Lifestyle

The doctor is on call (waiting): the rise of telemedicine

The rising concerns of affordable healthcare have caused some to look outside the doctor's office for a medical evaluation according to a Bonney Lake man by the name of Dave Hobley who owns the website Ask a Doctor Live.

The site partners with DocDial, a provider of telemedicine services, to offer affordable, unconventional access to healthcare. For a monthly membership fee, board certified physicians are available around the clock to provide care via telephone and Internet. An array of options are available for individual, family and group plans.

The process begins with a triage call, at which point the patient's basic needs are evaluated. A short time afterwards, a doctor calls the patient back in order to perform a more in-depth examination. In order to effectively diagnose, each telemedicine doctor is able to order labs at a nearby facility when necessary.

Ask a Doctor Live reports that more than 70 percent of emergency room visits are extraneous, which implies a large amount of wasted money on copays and other fees. According to Hobley, patients can utilize telemedicine services to cut down on excessive medical costs. He also said that when people are sick, their immune systems are suppressed and therefore, they are more susceptible to catching other illnesses. To avoid that risk, staying away from medical facilities – where they are exposed to communicable diseases – is very helpful in the healing process.

Hobley said that another reason why people use Ask a Doctor Live is because they can't make it to an appointment during regular business hours. The ability to pick up a prescription for antihistamines or antibiotics is priceless, he said.

Ask a Doctor Live physicians are authorized to write prescriptions when needed. However, under no circumstances are they able to provide access to DEA controlled medications. In the event that a patient requires drugs outside the scope of off-site doctors, they are advised to seek in-person medical care.

Telemedicine services are fairly new but the WebMD and "Googling your symptoms" phenomena have been alive and well for a long time now. At its core, technology is integral to healthcare but some providers believe that the inevitable progression towards telemedicine isn't necessarily as good as it seems at the surface.

Dr. Pullen

Dr. Edward Pullen of Sound Family Medicine considers his own blog a useful contribution to the ever-growing expanse of information on the web. He said that a good number of his patients follow it and that he enjoys the creative outlet. However, he adamantly professes that it isn't a substitution for actual physician care. Information found online can be both helpful and misleading, he said. Knowledge of your own health is empowering but it's important not to self-diagnose.

When asked about the ability to receive adequate medical care without ever stepping foot in a doctor's office, he was skeptical but open to the possibility. Pullen himself has given medical advice over the phone but only to established patients.

"I think it would be very difficult to diagnose someone I haven't met yet," said Pullen. "But there's a place for it, perhaps with people who can't afford health insurance. Something is better than nothing."

In reference to the time and money saved, Pullen is wary that the company's claims are inflated. Similar services are already considered standard practice at most offices, he said.

Established patients have the ability to call and speak with a doctor or nurse to receive general advice. Part of the revenue generated by office visits funds the time these medical professionals spend on the phone with patients – it doesn't require separate fees.

Pullen said he doesn't believe telemedicine is a bad idea, but that it may not provide efficient care for the complicated health needs of some individuals. If used, it may be beneficial to consider it one tool in your healthcare toolbox.

Ask a Doctor Live can be found online at askadoctorlive.mydocdial.com and on Facebook.

To reach Pullen or to read his medical blog, please visit drpullen.com

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