Telehealth Visits Allow Patients to See a Local Doctor Without Setting Foot in an Office
BY JOAN GOODCHILD
Traveling with children has its gifts and challenges. The excitement of a family trip is so fun to plan for and anticipate. But arranging for the extra special accommodations that are necessary for small children can make it a process. And after all that work and excitement, the last thing any family wants is for a vacation to be derailed by an illness.
That's where telehealth comes in. A new trend in medical care, telehealth sessions, also known as telemed visits, offer patients the opportunity to consult with a doctor via phone or video when getting into a doctor's office simply isn't feasible. That means even if you're on a vacation at Disney, or in the mountains of Vermont, you can talk to a doctor and get treatment for minor illness without ever leaving your hotel room.
The telemedicine market is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 14.3 percent through 2020, eventually reaching $36.2 billion, according to a report from Foley and Lardner LLP. Here in Massachusetts, Fallon Health has partnered with Teladoc Inc., a provider of virtual care services, to help members connect with a doctor for anytime, anywhere non-emergency issues without leaving home - or the resort.
"If you're on vacation, and you have sick kid or spouse, it's daunting to think about having to go to an ER or walk-in clinic in a strange city," Thomas Ebert, M.D., Fallon Health's executive vice president and chief medical officer. "Telehealth meets those needs."
Using telehealth services like Teladoc, members can access a national network of board-certified doctors, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day using a video, web or mobile app for non-emergency issues ranging from cold and flu symptoms to nasal and sinus problems to respiratory and urinary tract infections.
No authorizations or referrals are needed, and doctors can diagnose, suggest possible treatments and prescribe appropriate medications as necessary. Ebert said claims data analysis shows that 92 percent of health issues are resolved as a result of the first visit.
Ebert said one of the keys of success to the platform is that patients are connected to a local doctor that knows the region. So, if your family is on vacation in Florida, for example, you will have a telehealth session with a doctor in the locality of the state. This is because local doctors understand more intricately what is going in viral trends in the area.
"If the patient might have flu symptoms, for instance, the local doctor knows what is happening with flu patterns in the region," said Ebert. "They know what is going on in the community and can provide very good and quick access, and it often leads to a very good resolution to the problem."
Telehealth sessions obviously have some limitations. In cases where a culture or blood test is necessary for diagnosis, like with strep throat, a telemed visit would not be appropriate. In these kinds of cases, the patient is advised to seek care in person for the proper treatment. Ebert said this is the case about five percent of the time, based on data from Fallon's partnership with Teladoc.
No controlled substances are ever prescribed via a telehealth session, noted Ebert. The rate of antibiotic prescribing is currently lower in telehealth sessions compared to regular, in-person visits to primary care physician (PCP) practices, he said. The cost of a session is typically the same as a primary care physician co-pay.
Melissa Cordial, a mom of two from Sterling, Mass., used Teladoc offered through Fallon, her insurer, before a holiday weekend.
"I used Teladoc over Columbus Day weekend and it worked out very well. My daughter, age 10, had an infection on her ear from her ear piercing. This is the second time it's happened. I called her PCP on Friday afternoon and they wouldn't be able to see her until the following week as they had no appointments that afternoon and were closed on Monday for Columbus Day.
We were heading out the door to an event in Hartford, Connecticut. Rather than wait until the following week or deal with Urgent Care over the weekend, I used the Teladoc app and requested a call and uploaded a picture of her ear. I got a call back in about a half hour.
The doctor was easy to talk to and reviewed the images, and we talked about her past issue with her ear. He prescribed her medication and it was all set. I found it very easy and convenient. I would definitely use it again."
Ebert believes telemed session are here to stay and that demand will only grow over time. Younger generations who grew up with technology and are more comfortable with this kind of interaction will come to expect and demand it, he predicts.
"I think five years from now people will say this is just part of the continuum," he said. "And as for now, when people are planning a vacation, I advise them to pack the Teladoc number."