January 29, 2015

The Benefits of Telemedicine

Medical Records & StethoscopeWhy You Might Consider Telemedicine

Are you tired of having to take time off work or pull your kid out of school to go to the doctor for a minor acute illness? Or, waiting until the evening when it’s more convenient and going to an urgent care center and pay more – because your doctor couldn’t squeeze you in?

Or, are you tired of finding yourself sitting in a waiting room full of patients who have the flu and you are there because of some nagging low back pain, but will most likely leave the office with the flu in tote? Or, do you live in a rural area and the nearest doctor is 50 miles away and it’s a struggle for you to get there?

Or, have you recently relocated to another state and need a refill on a medication before you can establish care with a new physician? Or, do find yourself without insurance or without a job and unable to pay for a doctor visit? Or, would you simply like a second opinion or have a physician review an abnormal lab result with you?

If so, then consider signing up with any number of growing telemedicine services. Telemedicine is a fast growing industry and fills holes or voids created by today’s modern medicine.

In full disclosure, I provide physician consultation services for two telemedicine companies – Teladoc and First Stop Health. So I speak from firsthand experience about telemedicine at least from a physician’s perspective. The concept of telemedicine is timely and effective, and I predict will boom as insurance companies and employers – not to mention patients demand less expensive alternatives.

What is Telemedicine? Telemedicine is the use of technology (phone, email, online video, and mobile apps) to provide medical consultation services from a distance.

Benefits of Telemedicine

Telemedicine is idea whose time has finally come. For fours years in medical school we were taught that 80% of the time the patient will tell you what’s wrong with them. In another words, if you ask the right questions and listen intently to the patient’s answers you will be able to diagnose the problem 80% of the time without even examining the patient. Well, if that’s true it would seem a vast majority of the problems could be handled with a simple phone call  – and they can be!

And, that’s the basis for telemedicine. It’s been estimated that 70% of the doctor visit’s for common conditions can be successfully managed through telemedicine. Telemedicine lends itself nicely for the management of the following conditions and/or symptoms.

  • urinary tract infections
  • flu
  • bites and stings
  • ear infections
  • pink eye
  • bronchitis
  • sinusitis
  • poison ivy and other rashes
  • allergies
  • acid reflux
  • yeast and other vaginal infections
  • nausea and vomiting

Plus, it’s great to have access to physicians when you are traveling. Here are other benefits of telemedicine.

  • Availabilty to board certified physicians 24/7/365.
  • Convenience – can speak to a doctor from home, office, or road and not take time off work.
  • Have your medical condition addressed in timely fashion. Most patients receive a phone call from a physician within 20 minutes.
  • Save money. Telemedicine services are less costly than office visits to the doctor and far less expensive than trips to the ER and urgent care centers.
  • Portable health care.

Telemedicine companies have electronic medical record systems to store your health information. They will forward your telemedicine consultation note to your primary care physician just like a local consulting physician would if you would like. They can also provide work excuses if needed. They provide the capability for patients to upload photos (rashes) and lab results for the physician to review. And, they also provide patient education material on your illness or condition.

Telemedicine consultations can take place over the phone, through online video, and even via mobile apps. Physicians must have a medical license in the state in which the patient is located at the time of the consultation. For instance, a patient residing in Florida but visting family in Texas when they get sick will be referred to a Texas licensed physician (though the physician may be living in New York). Also, not all state medical boards allow telemedicine services. But, that is rapidly changing because the entities that pay the bills are insisting on it, and telemedicine’s need and role are becoming more apparent.

More and more large employers and insurance companies are seeing the real value in telemedicine and up to 52% of large company employers plan to offer telemedicine services in their health care plans in 2015 – it saves money – huge amounts.  Read this Fortune Magazine article.

Let me give you some examples of telemedicine in the real world. Some of the patients I call are teachers and flight attendants whose companies cover all or most of the costs of telemedicine services. I have called teachers while in their classroom, prescribed an antibiotic for their condition. They pick up the prescription on their lunch hour, not miss school, get prompt treatment minimizing sick days, and the district doesn’t have to pay a substitute teacher.

Flight attendants pick up all sorts of bugs on the planes. How practical is it for them to see a doctor on layover in a different city other than their home base? Through telemedicine they can receive prompt care and are less likely to miss work than if they waited until they got back home. For most companies it’s the time off work that is more costly than the actual medical costs.

The patients I talk to like the convenience and costs savings of telemedicine more than anything. One thing for sure as physicians become glorified paper pushers there is becoming less time for doctors to do what they are actually trained to do – take care of patients – at a time when they are expected to see more patients. Telemedicine is a practial option when confronted with the inconvenience and frustration when your doctor is not available.

What Telemedicine is Not

Telemedicine is not a substitute for having a primary care physician. It is simply a bridge to provide you care when your physician is unavailable. Some telemedicine companies call this cross coverage – crossing over to cover your medical needs when you are unable to reach your physician.

Telemedicine companies will not provide prescriptions for narcotic pain medications, antidepressant/anxiety drugs, ADD medications, sleep aids, weight loss medications, erectile dysfunction drugs, hormones, blood thinners, or smoking cessation drugs. Some will provide oral contraceptives for 30 days only, and others do not at all.

Also, a physician is not obligated to treat the patient when patients have urgent or emergent problems. I have told patients to hang up the phone and go to the ER – that they have a problem beyond what telemedicine can manage.

Telemedicine Companies

In addition to Teladoc and Ameridoc other telemedicine companies include Doctor on Demand, HealthTap, and, First Stop Health. The industry is going through a phase of mergers and acquisitions. Your employer may already have a plan in place with one of these companies. You can sign up for an individual or family plan if your employer does not. Typically there is an annual fee, plus a consultation fee (about $40) each time you request a consultation. Take some time and shop around, but I think most of you will appreciate having access to such a service.

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Dr. Joe Jacko


Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

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