Telemedicine: Your questions answered

Illustration of words associated with telemedicine
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I recently attended a meeting where the owners of Upstate Concierge Medicine presented on the topic of telemedicine. As an educator I am intrigued with telemedicine and I really didn’t know much about how it works. If you read health news regularly, you’ll see that telemedicine is a rapidly growing commodity in health care that is expected to see tremendous growth by 2020.

If you’d like to read more about that, check out my other post “An Introduction to Telemedicine and How it Might Work for You.”

I interviewed Keith D. Algozine, PA-C, one of the owners of Upstate Concierge Medicine, so you would have first-hand information to make your own decision about whether to consider telemedicine. Here I sit again today, trying to make an appointment with my primary care physician and I can’t even reach the appointment desk. I called in at 8 am this morning!  I was told I would receive a call back and it’s now 5 hours later.

Hmmm, telemedicine is looking better and better for me and I’m signing up. How about you?

Q: Keith, tell us a little about your company, when it started, and why you decided to venture into telemedicine?

A: We focus on providing a concierge level of care for our business partners, healthcare partners and patients in the Northeast. We started the company about 2 years ago after leaving a national telemedicine company. We realized that although telemedicine can break down the barriers of a brick-and-mortar location, healthcare is still personal.

Q: Who answers the phone when you call with a medical question?

A: You will be connected to a customer service representative who will confirm your membership and send you directly to the doctor on call.

Q: How long does it take for someone to get back to the caller?

A: We currently average just over 9 minutes to get back to our patients.

(Nice! I just waited 15 minutes to get to the scheduling desk at my primary MD’s office and I still don’t have an appointment…)

Q: How does telemedicine work?

A: In its simplest terms, telemedicine connects patients to medical providers using everyday technology. We provide diagnosis and treatment using technology such as phone, video, and text-secure email messaging. When appropriate we can send prescriptions electronically to your pharmacy. We also order labs and x-rays if appropriate. If a condition is beyond the scope of telemedicine, we can still provide good sound advice including recommendations and referrals for the right care for our patients.

Q: What’s the difference between a local versus a national telemedicine plan?

A: Healthcare, in our opinion, is best provided locally, or at the very least regionally. For example, Lyme Disease is very prevalent in the Northeast. A national telemedicine company would be less aware of this local health problem. We partner with local businesses and organizations to become part of their health and wellness solution for their patients.

All of our providers live and work in the Northeast region. We are the 5th healthcare organization in the entire country to be accredited by the American Telemedicine Association for our quality, privacy/security and transparency.

Q: What are the benefits of telemedicine in different environments, such as in homes, nursing homes, or assisted living?

Image of woman video conferencing with her doctor at home
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A: The power of telemedicine is that you can treat the patient wherever they are and the provider doesn’t have to be at the same location. With many conditions patients can be treated from the comfort of their home, office or on vacation (Yes, even if you are out of state!). With more complicated problems, we can make recommendations and often redirect patients to the appropriate level of care rather than rushing for emergency care when it may not be needed. On the other side of the spectrum, we can recognize conditions that are more urgent and make sure patients seek appropriate care before they get worse.

(I can attest to that. My husband was on the wrong antibiotic for food poisoning, read about that in my other post “An Introduction to Telemedicine and How it Might Work for You.”)

Q: Do you have mobile imaging available?

A: We will be launching our services with a mobile imaging company in the Rochester region this fall and hope to bring it to the rest of the state in 2017. When more complicated patients need further testing such as x-rays, ultrasounds, EKGs and even some point of care testing, the mobile imaging techs can perform these tasks and send them to our providers. This additional information can give us what we need to make more complicated medical decisions, such as instances that can occur in alternate living environments like nursing homes.

(For example, if a resident falls out of bed, a mobile tech could go directly to the nursing home and take an x-ray to determine whether a hip is broken or bruised. This keeps the resident in their home and reduces costs, while preventing emotional and physical disruption, and an unnecessary ED visit.)

Q: What is the average cost of telemedicine?

A: The cost varies depending on whether an individual/family pays for the services or whether a business or organization pays for the services. However, just to give you an idea, a common price would be $12 per month for an individual. Businesses pay just a fraction of that when they sign up all of their employees. We provide unlimited access to our providers without the need to pay additional co-pays.

Q: Can this be added as a benefit to a health insurance plan for a small business?

A: Telemedicine services are NOT health insurance and DO NOT replace the need for health insurance. However, they are a perfect benefit to help you save money on your health insurance costs such as co-pays and deductibles. They are considered professional medical services. What they replace is the doctor’s visits. They replace the need to go to urgent care, ED or doctor’s office for many of the conditions that can be treated via telemedicine.

Q: Do you communicate with an individual’s primary doctor, or a specialist?

A: As with any doctor, urgent care or ED communication, we have a full electronic health record and patient portal. All our records are documented and we can share them with primary care providers or specialists. The patient also has full access to the records. If we need to call or talk to a provider, we can do that as well.

Q: What, if any role does the primary care provider play in telemedicine?

A: We believe that this is ultimately the end game. Primary care practices, healthcare systems and even specialists can work with us so that they can provide their own telemedicine services to their patients. There’s nothing better than if the trusted healthcare practices in hospital systems can provide this care for their patients. As the telemedicine experts for our region, we can help primary practices and hospital systems bring telemedicine care to their patients.

Thank you Keith for answering these questions and sharing your expertise about telemedicine. So what are your thoughts? Be sure to share your responses below.