As the cost of health care premiums increase and out-of-pocket limits in health insurance plans continue to rise, people are left to wonder what can be done about the rising cost of health care. People with High Deductible Health Plans and HSAs are especially hard hit when it comes to the simplest parts of receiving health care. An HSA member can find that a routine visit to a primary care physician is at least $100. Many times, much more than that.
One of the ways to combat this charge is to enroll in telemedicine. With telemedicine you can have a doctor consultation over the phone. Sometimes this is done on a voice call, and sometimes this is done through a face-to-face interaction through a smartphone. Telemedicine is a terrific way to lower the cost of medical services while still receiving quality care. Here are some telemedicine benefits and disadvantages for patient primary care.
Lower Cost for a Physician Consultation
The typical cost for a doctor visit varies based on the member’s plan design, but even the most generous copays today are $15 per visit. Usually the cost is much more, especially if you are on a bronze plan from the Marketplace. As mentioned above, telemedicine is a great way to lower the cost of HSA out-of-pocket expenses, as an HSA plan could cost you $100-200 just to see a doctor about a sinus infection. That’s ridiculous. If you buy a telemedicine program, the cost to see the doctor is much lower. When all you need is for someone to hear your symptoms and give you a simple antibiotic, do you really want to spend a small fortune? Of course not. The best telemedicine benefit is that the charge to have a doctor see you is lower than what you would pay to see him or her in person.
Less Time Spent Away From Other Things
In addition to too much cash out of your pocket when going to a doctor’s office, a trip to the doctor takes valuable time out of your day. How many of us have employers that will allow us to take half a day off to go see a doctor for something minor? That leaves us either taking vacation or going after-hours to an urgent care or emergency room, where the cost to be seen skyrockets. With telemedicine, you can have a conversation by a doctor in a matter of minutes right from your home, office, car, wherever. And then you can go pick up your prescription at your convenience. Instead of 4 hours away from work, you can get by with just 15 minutes away from work.
Open on Weekends
What do you do if you get a sinus infection on a Saturday and your doctor is closed? Your choices are:
- Go to an urgent care center (expensive and time consuming)
- Go to the emergency room (more expensive and more time consuming)
- Tough it out until Monday (suffer in pain and take off work on Monday)
An even better question is what do you do if your kids get sick on the weekend? Can kids use telemedicine? Of course they can. Another great telemedicine benefit is that you can call them on the weekend. A doctor will always be available. You can start taking a prescription on Saturday and be ready to go by Monday.
Telemedicine Docs Can Call in Prescriptions
Most doctors offices nowadays will call in a prescription for you during your visit. Telemedicine is no different. After your talk with the physician, he or she will send a message to your pharmacy to have your prescription ready. You can simply pick it up after school, after work, or any other time that is convenient for you. Don’t think that just because you did not go to their offices that the doctors can’t get you taken care of as soon as possible.
Can Be Done Over the Phone or Face-to-Face
When telemedicine burst onto the scene, all of the consultations were phone conversations. Today, many of these companies offer both voice and video conferencing. The doctor can look you in the eye and tell if there is something wrong with you. Maybe not as good as a real doctor could see you, but any additional information that the teladoc can have, the better.
The Doctors Take More Time With You
My experience with telemedicine is that the doctors make a great effort to completely understand my situation. While primary care physicians are great at their jobs, they are overbooked. When you have a minor illness you are lucky to get 5 minutes of time with your doctor. With telemedicine, you can have a good conversation with the doctor and feel comfortable that they are diagnosing you correctly. At least in my opinion and experience.
Can’t Fix “Big Stuff”
Telemedicine is for issues that can be diagnosed and treated quickly and easily. If you suspect something larger, a telemedicine doctor is not for you. You need to see your primary care physician, specialist, or emergency room. Telemedicine is also not a replacement for a relationship with a primary care physician. While telemedicine is great for one-time issues, if there are recurring problems, a primary care physician should be consulted.
Can’t Dispense Narcotics
This goes with the above paragraph. Most states will not allow a telemedicine provider to write a prescription for a narcotic. So if you have something come up that needs the strong stuff, telemedicine will not be able to help you. But they may still charge you for the call. Go see your family doctor.
Won’t Count Toward Out-of-Pocket Expenses
With Obamacare, there are annual limits on the amount of out-of-pocket expenses that individuals can spend on any health insurance plan. So if you have a medical service or get a prescription filled with your health plan, your out-of-pocket expenses count toward this limit. Unless your telemedicine program is through your health insurance plan, and some are, your telemedicine cost will not be counted toward the out-of-pocket maximum. Since a telemedicine consultation is not a huge expense it may not matter, but it is something to keep in mind.
Not Available in All States
Lastly, telemedicine is available in almost all states, but not every one of them. And some that do allow telemedicine only allow it through face-to-face smartphone calls. So if you are interested, check out the states that your potential plan operates in.
Telemedicine Benefits Outweigh the Disadvantages
The cost of telemedicine is low, and you save time by enrolling in a telemedicine plan. Why not take advantage? Usually all it takes is about 2 calls to make it financially worthwhile. If you have a family, you could go to the doctor twice by the time January is over each year. So take a look at telemedicine benefits and disadvantages and see if it is something that you want to participate in.