It’s been promised for years. Visit the doctor from the comfort of your home. Today? We have smartphones and tablets. Video calls are as normal as regular phone calls. Telemedicine, or the new house call for doctors can be realized.

Everyone wants the immediacy technology provides in all facets of life. Including the doctor. Have a sinus infection? There’s now an app for that. Virtual consultations (telemedicine) with doctors are a few keystrokes or a mouse click away.

Some are not so keen on the sudden embrace of telemedicine. Medicare for one is pushing back. It sets strict reimbursements limits for providers offering the service. Why? The agency is afraid it would skyrocket cost by expanding coverage. Let that one sink in. It wants to limit coverage.

Other criticisms are from medical professionals who worry video consultations will lead to misdiagnosis. Yes, because doctors rushing around ignoring you at the urgent care are spot on with their 10-second examination.

No one is saying telemedicine should replace traditional visits. But if you have chronic sinus infections, what’s the point in driving to the doctor? You already have the prescriptions memorized.

Other examples would be something along the lines of a tooth infection while offices are closed. Do you wait until morning, or have antibiotics prescribed via a virtual consultation? It’s an easy answer if you’re the one with the infected tooth.

State and federal regulators are monitoring both sides closely. Some are listening to the criticisms while others are jumping feet first into the burgeoning industry. They are allowing for doctor-patient relationships to continue via telemedicine.

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Medications, as long as they are non-controlled substances, can be prescribed via the video visit. Think of it as the new house call for doctors. No one has to leave their home or office. Everything is in the palm of your hand.

Telemedicine and Health Insurance

With Medicare pushing against the growth telemedicine, it is a welcome sight to see some carriers jump in. They see opportunity in the ‘right-now’ economy. UnitedHealthcare, the nation’s largest health insurance provider announced in April it would cover the virtual visits of its 26 million members by next year.

Anthem is trialing a similar program in 11 states. The company cites the growing lack of primary care doctors, and it costs less than $50 per virtual visit. I wonder which of the two Anthem cares most about…

Other companies, like Blue Cross (my insurance provider), are taking a wait and see approach. Companies and public health officials want to see if it will increase costs, or increase coverage while keeping costs down.

Some are arguing it would increase costs due to people using telemedicine who would have otherwise stayed at home. That’s a valid concern, especially with the rise of healthcare usage under the Affordable Care Act. Still, costs to maintain offices are vastly different for telemedicine over traditional offices and clinics.

And, you’re always going to have the people that sneeze, hit WebMD and think they are dying. That’s just a fact of dealing with people.

It’s time to embrace telemedicine as another tool. If it can save time and money for chronic patients, use it. Simple illnesses can be diagnosed with electronic health records and a solid doctor-patient relationship.

Telemedicine is not the answer to every health need. It never will be. But a way to make both a patient and a doctor’s life a bit easier? There should be an app for that.

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