Some exciting recent announcements indicate that virtual doctor visits are about to hit the mainstream. Great news for Folio3 customers like Petzam, which provides a Telehealth platform connecting pets and veterinarians.
It’s a trend that has been inexorably growing: many doctors receive emails with pictures asking for a diagnosis. And in the last couple of years, a number of startups have raised impressive amounts of capital to build the mobile apps and ecosystems to connect doctors with patients using Skype like video connections. The advantages are compelling: find a doctor from the comfort of your home or office who can offer a diagnosis within minutes, without having to set up an appointment or drive to the clinic, all for a consultation fee of $40 to $50. And now the major insurers are starting to cover the costs.
United Healthcare, the largest insurer in the US, recently announced that it would cover virtual doctor visits for most of its 26 million subscribers by next year. Anthem will cover virtual urgent care visits for 16 million members in 11 states by the end of this year, and it expects the number to grow to 20 million by next year. The services will be provided by startups like Doctor On Demand, Amwell, and Nowclinic. Walgreen’s, the US’s largest drugstore chain, is working with MDLIVE to provide telehealth services to about half the country by the end of this year.
The American Telemedicine Association estimates that more than 450,000 patients will see a doctor this year through a secure internet connection. More than 40% of hospitals surveyed by HIMSS reported using some form of Telemedicine. Many major hospital chains like Mercy, are building Telehealth centers, from which to provide virtual doctor visits.
While all of us can think of scenarios where something like this would have been a boon, the service will be especially helpful for people living in rural areas or for patients needing help outside normal hours. Reportedly, most visits take place on weekends or between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m.
What’s next? Maybe the health trackers and smart watches that millions are now wearing will automatically beam information about body vitals, to be monitored by software looking for patterns indicating problems. Folio3 customer Livongo is already doing this for chronic conditions like Diabetes. Another Folio3 customer, Alere Analytics, now Persivia, has built a Clinical Decision Support system that can automate a diagnosis based on observed symptoms.
Healthcare as we know it is changing, and for the better.