Catching Health The doctor will see you now – on your phone

The doctor will see you now – on your phone

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Telemedicine – using electronic communications to exchange medical information – is not a new idea. According to the American Telemedicine Association, the use of telemedicine started more than 40 years ago with hospitals trying to extend care to patients in remote areas. It spread rapidly and, as it says on the association’s website, is “now becoming integrated into the ongoing operations of hospitals, specialty departments, home health agencies, private physician offices as well as consumer’s homes and workplaces.”

Taking the concept a step further, Maine Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield members can now use their smartphone, tablet or computer for a live video conversation with a doctor about non-emergency health issues. The service is called LiveHealth Online. Here’s how it works: First, you have to sign up. Once you’re enrolled, you can log in and browse a list of doctors – reportedly all US-based and board certified – and hit the connect button to have a two-way live video conference with the one you choose.

“Patients use online care typically to communicate face to face with a doctor about colds, aches, sore throats, allergies, infections, rashes, as well as routine prescription refills,” said Anthem spokeswoman Rory Sheehan. “Doctors do not prescribe controlled substances or lifestyle drugs.”

The doctors are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, including holidays. For eligible members, a LiveHealth Online visit may cost the same or less than a primary care office visit. Members need to check their plan’s benefits for details. People who aren’t covered by Anthem can also use LiveHealth Online, by signing up and paying for the visit with a credit card. The charge is $49 per medical visit.

A summary of each visit is created and, at the patient’s request, can be forwarded to their primary care doctor – supporting continuity of care and collaboration among providers, says Dr. Jeffrey Holmstrom, the medical director for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Maine.

“We view LiveHealth Online as a valuable resource for our primary care physicians to offer to help them meet the needs of enhanced access for their patients,” he said.

Sheehan cites a November 2012 study from the University of Pittsburgh published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which showed that e-visits – using e-mail and electronic patient health records only – had similar outcomes to in-person visits for treating sinus and urinary tract infections. Potential benefits of LiveHealth Online: It can help lessen the burden on primary care doctors who are increasingly feeling the pressure from the growing doctor shortage. The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that in 2015 the country will have 62,900 fewer doctors than needed.

It can also help reduce wait time when trying to get in to a see a doctor. Getting care early on can help reduce the severity and duration of many typical illnesses such as the flu and infections.

For more information, visit livehealthonline.com.

Diane Atwood writes the blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood, which received a Gold Lamplighter Award from the New England Society for Healthcare Communications and a Golden Arrow Award from the Maine Public Relations Council. Find it at catchinghealth.com.

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