I’ve been threatening to write this article about Telemedicine for months now because my kids keep asking me to explain what I do at my job. By the way, you will notice that the word “telemedicine” is a link almost every time it is used. These links lead to a plethora of websites about the subject…that’s how common-place it has become.
Our company, MD24/7 offers a few health care services via Telemedicine that complement a person’s existing insurance. In all actuality, the service on its own is of enormous value to people who, for whatever reason, don’t even have insurance coverage. It’s not at all complicated, but there are a number of points to be made in order for you to understand that this is a valid practice which has been around at least since the early 1960’s.
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As defined by the government office of Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) “…Telehealth is the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration. Technologies include videoconferencing, the internet, store-and-forward imaging, streaming media, and terrestrial and wireless communications…its office (HRSA’s) is part of the Office of Rural Health Policy, located within Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. HRSA’s mission is to assure quality health care for underserved, vulnerable, and special needs populations.” (. (n.d.). HRSA Rural Health. In Telehealth. Retrieved May 4, 2013, from http://www.hrsa.gov/ruralhealth/about/telehealth/.)
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There is a long history to the use of telemedicine. From our Armed Forces in combat, to NASA, Telemedicine has played a large part in remote health care access.
For instance, a soldier who has been injured in the field does not always have the luxury of being seen by a full-blown doctor, but any medic who tends to him does have the capability to consult with one at a distance. The medic will be able to communicate the injured’s vital signs, physical condition, extent of injuries, any allergies to medications and a personal overview of his condition to the doctor on call. That doctor will then be able to issue orders for any emergency treatment and order the soldier evacuated or simpy patched up, given a shot of antibiotics and sent on his way. If there is a doctor on hand and the injuries are extremely severe, he also will have the benefit of outside consultation.
During the race to the moon in 1961, astronaut Alan Shepard was one of the first to have his blood pressure monitored from over a 100,000 miles away! That technology led to the simple blood pressure monitors in use today. As a matter of fact, the medical technology which NASA used in their space program has led to the development of medical equipment such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machines, medial imaging, Telerobotic surgery and, yes, even our “brand” of telemedicine.
The use of Telemedicine technology is vast! It’s not relegated to simply telephone consultations, although that was a very big part of our company in the beginning…and still is, if the truth be told. No, in this day and age of more and more technologically intricate communications, such as Smartphones, iPads and laptops and all the applications (apps) that can be downloaded, a doctor can now check your heart rate, blood pressure, respiration and even your blood oxygen level, look at your throat, visually guide you through a self exam and even give you an eye exam!
Now a big question about telemedicine regards the privace and security of someone’s medical information. Just as with any health care provider, security is of highest importance. Every tittle of medical data is stored within a database which is in strict compliance with HIPAA (The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996). Highly secure. No one gets in, nothing gets out without authorization. (Note: in case you’re wondering about whether or not you can use it with Medicaid, from the link in this paragraph scroll down to “Medical Codes”.)
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Our service begins at the most basic, much like it has been used on the field of combat: consultation with a doctor over the phone which, under appropriate circumstances, could greatly relieve the overcrowding and long waits for medical care in the emergency room. The relevence of this kind of telemedical service can be shown through a Blue Cross and Blue Shield study which was carried out in 2010 about the number of non-life threatening emergency visits which were made to the emergency room. Their tally revealed that somewhere around 60%-70% of those visits were basically unnecessary.
These were people who had no ongoing medical issues who had a cold, an earache, were suffering from the ‘flu, had a rash, a cough or had even gotten a “minor” cut or gash (minor meaning that, even though it may have been freely bleeding, pressure would have sufficed, the person had up to date tetanus boosters and no stiches were required). No broken bones, ruptured spleens or gushing blood, no asthma, emphysema or other exacerbating conditions.
Consider this: when you first enter the emergency room you must talk to a nurse, who takes your personal information. Eventually, after a long wait you’re handed off to another nurse who asks you what brought you to the emergency room. She weighs you, checks your temperature, checks your pulse…all this because you have a bad cold. Another hour or so goes by and the doctor finally comes into your room, reads the nurse’s chart, declares you have a cold and gives you instructions on how to care for yourself, maybe writes you a prescription for an antibiotic if the color of your nose mucous or sputum indicates a bacterial infection.
It’s a cold. And you went to the emergency room.
The point is that if you or anyone in your family has a simple, uncomplicated health condition with no underlying issues, such as possible broken bones, asthma, glaucoma, cancer, lung or heart disease or any other such condition, and your illness doesn’t include serious life threatening issues, then there’s no reason you can’t call a doctor and get the same care you would get at an emergency room or clinic.
If you can answer the nurse’s and doctor’s questions in an emergency room, you can answer the same questions over the phone or, better yet, have a video consultation over Skype or any other computer app. Our teladocs boast a percentage of former military doctors, among others, but you can be well assured that each and every one of them are fully qualified, board certified physicians who are licensed to practice in your state.
In fact, Walgreen’s and other big name pharmacies (and big companies, like Cisco) have been using virtual clinics for some years now that provide just that type of health care consultation! With these services, as well as ours, you won’t have to wait for hours on end in some emergency room somewhere, sitting in those uncomfortable chairs, around a bunch of other sick people who don’t know how to cover their faces when they sneeze or cough. But once you call in to our service, or contact them online, everything happens usually within no more than a 15 minute to a half hour time frame. It’s almost like a house call.
Our doctors-on-demand can call in a prescription for you for antibiotics, inhalers, non-narcotic anti-inflammatories and many other prescription medications. The only thing they will not prescribe for you over the phone are controlled substances/narcotics, which is against the law in all states unless it is through face-to-face, physical consultations.
I’ve used our own telemedical service twice, now, for severe bronchitis. The first time I used it, I called in and talked to the nurse on call, she took my information (just like in a doctor’s office or ER), passed the info along to the doctor and he called me back before I even had a chance to sit down after hanging up with her! He called in a prescription for a good antibiotic and hubby went and got it for me…total time: 15 minutes, including the wait at the pharmacy!
The second time I used it I was really, really sick with bronchitis. I had “toughed it out” so I wouldn’t miss work (bad decision) and wound up to the point where I was having a really hard time breathing. Because this was so close on the heels of my last bout of bronchitis, the doctor called me in a prescription for what he explained was like “penicillin on steroids!”…big, bad-ass penicillin, in other words (pardon my french!!)!
That consultation took about 15 minutes this time because he wanted to make sure it wasn’t something more serious, but even so, from the first call to picking up the medicine was only a half hour…still ‘waaay less time than getting dressed, driving to the ER, waiting around and finally getting to see a doctor.
It took me a year to give it a try, but I can tell you, every time I feel that tightness starting anymore I’ll call them in a New York minute. Oh, and any family member who lives with you is covered under our service, no extra charge, one flat LOW rate. By the way…MD24/7 is nationwide except for a couple of states. I think those exceptions are listed on the MD24/7 website.
Incidentally, even United Health Care offers this type of service as a supplemental to their policies, as do other insurance companies like Kaiser Permanente.
You’ll never know what a convenience this type of service is if you don’t give it a try, even on a trial basis. It is “the face of the future” in medical/health care”, no doubt about it.
Anyway, guys…I told you I’d do an article explaining it in a way that would answer most of your questions! If you have any more, just email me or catch me on Facebook!