is also equipped with a UV light that, at the flip of a switch, sanitizes the equipment.

A win-win for all? This marriage of medicine and technology may be just what the doctor ordered.

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