Walgreens Dives Into Telemedicine with AppFor millennia, medical professionals provided their services face-to-face, either through home visits or in-office visits. Sadly, with time, home visits have become a rare occasion and are mostly practiced by specialty (and often expensive) concierge physicians these days. However, mobile technology has connected the world like never before, and the medical community has taken notice.
As the gap between home visits and in-office visits has widened, medical providers, and even pharmacies have taken notice. While it was difficult to address this issue from a logistical standpoint previously, the Internet and expanded bandwidth capabilities have made virtual home visits a reality.
Today’s technology makes visiting a doctor easier than ever. Use your smartphone, mobile device, or computer to talk see and hear a physician from virtually anywhere
Walgreens Plans to Advance Telemedicine Via an App
Leading the charge in virtual home visits is Walgreens. The pharmacy giant is expected to release an app in November of 2015 that will allow customers to interface with medical professionals in real time via video and audio technology. This revolution in telemedicine is expected to propel Walgreens’ current app services into a new realm of customer service.
Currently, Walgreens offers a variety of non-traditional medical services, such as on-demand flu shots, but with this app, the company may be able to attract a larger customer base. Prescription prices, by and large, have been declining in recent years thanks to generic alternatives, and Walgreens may be able to win the battle with Walmart and other large chains due, in part, to this app.
How telemedicine affects patients and their insurance providers remains to be seen, but it is sure to have a significant impact.
How Telemedicine Affects Insurance Providers
Little is known, at this point, how telemedicine will affect insurance providers and their customers. For now, people are generally able to use their insurance coverages like normal. This means seeing a doctor in an office during a scheduled appointment, and the office will bill the insurance provider.
Using telemedicine, however, things change a bit. Because the attending physician is not actually performing physical exams, using medical equipment, and so on, insurance companies are left in a bit of a gray area. On the one hand, the customer/patient is being seen by a medical professional, but on the other, he or she is not receiving the same services as would be administered in-office. How this plays out will be determined by market forces, unions, and a host of other factors as telemedicine evolves.
Criticisms of Telemedicine
One of the biggest criticisms and challenges of telemedicine is the lack of physical exam and equipment. As mentioned above, patients receiving telemedicine services can speak one-on-one with a real physician through a virtual interface, but that physician has no way to monitor key health indicators.
For example, a simple stethoscope can provide a doctor with a wealth of information regarding a patient’s heart and lungs, but this information cannot necessarily be gathered through a virtual visit. Some have suggested that the answer to this problem is to create simple, easy-to-use, affordable devices that a patient can utilize at home during a telemedicine visit. The data gathered from these devices would then be transmitted to the physician in order to ascertain vital signs and check for potential problems.
The issue with this is that such technology is seemingly a long ways away, and it may be cost-prohibitive, at least in the short term. In face-to-face visits, a physician is able to observe many different functions of patient’s body in order to determine symptoms and issue prescriptions. Using telemedicine, it may be much harder to achieve a level of accuracy just based on a visual examination and the patient’s description of symptoms.The Future of Telemedicine
Going forward, the hope is, for Walgreens and other telemedicine pioneers, that patients will turn to these services to receive a preliminary diagnosis. The accessibility and ease-of-use of telemedicine are certainly enticing, and the time saved is bound to bring in customers as well. In the end, however, telemedicine will need to evolve in order to truly provide comprehensive medical care.
Currently, it goes a step beyond calling your doctor’s office in that you can actually show a doctor video evidence of symptoms. As mentioned above, though, this can only go so far in helping a physician make a medical determination as to what is going on. A rash may look like something more severe on video, but at the same time, an internal problem may not be detected through video chat.
How This Affects Physician’s Offices
Anecdotal evidence suggests that many physicians’ offices are leaning toward telemedicine due to the time and cost savings involved as well. Tech-savvy doctors are realizing the potential of telemedicine, and this may ultimately affect the efforts of companies like Walgreens. Many offices are allowing patients to access records online, and in keeping with HIPAA laws, patients are able to review a vast amount of personal medical data on the web without having to schedule an office visit. This comes in incredibly handy when time is short, money is short, and the need for available medical records is immediate.
The Potential Dangers of Telemedicine
Along with all of the benefits of telemedicine, there are some dangers. Using digital technology in any way can open up avenues for hackers and criminals, and telemedicine communication is no different. Essentially, when you are video and audio conferencing with a physician, you need to consider your conversation open to the public.
Yes, doctor-patient privilege exists, but if a hacker gets ahold of your online conversation, all bets are off. In order to protect yourself and your health records, ensure that any app you use to digitally communicate with a doctor employs the right security measures. Also, if you have very sensitive information to share, it might be best to share it in person until Internet security protocols are beefed up to the point of being impenetrable.
While you might think that it’s not a big deal to have your medical records accessed by strangers, you may need to think again. These days, many employers consider medical records, drug test records, and more when thinking about hiring a candidate.
While civil rights laws are against discriminating based on disabilities and so on, employers still engage in these practices. If you choose not to self-identify as having a disability or a previous medical concern, digital records may tell on you. This can then be a problem if you decide not to provide medical information up front when completing an application or during an interview.
Is Telemedicine Right for You?
In determining whether telemedicine is right for you, think about a few things. First, how busy are you? Telemedicine services are great for people on the go, but you also need to consider the trade-off. While you can speak to a doctor, live, one-on-one, from your smartphone r mobile device, you are also no able to receive a comprehensive exam. Second, the cost.
Telemedicine visits are generally less expensive than in-person visits, but, again, they are also not as comprehensive. What you send on a telemedicine visit may cost less, but it may require you to schedule an in-person visit, thereby compounding the cost. Choose wisely. Finally, think before you schedule. If it feels like you have a cold, a telemedicine visit via an app may not be the best choice. Going to the other extreme, if you think you’ve broken your collarbone, go to the hospital and skip the telemedicine visit. Falling in between might be a good choice though.
Have Visual or Audible Symptoms?
Keep in mind that your physician will only be able to see and hear you during a telemedicine visit. Only symptoms that are visual and audible, such as a rash or cough, will be able to be anywhere nearly closely diagnosed. You may be able to describe internal pain or discomfort, but due to the multitude of symptoms that match up with illnesses, it may be very difficult for your telemedicine physician to provide an accurate diagnosis based on descriptions alone. In an emergency situation, always call your emergency medical helpline and have professional help sent on the way.
Walgreens’ Business Development Model
Walgreens is using a time-tested test … .testing the waters. Whether the company’s telemedicine app will become a success remains to be seen, but it is capitalizing on mobile technology and adding to its existing app technology. The company is already one of the largest pharmacies in the United States and has a national backing that may protect against a fall. The simple truth is, with so many people using smartphones more and more, there really is no downside to putting out a telemedicine app to see where it ends up. As discussed above, there are pros and cons of setting up, supporting, and using such an app, but in the case of Walgreens, it looks like addition revenue may be right around the corner.
(None of the above is meant to be medical advice. This site is intended for general knowledge and educational purposes. If you are experiencing painful or life-threatening symptoms, please contact your local primary care physician or contact emergency services as soon as possible.)
To learn more about how telemedcine can help you with weight loss or a related condition, visit eDrugstore.com.
Andrew Rusnak is an author who writes on topics that include medical technology and mobile development.