Telehealth: Quality care at your fingertips

Published September 7, 2014

It’s late at night and your child woke up with a burning, itching eye – maybe pink eye? The local retail clinic and urgent care centers are closed. It’s not an emergency, so you don’t want to drive and wait at the ER. What other options do you have, but to keep your child home from school and hope to get into your primary care doctor the next day?

What many people don’t realize is that one answer to convenience in health care lies right in their pockets or purses -- or on the top of their desks. These days, smart phones, tablets and computers can do more than connect us with long-lost friends or enable us to quickly check the score of our favorite sports team.  Families increasingly are turning to these technologies for safe, fast and affordable ways to get a diagnosis and treatment plan for non-emergency conditions.

The trend has been dubbed telehealth, and is allowing consumers to conveniently and affordably access quality health care through video conversations with board-certified physicians.  While telemedicine has been around for many years and has typically been used to connect rural patients to specialists, improving their access to quality care, the technology is evolving and now telehealth can also be used to connect people (regardless of their location) to various types of clinicians—not just specialists—who have the ability to diagnose, treat and guide patient care.   

In 2013, WellPoint’s affiliated health plans launched a new online care service called LiveHealth Online to national employers. It has now been expanded as a covered benefit to the majority of our health plan customers, including health exchange members. Board-certified doctors are available 24 hours, 365 days a year, including holidays, to connect with patients via secure two-way video. Members can review the background and patient ratings of doctors where they are at and can select the one that most suits their needs. The doctors are there to handle acute conditions (colds, flu, sore throats, pink eye, sinus infections, etc), exacerbations of chronic conditions, triage, and general advice.  They can review a patient’s personal history with them, answer questions, diagnose and treat, and  if medically appropriate and allowed by the state, doctors can send prescriptions directly to a nearby pharmacy. 

Inconvenient office hours, slow and expensive urgent care centers, and crowded ERs, are driving consumers to seek more convenient, cost-effective care. The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that in 2015 the country will have 62,900 fewer doctors than needed. Telehealth, as an accepted mode of health communication in many states, especially in rural areas where many people have to drive hours to visit a doctor, can help ensure consumers have access to medical care. It serves as a complement to traditional care outside of regular office hours or when appointments are not available at appropriate times for the consumer, and, with the average telehealth visit costing $20-$49 is often a more affordable option than a retail clinic or urgent care. Many Blue Plans, including WellPoint’s affiliated health plans, and other health plans throughout the country have recognized that telehealth solutions can help them meet the requests from their members for convenient and cost effective care.

Smart health care consumers increasingly are accessing telehealth services in their quests for affordable and convenient quality medical care. Our members have told us that LiveHealth Online has saved them between two and three hours of time from traditional office visits, giving them more time for work, friends, family, or whatever things that they like best.  With telehealth apps like LiveHealth Online, getting hold of a doctor is now easier than ever. Whether you are a college student, young professional, a family, or an empty nester who likes to travel, we can all appreciate products that make our lives easier.