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,