Online doctor’s visits: how health care is going virtual

Online doctor’s visits: how health care is going virtual
Source: HealthWorks Collective

Telehealth, or remote health care, visits saw a huge increase in the past month due to the nationwide focus on social distancing and self-isolating amid the coronavirus crisis.

However, there are a number of benefits to virtual healthcare that explain why we are so drawn to the concept. With virtual doctor’s visits, we can avoid traveling onsite for common or ongoing medical needs. A doctor’s visit can take place “on-demand,” which offers extra convenience and sometimes more competitive pricing depending on the service.

Healthcare professionals also recognize that this can help reduce the risk of transmitting communicable illnesses, especially just to get a consultation or needed prescription. Who wants to sit in the doctor’s waiting room for an hour, especially while sick?

The history of telehealth is not so recent. Dr. Thomas S. Nesbitt mentions this long history in the book “The Evolution of Telehealth: Where Have We Been and Where Are We Going?”.

He explains that “an 1879 article in the Lancet talked about using the telephone to reduce unnecessary office visits.” He also goes on to explain: “The biggest need in home- and community-based care relates to chronic disease. The 100 million Americans with chronic disease account for about 75 percent of healthcare expenditures.”

We are still able to use a phone to access health care – and that access has expanded with the popularity and accessibility of the smartphone. Now, available at our fingertips are a number of private services, healthcare apps, virtual face-to-face conferencing with physicians and even easy access to basic prescriptions like birth control and generic antibiotics for conditions like urinary tract infections.

One top value of virtual health care is convenience. By making a doctor’s visit available through your smartphone, the industry is making health care more accessible, which in turn means that more people are likely to be treated and manage their health more consistently.

Nesbitt also explained that “use of technologies for chronic disease care management has been associated with reductions in hospitalizations, readmissions, lengths of stay, and costs; improvement in some physiologic measures; high rates of satisfaction; and better adherence to medication.”

So, what are our options? Depending on your needs, you have a ton of services, apps and providers to choose from.

Some services focus on basic, recurring needs like birth control and prescription management. Companies like The Pill Club offer subscription-based birth-control services, and others like Nurx and Good Rx offer birth control as well as a range of other common services, like screening for a sexually transmitted disease, tobacco cessation, pre-diabetes testing, pregnancy tests and acne treatments.

Usually, for a flat rate, these services will allow you to complete a short, virtual doctor’s visit via a health questionnaire without making an appointment and with no insurance necessary. This is a game-changer for health care, especially for young people in need of basic services.

For more in-depth health care, you can opt for a membership-based service like SteadyMD or Sherpaa.

These services both intend to serve as a primary care option. SteadyMD focuses on offering you a one-on-one relationship with a “doctor friend” that includes texts, calls and video chats with the same primary physician each time. They even connect you with a relatively compatible doctor so that you get extra personalized attention. Sherpaa also focuses on personalized treatment from a small group of doctors.

They claim to treat around 1,500 different conditions and ailments and offer general primary care up to urgent care treatment.

Other services like MDLive, LiveHealth Online and Doctor On Demand have flat rate visits available 24/7, either on-demand or by appointment, and treat a wide range of conditions, including urgent care.

Other platforms have specialized care, like BetterHelp and Talkspace. These providers offer virtual counseling and mental health services. For some people, the convenience of accessing this kind of help from the comfort of home may mean getting much-needed treatment they might otherwise have avoided or missed out on.

Patients are matched with counselors and given access to regular communication with them, usually for a flat, recurring rate. For basic queries, Adam’s Ask A Doctor portal allows you to message a general question to be answered by a certified physician within minutes.

Technology has always played a huge role in the evolution of modern healthcare. As technology allows us to connect in new ways within a virtual environment, surely modern health care will evolve and become more accessible (and potentially more affordable) moving forward. Virtual healthcare is likely here to stay, even after social distancing becomes just a memory.


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