ABC News’ Paula Faris reports:
With three growing boys, the Alspaughs of Dayton, Ohio, say their home away from home is unfortunately often the doctor’s office.
“We really do have a stack of medical bills and it overwhelms us,” said Rachel Alspaugh.
For the boys — ages 14, 11, and 9 — it costs the family $90 a visit. The price goes up to $100 each time mom or dad goes.
“We’re just wondering, ‘Is there a better way?’” Philip Alspaugh asked.
According to health care consumer advocate Michelle Katz, there is: telemedicine, a brand-new, high-tech medical service.
For $40 to $50 a use — about half the cost of the average doctor’s visit — doctors perform virtual medical exams either online or over the telephone. They even write prescriptions.
For information on telemedicine and finding doctors, see below.
Telemedicine is already backed by many hospitals and major health insurers. The U.S. government endorsed the service through Medicare and Medicaid.
But for most families, Katz said, they don’t know it’s an option or figure in the extra costs of going to the doctor’s office.
“It costs money to take off from work, to get all the boys in the car, drive down to wait a few hours, to get a diagnosis that you might already know about,” she said.
Telemedicine is used to treat minor ailments like cold symptoms, which account for nearly a quarter of office visits to the primary care doctor.
“We’ve got a very affordable alternative to an emergency room for non-emergent care,” said Dr. Tim Howard, a telemedicine doctor.
Although Howard tells patients that the best care is received by seeing a primary care physician for a hands-on exam, telemedicine helps families stay healthy in between regular doctor’s office visits, not instead of them.
“The hours of telemedicine are anytime. Literally 24/7, 365 days a year,” said Chuck Hockett, vice president of business development for telemedicine service Connect2Docs. “They’re very qualified physicians. The average is between 15-17 years of practice before those physicians are vetted to be on the service. There’s an audio transcript of everything that a patient does when they’re talking to a doctor so if they have a question about it and want to go speak to another doctor, they’ve got an audio and a written copy of that.”
Katz estimated that the Alspaughs could save more than $2,600 this year.
“I’m amazed,” said Rachel Alspaugh. “I’m simply amazed.”
See the following if you’re interested in telemedicine:
- Consult with your primary care physician to see what telemedicine company they might already work with.
- Check with your insurance provider to make sure it covers telemedicine and to see whether it has a service it recommends.
- Log onto third-party medical rating service websites like vitals.com and NCQA.org to research the doctor/service.