Wednesday, April 21, 2021

What Is Telemedicine?

Have you been in a situation where you are miles from home, perhaps on vacation, and a family member gets ill in the middle of the night? You don't have a family doctor nearby and you don't know if you should go to the local emergency room or not. Wouldn't it be nice if you could pick up the phone for some advice?

Telemedicine is a virtual platform that allows you access to healthcare professionals from any location. Whether at home, work, vacation or elsewhere, help is available 24-hours a day.

In many cases, it's unnecessary to wait in an emergency room or urgent care for diagnosis of minor ailments. With telemedicine you can consult a medical professional online or over the phone and receive personalized treatment. And if needed, the provider can call in a prescription* that can be picked up at your local pharmacy.

There are products out there that provide telemedicine services for about $10/month for individuals and $15/month for a family. My experience with these products has been in worksite settings, where an employer will offer it as a "benefit" and have the premiums deducted each pay period. Typically, after having a year or two the employees would cancel it because it, with most saying that the plan wasn't what they thought it was. I think they thought it was a substitute for a family physician or  even health insurance.

The interesting part of this is that most health insurance plans offer some sort of telemedicine as part of their coverage. Other outlets also have a telemedicine option available, like some pharmacies. With that in mind, most people who have health insurance may not need a stand alone plan. 

Recently, I had an interesting experience that I would like to share. I had gone to my physician for a routine visit, but it just so happened I was sick with cold and sinus infection. My doctor prescribed several drugs that I had never taken before to help with the cough and an ear infection that I didn't even know was there.

A day or two after taking these meds I developed a nose bleed. It was quite a mess and a surprise. I wasn't sure what was causing the nose bleed and thought that it may have something to do with the medications. I called my doctor's office and was told that the doctor would call me back later that afternoon. The lady on the phone was very formal and said something like, "I have you down for 5pm for a telemedicine appointment." To be honest, I thought nothing of it.

At 5pm my phone rang and I spoke to the doctor who assured me the medications were not the cause of the nose bleed and that I more than likely had burst a blood vessel by blowing my nose and coughing so much. The call lasted all of about five minutes.

A couple of weeks went by and I got a bill in the mail for $74. Confused, I called to ask why I had a bill when my doctor office copay was $20 which I had paid that after my appointment. "No, that bill is for the telemedicine call," I was told. Apparently, that call was billed differently and my insurance only covered about $30 of the $104.

I learned a valuable lesson. Make sure that you know what you are being charged when you pick up that phone to talk to your doctor. 

*Providers can not prescribe narcotics and some other medicines that are restricted by law.

Chris Castanes is the president of Surf Financial Brokers, helping people find affordable life, disability, long term care, cancer, accident and other insurance coverages in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and Georgia. He's also is a professional speaker helping sales people be more productive and efficient and has spoken to professional and civic organizations throughout the Southeast. And please subscribe to this blog!

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