Picture this: You go to bed thinking you have a cold but by morning you’re sure it’s bronchitis. You need a doctor. And one is as close as your smartphone—by using telemedicine.
Telemedicine, a two-way video visit with a doctor, is growing in popularity as an employee benefit and among entrepreneurs who foot the bill for their medical expenses.
And why not? It’s cheaper than an office call. You can see a doctor anywhere you use a smartphone. You can get appointments right away—often within an hour. Plus, you eliminate time spent driving to and from the office and waiting to see the doctor.
How it works
Telemedicine typically uses a smartphone app and some services offer visits online via computer. Once you download the app and create an account, you can schedule an appointment. At the appointed time, you and the doctor meet virtually.
A virtual visit with the doc works well for treating uncomplicated conditions like urinary tract infections, upper respiratory infections and diarrhea. However, it’s also a cost-effective way to monitor chronic conditions like blood pressure, weight or diabetes. In some cases, a telemedicine visit has saved lives when the doctor has directed a patient to get emergency care right away.
If a prescription is needed, the doctor sends the prescription directly to your pharmacy.
Fees for online doctor visits range from $45 to $90—far less than the typical charges for in-office, urgent care, or emergency room services. Crain’s Detroit Business reports that companies could save up to $6 billion each year if employees routinely used telemedicine.
Nemours Children’s Health System, located on the East Coast, published a study that showed patients and families who use telemedicine for sports medicine appointments saved an average of $50 in travel costs and 51 minutes in waiting and visit time. Each visit also saved the health system an average of $24 per patient. For self-insured businesses, savings like this could be significant.
Consumers employees have access to a telemedicine service called Teladoc, which has allowed the Credit Union to see sizeable savings in health care costs since its offering.
Check with your current insurer
See if your current health insurer already partners with a telemedicine provider. If so, work with the service they recommend for the lowest rates.
Find a virtual doctor on your own
You’ll have to compare services to see which best fits your needs. Here are a few places to start your online research:
- Compare six online doctor sites here
- Google “online doctor”
- Google “doctor on demand”
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