Healthcare Technology Featured Article

January 21, 2013

The Flu Gives Booster Shot to Video-centric Telemedicine

Okay so this is a bit personal, along with an admission of stupidity on my part. Please hang with me for a moment while I set this up and get to the point of the headline.

 I waited to get a flu shot until the start of the New Year. It takes roughly two weeks for the shot to take effect. I got the flu three days after the shot. I should add this was three days after visiting my doctor’s office on an unrelated minor matter. And, while I am not convinced I was exposed to the flu at my doctor’s office, given that New Jersey where I live has the highest percentage of sick folks at the moment, nothing would surprise me. 

I can also relate that if you have not gotten the shot, get it. I have not been this ill in over three decades. I am not contagious, but can relate that after over two weeks since being infected I remain at 90 percent which I gladly take at this point. You do not want the flu. End of discussion. 

Image via Shutterstock

Where am I going with this? I obviously am not a doctor and do not play one on TV. But, reality is that the flu epidemic has highlighted the value of telemedicine. In fact in the New York area, the value of interactive video conferencing with doctors is all over the radio and screens of all sizes. This epidemic has turned into a well-deserved shot in the arm for video-centric telemedicine. 

In my colleague Rich Steeves’ posting (see link above) he looked at how technology can help stop the flu. Highlighted was the fact that Vidyo is collaborating with HealthSpot as the video conferencing provider for its  Healthspot Station, a private, walk-in kiosk that offers patient access to diagnosis and treatment by doctors.  My focus is on Teladoc (the doctor access part of the equation and also a new partner of HealthSpot for the HealthSpot Station), who literally puts primary care physicians at your beck and call 24/7/365. 

They provide both a great way for you to stay at home where you belong, but still receive quality care as well as a way to keep the healthcare professionals healthy.

See a doc at Teladoc

For frequent visitors to Health TechZone, the name Teladoc should resonate. Started in 2002, the company is the first and largest telehealth provider in the nation. It started as a call-in capability, but has gone much higher tech since and thus is a company we follow. Their value proposition is simple.

Teledoc give users access to typically local U.S. Board-certified and state certified internal medicine, family practice or pediatric doctors (i.e., the ones you go to first when you have a problem). And, they do so for $38 per session, which can last as long as it takes. 

In other words, at a reasonable price, without a long wait, you get to actually see a doctor and they get to see you. The latter is not insignificant in coming up with the proper diagnosis, underscoring the real value of video versus just voice.

Here are a few interesting factoids, that if I had been smart I would considered rather than wandering out for help.   They should peak your curiosity and give you an appreciation for how companies like Teladoc are transforming the healthcare delivery landscape. 

As they proudly explain, Teladoc provides the following benefits:

  • It is available 24/7/365 and you will receive a call back from a doctor in 24 minutes, on average.
  • 90 percent of Teladoc members resolved their medical issue with Teladoc. They also note that “Unlike nurse-run call centers, Teladoc doctors can diagnose, recommend treatment, and prescribe medication, when necessary.”  And, if a prescription is necessary, they can contact your pharmacy.
  • They have 95 percent member satisfaction.
  • It does not matter where you are taken ill so long as you can make a call or better yet have Internet access and video capabilities.
  • As noted above there is no time limit to a consultation.
  • Teladoc costs far less than urgent care or ER visits for non-emergency medical care. It also qualifies as an expense for HSA, FSA and HRA accounts.

It is actually a bit of a misnomer to say that telemedicine can stop the flu. For that you need a shot, and that is the one thing that at least for the moment can’t be done remotely. However, who knows, assuming certain liability issues can be addressed, certainly the technology exists that would enable administration of medicines, (including a shot by a robot?) since one of the other values of telemedicine is the ability to monitor vital signs in real-time. 

The fact of the matter is that even tough certain aspects of interactive teleconferencing for telemedicine have been around for quite some time, the perfect storm of the flu epidemic, the proliferation of smartphones, tablets and laptops with cameras, broadband access, costs and the desirability of keeping sick people out of harms way while getting quality care and protecting healthcare professionals so they are available to perform is to borrow a too much used term, “a perfect storm.” 

Ironically, perfect storms tend to be destructive rather than constructive. However, this is a case where the opposite is true, and while I can attest to the fact that the cause (the flue) is something to be avoided at all costs, the effect (growth for video-conferencing based telemedicine) is a shot in the arm that should have lasting impact.  

Edited by Brooke Neuman

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