Experts: Virtual visits are ‘future of health care’

(Photo Courtesy: WOOD TV Staff)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It’s the luxury of a consultation with your doctor without the hassle of having to make time to go into the office. Virtual doctor’s office visit are gaining momentum in the medical world.

Health care providers are making a doctor’s visit as easy as a video call on your cellphone or tablet, an approach doctors and employee benefit firms agree will soon be the norm.

“In three years, people will be using telemedicine like nobody’s business,” said Robert Hughes, an employee benefits specialist at Advantage Benefits Group, which works with organizations to design health care plans for employees.

Spectrum Health’s program is called MedNow. If you have a cold or a rash but don’t have the time to go to the doctor’s office, it can connect you with a doctor in less than 30 seconds. The doctor will answer questions and assess your condition though a live video chat.

“We believe this is the future of health care. It’s just another access point,” said Joseph Brennan, the senior director of MedNow.

It provides on-demand, 24/7 care for things like coughs and colds, allergies or nausea. The doctors are able to prescribe an antibiotic if needed.

So is the program reliable without the in-person assessment? Yes, say the doctors who run it.

“There’s not going to be the ability to physically touch someone, of course, being on two sides of a screen,” Dr. Kristopher Brenner, MedNow division chief, said.

But he says doctors can still make an accurate assessment with visuals of the throat, skin and eyes, for example.

Spectrum Health, MedNow, virtual doctor's office visit
Dr. Kristopher Brenner demonstrates the Spectrum Health MedNow program.

There are also practices in place to prevent abuse of the system.

“This is actually something that’s been vetted out very well. We are using electronic medical records,” Brenner explained.

Spectrum Health launched MedNow in October of last year. Between 15 and 20 patients currently use the program daily. Patients who have Priority One health insurance can automatically use the program. They just have to go online to sign up. If patients don’t have Priority One, it’s a self-pay fee of $45.

Hughes, of Advantage Benefits Group, said nearly 70 percent of health care organizations in West Michigan are signing on to the new technology. Hughes says it’s cost effective for both the patient and the health care provider because patients won’t have to deal with co-pays or large medical bills from visits. Health care providers will also have to pay fewer employees instead of staffing an entire doctor’s office.

“They’re going to diagnose and treat them right there and that could be done anywhere anytime without this massive infrastructure that a typical health care provider needs, so costs are dramatically lower,” Hughes said.

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