The Doctor Will See You Now

Squeezing in that doctor’s visit just got a whole lot easier thanks to telemedicine. 

Photo from Thinkstock.

We’re officially in the future ladies and gents: You can now consult medical professionals from the comfort of your own home. No, we’re not talking about house calls — at least not in the traditional sense. Rather, medical professionals now have the ability to diagnose and treat what’s ailing you through your smart phone. That’s right, there’s an app for that and it’s called American Well. We caught up with Dan Xavier, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Rhode Island’s director of specialty products, to get the lowdown.

 

WHO CAN USE IT?

Xavier: Anyone can sign up for the American Well app; however, if your health insurance carrier doesn’t contract with American Well then you’ll be charged the full cost of the visit. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Rhode Island members are only responsible for a copay, much the way they would be for office visits.

 

HOW DOES IT WORK?

Xavier: First, sign up using the American Well mobile app or website. Registration is very straight forward and only requires your name, member ID and health plan. Once registered you can choose from a list of credentialed providers. From there it’s just like going to a provider’s office; just fill out a form with all of your medical information, such as current medications, pre-existing conditions, your reason for the visit (if it’s something visible like a rash or a cut, you can even upload a picture), etc. You can also choose your local pharmacy as your standard setting for filling prescriptions. All this information is saved so that when you start a visit in the future you don’t have to input it again. Once everything is filled out you can begin a video call with a provider. The entire process usually takes no more than a couple of minutes.

 

CAN YOU CALL IN AT ANY TIME?

Xavier: You don’t need an appointment — simply launch the app or go to the website, find a provider and start your visit. It’s quick and seamless. But, in the event that providers are seeing other patients, you may need to wait a few minutes (seven on average).

 

WHAT TYPES OF ILLNESSES ARE THESE SERVICES FOR?

Xavier: Patients should seek these services when it’s a situation where they have a minor ailment that isn’t an emergency. Commonly treated illnesses include sinusitis, upper respiratory infection, cough, allergies and rash. Ultimately, we are trying to make it possible for our members to get the right care, at the right time, at the right place. We hope telemedicine reduces non-emergent visits to emergency rooms and urgent care centers.

 

WHO ARE THE DOCTORS INVOLVED?

Xavier: We partner and leverage American Wells’ Online Care Group network, which is a network of providers from around the country who are credentialed in Rhode Island (as well as in many other states). This is how we’re able to offer 24/7 service to our members.

 

CAN MEDICATION BE PRESCRIBED THROUGH THE SERVICE?

Xavier: Yes, but it is limited to certain kinds of drugs. On average, fewer than half of telemedicine visits result in prescriptions.

 

DO YOU THINK THESE TYPES OF SERVICES WILL BECOME EVEN MORE PREVALENT IN YEARS TO COME?

Xavier: I do believe consumer or patient-facing technology services will grow. Technology is advancing at a rate that makes it much easier to interact and engage with people. In addition, as consumers continue to become more and more comfortable with leveraging technology for their health, we’ll see new services/products/tools come to the market. There will be limitations though — not all medical services are appropriate for virtual visits.

 

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