Thanks to the spectacular growth of telemedicine, health consumers now have a dazzling array of new ways in which they can interact with medical professionals. These new technologies — far more convenient and less expensive than what’s been available through traditional medicine — hopefully will encourage more people to take better care of themselves.
And, almost inevitably, the proliferation of mobile apps that facilitate many of telemedicine’s doctor-patient interactions has raised some concerns about the quality, safety, privacy, and adequacy of the health care they deliver. In a recent report posted at CBSNews.com, medical contributor Holly Phillips notes that some states are considering tighter restrictions on telemedicine interactions.
Stringent Texas Regulations
And in one such state, the Texas Medical Board has already imposed regulations that essentially prohibit doctor-patient telemedicine consultations unless the doctor and patient have already established a face-to-face relationship. Not surprisingly, major telemedicine providers predict that such stringent rules make it all but impossible to operate profitably in the Lone Star State.
However, despite such speed bumps along the way, telemedicine’s advance seems pretty much unstoppable. In her overview of the increasing availability of telemedicine apps, Phillips focuses primarily on one such app called Pager, which launched in May 2014. Users of this innovative app, developed by a former member of Uber’s (ride-sharing app) founding team, can arrange to have a board-certified physician or nurse practitioner visit them in person within two hours of initiating the call for service. House calls by doctors in 2015? Talk about back to the future!
Available Only in NYC
Thus far, Pager’s services are available only to residents of New York City between the hours of 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. seven days a week. The Pager service is available via a mobile app or through its website at Pager.com. However, the company hopes eventually to expand to other metropolitan areas. As might be expected since its service involves house calls, Pager’s prices are more expensive than typical telemedicine video consultations, but they’re still relatively reasonable considering what’s involved.
Patients pay only $50 for their first-time urgent-care visit. According to Pager.com, that price “covers everything included in a regular visit” with the exception of physicals and screenings. Subsequent urgent-care visits cost $200 and include on-site testing, treatments, surgical sutures, and first dosages of most prescriptions drugs. However, these visits do not include X-rays or lab tests.
Other Pager Services
If a Pager patient’s follow-up medical care can be handled over the telephone, the charge for such a phone-only consultation is $25. Physical exams cost $100 and provide any paperwork that might be required by the patient’s place of employment, school, or camp.
While Pager’s service represents a blend of old-time health care facilitated by cutting-edge telecommunications technology, many of today’s telemedicine apps are strictly 21st century, offering a new way for doctors and patients to interact.
In a July 2014 article posted at the website of Reader’s Digest, writer Damon Beres profiles three telemedicine apps that each offers its own unique contribution toward more comprehensive health care availability.
Doctor on Demand
One of the more straightforward telemedicine providers is Doctor on Demand, which specializes in video visits from its medical professionals, which include board-certified physicians, pediatricians, psychologists, and lactation specialists. Accessible via its mobile apps or through its website, Doctor on Demand at the time of this writing was offering a free introductory video visit to users who sign up for an account. Creating an account is free, and while the promotion lasts, so is your first visit.
However, subsequent video consultations with medical professionals will be charged at the going rate of $40 per visit for physicians and pediatricians. Sessions with a staff psychologist start at $50 for a 25-minute session and climb to $95 for a 50-minute session. If you need the services of a lactation consultant, a 25-minute sessions costs $40 while a 50-minute visit will run you $70.
Doctor on Demand physicians and pediatricians treat a variety of common ailments, such as cold, flu, sore throat, urinary tract infections, sports injuries, rashes and other skin issues, eye conditions, and diarrhea and vomiting. Doctor on Demand is not equipped to deal with chronic health conditions or cancer and other similarly complex conditions.
Pingmd Facilitates Communications
The second telemedicine app profiled by writer Beres is pingmd, a two-way communications platform that allows medical professionals and their patients to quickly exchange health-related information via text message, video chat, or telephone call. To avail yourself of pingmd’s services, your physician or other health professional must have signed up to utilize the service. Because the pingmd product is available in four different product levels, the type of interaction depends on the specific product your medical professional has signed up for.
As many an incautious health consumer has discovered, Googling your symptoms can lead to bad information and, in some cases, sleepless nights. While the Internet collectively is an amazing storehouse of information resources, some of that information is only half-right and some is dead wrong. If you’re looking for reliable answers to your questions about symptoms and other health concerns, you’ll want to take a closer look at HealthTap, the third mobile telemedicine app profiled by Beres. HealthTap’s mission statement nicely sums up its goals, which are “to measurably prolong the life expectancy of humankind and help everyone Feel Good by providing immediate access to top medical experts and their trust health advice anytime, anywhere.”
Expert Answers to Health Questions
Available through its website or via its mobile app, HealthTap puts users in touch with a team of more than 70,000 doctors and other medical professionals. Perhaps its biggest resource is its constantly expanding database of health-related questions and answers that can be searched for free to find answers to users’ health questions. Because this is a dynamic forum with a large number of participating medical professionals, peer review helps to keep information correct and up to date. As of August 2014, HealthTap’s knowledge base had expanded to include expert answers to more than 2 billion questions from its health consumer users.
Pleased with the results from a pilot project it conducted with MDLive, a major telemedicine provider, Walgreens recently announced that it hoped by year’s end to roll out 24/7 access to physicians in 25 states. Its pilot project, launched in 2014, was limited to California and Michigan. In June 2015, Walgreens extended its telemedicine service to customers in three additional states, Colorado, Illinois, and Washington.
Customers in states with this Walgreens service will be able to schedule a video consultation with one of the doctors in MDLive’s network from the Walgreens mobile app, available for both iOS and Android smart phones. The cost for a standard video consult is only $49, quite a savings over the cost of a traditional visit to the doctor’s office or, even more costly, an off-hours visit to the local emergency room.
Photo credit: Wael AlNahari
Don Amerman is a freelance author who writes extensively about a wide array of nutrition and health-related topics.
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