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July 14, 2015

The doctor will see you now… online

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Advancements in videoconferencing and health monitoring technology now make it possible for doctors to examine patients remotely for illnesses ranging from sore throat to stroke.

A number of telehealth companies now make it possible to consult with a licensed physician on a wide range of basic health care needs almost instantly from an iPhone, tablet or laptop.

From the comfort of their own homes, doctors can examine and treat patients while accessing medical records and charts, then send prescriptions to the patient’s local pharmacy electronically. Patients who need a professional opinion quickly find the service more convenient than scheduling a doctor’s appointment.

The rate of a standard telemedicine appointment is $40. Visits to an emergency room can cost $1,000 or $300 for urgent care. The U.S. healthcare system could save up to $25 billion from the use of telemedicine, according to Dr. Pat Basu, chief medical officer for Doctor on Demand.

Insurance companies have begun to take note of the potential savings. The largest private insurance company in the U.S., UnitedHealthcare, partnered with three telemedicine companies in April to begin offering patients coverage for telemedicine appointments.

More than 20 million patients can now access Doctor on Demand through insurance and the company is in conversations with state Medicaid agencies and national Medicare with the goal that patients can one day receive coverage through government insurance as well, Basu said.

Most telemedicine companies do not allow doctors to treat serious illnesses due to the importance of in-person examination.


Warm up questions
  1. How has technology affected medicine and health?
  2. What is telemedicine?
  3. Why is it sometimes difficult to get a doctor’s appointment?
Critical thinking questions
  1. Why might it be difficult for patients to access healthcare in certain situations?
  2. Why might examining a patient via teleconference not reveal the same insights as an in-person visit?
  3. Beyond doctor visits, what other ways can you see technology one day advancing the medical industry?
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