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How Do Online Doctor Visits Work?

The fairly new wave of telehealth / telemedicine is giving more people (especially older adults) greater opportunities to get help from a medical professional than ever before. This is especially useful for the elderly who are bed bound or otherwise cannot leave the house for a number of reasons. It’s also especially useful for their caregivers as well.

So, how do online doctor visits work? – Using your smart phone or your computer (both of which should be equipped with a camera) – you can log in to the website where you are seeing the physician at your appointment date and time. You can see them, they can see you. You can receive a diagnosis and prescription medicine via an online appointment.

There are two main factors that are propelling the popularity of telehealth services.

  1. The growing number of Baby Boomers – did you know that 10,000 seniors a day turn 65?
  2. The declining number of physicians – per the Association of American Medical Colleges – “The United States will see a shortage of up to nearly 122,000 physicians by 2032 as demand for physicians continues to grow faster than supply…”

This combination of more patients and fewer physicians has fueled the increase in the number of Nurse Practitioners (NP) and Physician Assistants (PA) which is helping to alleviate the burden on the medical community.

You may have noticed that that last few times you’ve visited a doctor’s office you most often have seen the NP or the PA instead of the doctor. This is very common as the caseload for most physicians is overwhelming.

Using an online telehealth service will most likely also produce the same result – meaning that you may end up having a consultation with an NP or a PA versus a doctor. But my point here is that I don’t want you to disqualify the medical professional online because he/she is not a doctor.

I personally opt for an NP or a PA when I go to a doctor’s visit simply because they tend to spend more time with me, they tend to listen better and I like the idea that both PA’s and NP’s have to re-take their national boards every few years whereas physicians do not.

What Can A Virtual Doctor Treat?

Virtual care physicians, NP’s and PA’s can treat a variety of conditions such as…

  • Sore throats and other cold like symptoms
  • Hypertension
  • GI issues
  • Skin conditions
  • Prescription refills
  • Counseling for mental health issues
  • Follow up visits post surgery
  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Diarrhea
  • Insect bites
  • Vomiting
  • Sprains and Strains
  • and much more

These online medical professionals can also write prescriptions as well (not just refill them).

But, it’s important to note that not ALL issues can be treated virtually.

For example – if you or your senior loved one is complaining of gastrointestinal problems that are resulting in some physical pain – it may be more prudent to visit a doctor face to face so that they can do a physical “hands on” type of exam.

Of course – many virtual doctors who are presented with issues that they feel need further examination will advise you to go TO your physician.

Telehealth And Hospice

Just a little sidenote here about telehealth services and Hospice.  There are some hospice programs that are now providing telehealth services in addition to the in home visitations which can be a great benefit to not only the patient but the family caregivers as well.

“As an organization, we are committed to innovation, education, and excellence in everything we do. We’re honored to receive this important grant from the Alliance and are actively working to integrate Telehealth technology to better serve our community,” said Michael Milward, Hospice of Santa Cruz County CEO. “We believe adopting Telehealth technology will allow for enhanced communication and symptom management for patients being supported on our Palliative Care program.” – tpgonlinedaily.com

For more information about hospice – read my article on When To Call Hospice For Elderly Care.

How Much Do Online Doctors Cost?

Each plan / provider is different but from what I am finding online, but generally speaking it does seem that the costs are very similar to going to an outpatient walk-in-clinic.

Some of the more popular companies that are providing online appointments with doctors are…

2nd MD

Cost is $3000 per case

Allina Health

Cost seems to be a set fee of $45 or their insurance co-pay, whichever is less

American Well

Cost is $49.95 for 10 minutes

Better Help (counseling services)

Cost ranges from $40.00 to $70.00 per week

Curai Health

Messaging a health coach or a doctor is completely free. With the free service, you can get answers to your questions and tips (like home remedies for headaches or colds). You only pay for the specific treatment you need such as medication.

Doctor On Demand

Cost is $40 for 15 minutes

Dr Says

Cost is $35 per visit

HealthTap

Cost is $99.00 per month

Live Health Online

Cost is $49.00/visit or co-pay if not fully covered by health plan

Mission Health

Cost is $25.00 per visit

Teladoc

Cost is $38 per visit + annual fee of $150 or less

MD Live

Cost is $45 per visit

MeMD

Cost is $49.95 per visit

Plush Care

Cost is $99.00 per visit or co-pay if not fully covered by health plan

Specialists On Call

Cost varies

Steady MD

Cost is $99 per month for individual plan and $169 per month for family plan

United Healthcare

Cost is $50.00 or less depending on the United-healthcare plan you are on.

Virtuwell

Cost is $40 per visit or insurance co-pay

Are Virtual Doctor Visits Good?

Some people may be very wary of seeing a doctor “online”. It’s certainly not something that we’ve been used to (as a society) so I suspect that it will take some time to get used to the concept and the practice of it.

As I speak with others about this topic the questions I most often get are along the line of…

  1. How is your blood pressure taken?
  2. How do they take your temperature?
  3. How can they assess something if they can’t touch it?

The answer to these questions is that of course, they can’t assess your blood pressure or temperature but those are things that you can do at home and then provide them with that information.

They obviously won’t be able to touch you if the issue is muscular pain or a cyst, etc.

So, yes, there are going to be limitations to what a virtual doctor can do but generally speaking, for issues such as mentioned above in the list of what online doctors mostly treat – a virtual doctor can be a very good thing.

Especially for anyone who has difficult getting TO a doctor.

Here’s a news story on the topic of telemedicine by KARE 11 – a local news station in Minneapolis, MN

Can You Get A Doctor’s Note From A Virtual Visit?

The short answer is “Yes” – the online physician will be able to write you a doctor’s note for your employer or your school or other source that is asking for one.

Getting this from an online telehealth service clearly saves you alot of time since you don’t have to make an appointment (usually weeks in advance), sit in the waiting room and then sit in the exam room waiting to see the doctor.

Does Medicare Cover Online Doctor Visits?

Seniors and their caregivers will most often ONLY see a physician if it’s covered by Medicare or Medicaid (whichever program they are on) or of course if their supplemental insurance will pay for it.

Generally speaking, Medicare Part B DOES cover telemedicine services.

You pay 20% of the Medicare-approved amount for your doctor or other health care provider’s services, and the Part B Deductible applies. For most telehealth services, you’ll pay the same amount that you would if you got the services in person. – Medicare.gov

I would recommend that you contact your supplemental insurance company for information about their coverage of telehealth / telemedicine services.

Does Medicaid Cover Online Doctor Visits?

Medicaid services differ from state to state so I would recommend that if you have a question about using a telemedicine service and you’re on Medicaid, to contact your local office. You can find your state Medicaid contact information here.

According to evisit.com

9 states and the District of Columbia have laws specifically mandating coverage for live telemedicine services under their Medicaid programs:

Here is a map with links to information for every state in the USA.

You can read more about Medicaid and telehealth services on the evisit article by clicking here.

When Should I Use An Online Doctor?

There are many different reasons why you could opt for using an online doctor. These include any of the following:

  • if you don’t have access to travel (no car, no funds for rideshare, no one to take you, etc.)
  • if you feel too ill to go out to an urgent care or doctor’s office
  • if you are a caregiver for a housebound person and cannot leave them alone
  • you have no time and just need a quick exam, advice, etc.
  • you need help sooner than you can get it from your own physician / counselor / therapist
  • you live a long distance from your regular physician or an urgent care facility

The concept of “seeing” a physician online may seem very strange and odd for many of us, but like most anything else – the more you use it – the easier it becomes and the more comfortable you will get with it.

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