Should we consider Telehealth a path to affordable healthcare? When in need of flexible affordable healthcare technology options for the family, telehealth or tele-medicine are worth a look. While telehealth has been in use with modern technology for decades, there still is resistance in some quarters. Of course it is natural to ask does telehealth work, and is it practical and affordable. That is what we set out to determine.
We were not the first to ask, as advocates and skeptics have been fighting over this since the 1970s. However, it seems that the advocates are starting to prevail, now. While the likelihood of insurance to cover it, or the most conservative parts of the medical establishment to embrace it is changing, the availability and cost have come of age.
In fact, some of the pillars of the medical establishment have taken a stand in favor of telehealth. The AMA has actually found that telehealth at the most basic level is able to provide care equivalent to an office visit for over 70% of patient complaints. Even the US government is beginning to come around as legislators and regulators are looking at making Medicare more friendly to use of telemedicine.
Putting remote care to the *test
While we were excited at the possibilities, we had no personal experience, so we still weren’t convinced. We decided to check out the options to see what was available. To my surprise I found some hospital chains, insurance companies and several independent networks offered telehealth options across the USA and in remote parts of Canada.
While there were plenty of differences in the offerings we checked, they had a few similarities across the board:
- Service is fast; from a few minutes to half an hour from request to session is typical
- They offer board-certified MDs for all the virtual office calls – I expected less, but this is the current standard, at least among options we checked out
- They provide Docs in your state, so they can write prescriptions for local access
- They can advise on most illnesses treated by a general practitioner or ER doctor
- They will warn you to go to the ER if you have a true emergency (as you would expect, and already probably know)
Many services offer quick response and charge like a regular doctor visit – from $40 to $60 or more, typically, and they are probably worth it. But some offer individual or family plans that are a subscription service much less expensive per call. In fact, some of these services offer individual or family rates so low that nearly anyone could afford the service.
We tried out two telehealth services that provide an inexpensive family subscription option. Here is what we found-
- The speed and convenience were amazing and powerful
- These visits are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
- The response was quick and professional, and the advice sound and credible
- Cost is just under $15 per month for unlimited virtual visits by family members
- When you have this available there is NO reason to guess. You just ask the doctor
- The results are recorded and added to your online health record
- This is a practical way to get medical advice in isolation without visiting a facility
- They don’t claim to replace your family doctor, and you are likely to get different physicians each time
- The digital health record they offer is limited – don’t expect it to list every surgery or procedure if you’ve had a dozen or more
- You can’t always upload reports or x-ray data to the health record
- The doc will be likely to offer very conservative advice
- While virtual office visits with video are available, not all the telehealth staff offer them, so you may have to settle for phone-only if it is a busy time and you’re in a hurry
The first service we checked was Virtual Urgent Heathcare which offers a general purpose $14.95/month family plan or instant single visit for a $59 one-time per visit fee. We also checked out eDOC HOMECARE which has a focus on elder care, but offers many of the same features as the Virtual Urgent Healthcare family plan, at the same $14.95 per month price.
If you live an isolated or off-the-grid lifestyle, the privacy and convenience features of telehealth may be of such value that a $59 virtual office visit is well worth the expense, but still the monthly plan is worth considering. A family of 3 that each visit a doctor twice per year will probably spend $270 or more on office visits each year or on insurance to help pay for them. Twelve months of $15/month family telehealth costs $180, and there is no limit on virtual office visits, no gas to drive to the doctor and no waiting weeks or months for that life-saving medical advice.
At that price, this is a plan that can even be considered by people who can’t budget any type of health insurance. It won’t kick in to cover major surgery or expensive prescriptions, though there is a discount prescription card… But for those who can’t otherwise access medical professionals due to distance, cost or other reasons, this can be a powerful lifeline.
If you’d like to check out these two Telehealth plans, here are links for information or registration:
Family Healthcare Choices
Whether you have the means and the opportunity to seek the full support of the
traditional medical infrastructure, or not, telehealth may offer benefits. If you are planning on a self-care, or office-visit free approach you will be approaching health in a way the telehealth services and others advise against. In such cases, do your homework, and look over our post on self-care for ideas on what to consider.
Do you have a story about your approach to health care using telehealth or other technology? If you can share a story, suggest an approach, offer a perspective or ask a question, we’d appreciate hearing from you. You can leave your comment below to join the conversation.
Photo credit: Alex Bellink via Visual Hunt / CC BY
Photo credit: Foter.com