Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Virtual Office Visits? Not Really


A friend of mine sent me a link today in which the article uses the term "virtual office visit." What comes to your mind when you hear this phrase? Well, to me, this sounds like you type in your symptoms, the doc makes a diagnosis and sends a prescription to the pharmacy for you to pick up. Simple, right?

Well, not really. Again, this is a case of the press inaccurately describing something in the text article. If you watch the video clip, it's from a national morning news show. In the video piece, the anchor and the medical reporter talk about a computer program. Yes, a computer program. No, the computer doesn't diagnose and treat.

This program actually is a communication piece between the physician and the patient. I see it as a tool to be used to communicate things like routine lab work. One of the goals at the physician's office is to try to find a way to cut down on the number of phone calls.

We see this every day. You want to let the patient know that she/he has normal blood tests that were drawn at the office last week. The office calls the patient - the patient is not home - the office leaves a message to call the office - the patient gets home just before the office closes - the office has to get the chart from the stack of charts marked "left message with patient to call back" - the lab results are communicated - the patient has some questions - a message is taken - the message is communicated to the doctor - the office calls the patient back - leaves a message on the answering maching - etc - You get the point.

Well, this program gives the doc the opportunity to communicate those lab results via the internet and the patient can check these results anytime. Of course, there are internet security issues to deal with. But, for the most part, this program looks promising.

If you read the text article, it leaves the impression that this is an "office visit" that can serve as a substitute for an in person visit. Doctors can even charge for this visit. As kind of an afterthought, the article sticks in there, "if insurance covers it" - which it doesn't.

I guess my question is this - Would you, as a patient, like this type of communication made available to you? If your insurance company didn't pay for this service, would you pay for this type of service, or are you content with telephone communication with the office. I'm just curious....

6 comments:

drytears said...

hmmm... the clinic I go to when at school has an online sort of thing I'm supposed to be able to access through my own comp and see my test results. However the two times this years thus far that I would have been able to use it the clinic never gave me the access code to get on the website... even though the voicemail I get says I got one.

Dr. A said...

It's these little quirky techy things that interests me. The way that stuff like this is promoted is that computers are going to make things so much easier. But if you don't have the access code, how easy is it? Thanks for your comment!

thestoryofhealing said...

Hi there! Article in LAtimes says insurance will pay for it—"In recent weeks, Aetna Inc., the nation's largest insurer, and Cigna Corp. have agreed to reimburse doctors for online visits. Other large insurers are expected to follow, experts say." Here is the link tinyurl (dot)com(slash)296nt6. Best,K

Dr. A said...

thanks for the input. the bad news (for us) is that around here, there is not much cigna. but, we'll see if other companies follow.

Anonymous said...

I prefer to make my own choices, go directly to the lab, and have the results emailed to me.

Parlancheq said...

Um, call me old fashioned, but I think I prefer to get a paper copy of my lab results in the mail.