Op Ed: Telemedicine Services Provide Convenient Medical Care Alternative

by Kirsten / Dec 21, 2016 / comments

Op Ed: Telemedicine Services Provide Convenient Medical Care Alternative

By Dr. Paul Mikulecky
As digital and social tools continue to evolve, individuals, from young to old, are becoming more familiar with – and reliant on – on-demand services.
Health insurers are increasingly offering telemedicine as an added benefit in Medicare Advantage plans for members to connect remotely with medical providers. These providers can be accessed easily – depending on which method is most convenient – using a telephone or video through a mobile device, tablet or laptop.
Telemedicine sessions can be perfect for non-emergency situations, like colds, allergies, headaches, nausea and sore throats. People on Medicare can potentially avoid an unnecessary trip to the emergency room or urgent care center and speak with a doctor as soon as symptoms arise.
While telemedicine should not be used for emergency situations or chronic conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease, and does not replace a primary care physician, it provides a critical access point to the health care system for patients to receive care quickly and efficiently.
There are at least three factors people on Medicare must consider when deciding whether to use telemedicine services.
Access. Telemedicine brings on-demand convenience to a patient’s health care journey, providing access to clinicians 24 hours a day and seven days a week. This helps when visiting a primary care physician or urgent care center is not possible, such as late at night, weekends and holidays.
The appointment process is often simple. In addition to connecting over the phone, technology-savvy patients can access telemedicine services through an easy-to-use mobile app, which takes a few minutes to download and create an account. Once you request a consultation, the average wait time before speaking to a doctor is generally less than 10 minutes. 
Cost. Telemedicine is starting to be offered as a benefit on Medicare Advantage plans. For example, Humana offers these services – through the MDLIVE platform – to members on certain Medicare Advantage plans in Rio Arriba County.
Telemedicine sessions often prove less costly and lead to less out-of-pocket costs for patients compared to an in-person acute care visit. For example, an Alliance for Connected Care study found that opting for a telemedicine session over in-person acute care can potentially lead to about $126 in savings.
Quality. People using telemedicine services can expect a level of care similar to visiting their primary care physician. Telemedicine clinicians are often uniquely trained to treat patients virtually and must meet the applicable state license requirements. The video option that is often available helps to maintain the familiar face-to-face clinical experience. According to one study, patient issues were resolved during 83 percent of initial telemedicine sessions.
Some health plans have additional mechanisms that help enhance quality of care. For example, Humana sends member summaries with a full medical history to MDLIVE so that information can be integrated into the care being given. And, to ease any privacy-related fears, MDLIVE ensures that all sessions with a clinician are conducted using private, secure and confidential technology.
Patients should consult their health insurance plan to see if telemedicine services are covered. If patients are experiencing an emergency, they should call 911 or visit an emergency room immediately. For more information about telemedicine, visit www.americantelemed.org. For more information about telemedicine services through Humana, visit humana.com/medicaretelemedicine. 

Dr. Paul Mikulecky is Central West Region Medical Director, Senior Products for Humana in New Mexico