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Online doctors

Online doctors other than my friend  Dr. Google

My employer announced last year our health care coverage added the option to consult with a physician online via two-way video conference  if we were unable to connect with our own family practice doctor and it was a simple medical problem; it is not meant to replace our regular doctor or used for emergencies.  You need to have a computer and webcam, and a good internet connection.

I am always skeptical of changes in our health care systems or processes that are touted to bring savings and quicker access to care from physicians for patients. I was resistant to the idea of using an online doctor but I had a non-emergency problem on the weekend when I couldn’t reach my own family doctor.  I developed conjunctivitis, otherwise known as pink eye, either as a residual effect of a lingering cold/bronchial infection or being infected by our adult daughter, who also had this affect her on Saturday morning.  She went to one of those quick clinic places in a grocery store and was seen by a nurse practitioner who gave her an antibiotic drop for her eyes.  She was there when they first opened on Saturday morning and it only took her about 45 minutes to complete that visit.

By the time I went to bed Saturday night I knew a similar visit was in my future because my eye had developed that gunky stuff we all know means trouble and I had consulted Dr. Google to see if I might cure this on my own.  By morning when I woke, I was resigned I would have to dress and comingle in the waiting area of the retail clinic with the others who have cold, bronchitis, flu and whatever else. I looked up their hours and found they don’t open until later on Sundays.

While I was watching the clock waiting for the time the clinic would open, I eventually remembered  the fuss made by my employer  last year about using the online doctor  to save money to avoid urgent care visits, and retrieved that information from our workplace website.  I knew my daughter paid $20 at the clinic, and this online doctor under my plan was only going to be $10; I figured it was worth a try.  If I went to urgent care I would be charged  $150 – ten bucks sounded like a bargain to try since all I needed was antibiotic eye drops.  This service is at http://www.livehealthonline.com/  and also lists that people without insurance coverage can be seen and treated by these doctors for $49, which is still a deal considering the normal rates for an ordinary doctor visit.

After I registered my information and established an account, I was asked to enter the condition I wanted to talk with a doctor about (pink eye) and I was then shown a screen of several smiling faces to choose from.  Each of these doctors were listed as family practice and had star 5-ratings under their names so that didn’t tell me much. One of them also named Laura was who I was going to select, but she  had noted under her name that I would have to join the ‘waiting room’ to be seen by her, so I took a pass and looked for another doctor who had no wait to be seen.  That left me five other choices and I randomly picked one in the middle of the bunch.

The doctor who took my call was in Vermont but licensed to practice in Ohio where I live, and she was very thorough with the discussion of my symptoms, review of my medical history and my list of existing prescriptions.  She even had me place each of my eyes close to the web camera so she might have a better look.  I can’t imagine what that looked like on her end.  She correctly identified which eye I had problems with and her prescription for eye drops was electronically relayed to my local pharmacy. She also had me cough for her and hold out my tongue and let her look into my mouth, but I can’t imagine she could really see that much.  I assured her my throat was not sore.

As the final part of my visit I was emailed the notes that she took, which were surprisingly detailed for an online visit.   I was also given follow up instructions to see my own doctor if my symptoms worsened or didn’t improve in two days. The only stumble I saw was she struggled with the drug name Tysabri, and she did tell me with a smile that I might have to spell the names of my more specialized MS drugs, but my own doctors have that very same problem.

When we were done discussing my medical needs, I asked if she might have a few minutes to talk with me about doing medicine this way, since I regularly blog and like to share my experiences.   She was happy to talk about the advantages for both the patient and doctor.  I didn’t think to ask her is it was ok to use her name here.

She  discussed the benefits  for me – since I didn’t feel well I was still at home, dressed in my robe,  I didn’t have to go out into the winter cold, and I didn’t risk picking up germs from other sick patients at the retail clinic site.  She wisely pointed out that people with MS need to avoid the extra germs at these clinics, especially at the height of flu season. The $10 copay I was charged for this doctor visit is definitely less than the $25 I pay to see my family doctor.  And I didn’t have to wait a day or longer to get an appointment for something that really needed treatment to begin immediately.  All told, even with having to register on the site as a first time user, I was done in less than 30 minutes.

The doctor said at her practice having only limited time with each person, was always a time management issue.  Wellness visits stretch out when people suddenly remember one more thing they want to talk to the doctor about (yes, we’ve all done that!).  Sick visits can be more complicated and take more time. She likes the online visits because she said she can focus on the person, really listen to their specific problem and practice medicine without all the constraints of an in person office visit and concern about watching the clock.

It was a relaxed and casual conversation we were having as she sipped on her coffee and we chatted, until she had two other people come into her waiting room, and she had to move on.  I thanked her for her time and came away satisfied that for this simple medical problem my needs were met.  I’m not sure how well this would work with more complicated problems, but  the next time I need a bit more medical care than I can get from Dr. Google and it’s not easy to get to my regular physician, I’ll consider using the live online doctors.

Wishing you well,

Laura

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • Kim Dolce moderator
    4 years ago

    Laura,

    Thanks for mentioning this resource. I’m sure it’s effective for some situations–but I used it once when I was having gallbladder problems and I was underwhelmed by the way this doc told me “it’s probably nothing” when I knew it was something, and I went on to have a cholecystectomy. Granted it did not involve a webcam, but that wouldn’t have helped in my case anyway. Still, I can plainly see the value in this option. I’m glad you were able to get the problem treated right away. Thanks again for reporting your experience, this info will help a lot of people.

    –Kim

  • Laura Kolaczkowski author
    4 years ago

    I agree completely that this needs to be reserved for a very simple medical problem- you know the kinds of things that we are sitting in the waiting room thinking we hated to waste the money and time being there but that’s the only way we will get treated with a prescription? I think I would also use it if I thought I was getting the flu, since beginning Tamiflu within 24 hour onset of symptoms is the only way it helps. Often it’s hard to even get to the doctor in the first 24 hours. this service could be very valuable here.

    If I had young children I think this could be great for after hours care for things like strep throat, too. Thanks for sharing your experience. -Laura

  • sullimaybe
    4 years ago

    Pink eye could be optic neuritis. This happened to me 30 years ago. We know now that optic neuritis is a precursor to MS.
    Don’t want my doctor to sip coffee and miss this.
    Sullimaybe

  • Laura Kolaczkowski author
    4 years ago

    That’s a very good point but this was definitely pink eye, complete with the cold and all the other nasty symptoms. Plus our adult daughter had just gone to the local mini-clinic the day before and was treated for the same thing. I’ll have to look at the pink eye/ON connection.Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. best, laura

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