April 13, 2016; Fast Company
Imagine someone sick having a virtual consultation with their doctor—the patient in their local pharmacy and the doctor in her office, connected via a video call. This option is becoming increasingly viable, as a service that’s been around since the mid- ’90s is coming into its own as technology changes.
NPQ covered this “telehealth,” or “telemedicine,” near the end of last year, especially as it related to the planning around the Affordable Care Act. Many advances in telehealth have come as a result of the Affordable Care Act, which encouraged innovation and new models for coordinating care to the chronically ill, such as using home telehealth technology. Examples of telemedicine include primary care by videoconference, as well as remote monitoring of patients via wearable technology and providing medical education to practitioners.
Recently, the Cleveland Clinic announced a partnership with CVS, a national drugstore chain that offers Minute Clinics. An article from Fast Company covered this innovative mix of technology, healthcare, and electronic delivery system. The patient can visit a CVS for a consult with a nurse practitioner. If the situation merits deeper consultation, a primary care practitioner from Cleveland Clinic will be available within 5-10 minutes during working hours.
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The aim of this partnership is to move telemedicine into the daily experience of many more Americans. Peter Rasmussen, medical director of Distance Health at the Cleveland Clinic, states, “Many doctors are changing their practices to stay relevant in a world dominated by smartphones and tablets.” Among the drivers of the Cleveland Clinic-CVS partnership are the U.S. aging population, the prevalence of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, the lack of infrastructure in the healthcare system to handle the increased number of patients seeking appointments, and the uneven distribution of specialists. Non-emergency visits for concerns such as rashes, infections, coughs, and renewing prescriptions have fed innovation in the area of healthcare delivery systems.
Although this option creates a flexible opportunity for the patient-doctor relationship, it is not necessarily the most affordable for patients. After paying $50 for the Minute Visit, there is an additional charge for the Cleveland Clinic doctor that can be as high as $140. From the article, it is not clear what amount will be covered by the patient’s health insurance.
As often with technology, the possibilities have outpaced the legal system. Many states require that doctors have a license in the state where the patient is located. At the high end, some specialists can charge top prices—and with long waiting lists, they have no incentive to move to telehealth.
Interesting enough, while many hospitals systems without employed physicians see the growth in telemedicine as competition, Kaiser Permanente is actively promoting it, expecting more virtual visits than in-person visits by 2018.—Jeanne Allen