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Telemedicine can help you save time and money

Nov 12 2015

Vegas  Inc.

By Mike Murphy

Tracey was spending Sunday night preparing for a busy week ahead when her normally vivacious teenage daughter informed her that her throat was really sore — and it turned out she was running a fever, too.

Even just a few years ago, Tracey’s only options would’ve been to wait until her pediatrician’s office opened at 8 a.m. and hope they had any available appointments, drive around to find an open urgent care or potentially spend hours in an ER waiting room.

But thanks to the growth of telemedicine, Tracey was able to tap a few buttons on her smartphone, video chat alongside her daughter with a doctor and pick up a prescription for antibiotics at a nearby 24-hour pharmacy. The entire process took less than 45 minutes before she had the medicine in hand, and Tracey’s daughter’s symptoms quickly went away as soon as she started treatment. All it cost was her usual primary care visit co-pay of $25.

Telemedicine services like the one Tracey used are making health care more convenient — many services allow you to see a board-certified, U.S.-based doctor 24/7 from your computer, smartphone or tablet. These services can provide a diagnosis for urgent but easily treatable ailments like sinus infections, insect bites and the flu as well as issue prescriptions to a local pharmacy.

Telemedicine has the potential to improve access to care and reduce absenteeism for employees and — equally important — it can also help lower health care costs. At a charge of about $50 on the higher end of the fee scale, telemedicine represents a significantly lower cost alternative to an urgent care or ER visit — which can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars. While telehealth isn’t appropriate for most ER visits, think about the savings from even a few ER visits for colds, urinary tract infections or rashes during hours when ER is the only choice for many people.

Most telehealth services charge a flat fee for a consultation and some, like LiveHealth Online, even accept insurance plans such as Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, so you may owe the same co-pay as if you went into the doctor’s office. LiveHealth Online has saved some self-insured businesses an average of $89 per visit compared to going to the ER, urgent care clinic or a retail clinic. Starting next January, LiveHealth will add even more services, including behavioral health online therapy visits.

In Nevada, telehealth is poised to become even more widespread after Gov. Brian Sandoval earlier this year signed into law a bill that further expands telehealth by mandating that insurance companies and government programs, such as Medicaid, reimburse doctors who provide healthcare electronically at the same pay level as traditional in-person visits.

While your primary care provider should always be your first call if the office is open, telemedicine is a great option if it’s inconvenient to leave work or home and go to a doctor’s office. And in Nevada, which has one of the lowest doctor-to-patient ratios in the nation, getting in to see your doctor on short notice isn’t always easy. Virtual visits can also help hospitals and urgent care centers offload some of the more easily treated cases to free up the waiting rooms so doctors can focus on patients who really need in-person care.

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