by Michele C. Hollow
Sick of waiting around in your doctor's office, surrounded by sick patients? Here's how to phone it in instead
Want to see your doctor, therapist or dentist in the comfort and privacy of your own home?
Thanks to telemedicine it's possible. From video chat sessions to personal phone consultations, doctors, therapists and even dentists are giving new meaning to the words house calls.
The best part about it: costs are often covered by health insurance. If the patient doesn't have insurance, fees are minimal; whereas some companies charge a monthly fee of less than $40; others charge a consult fee, which is usually under $50.
Have a consult with your doc
At AmeriDoc, a leading telemedicine company, a patient signs up to become a member, and then calls to speak with a representative from the company. The representative asks numerous questions about the patients' health and symptoms. An assigned doctor will then call the patient within a three-hour window. "We can schedule video chats for our members with doctors or set up phone consultations," says Stephanie Manley, executive vice president of Operations for AmeriDoc. "Usually our patients prefer phone consultations. The doctor spends as much time as possible with the patient on the phone, and calls that patient's pharmacy if prescriptions are needed."
Perk up your mental health
Dr. Rebecca Gladding of Strategic Planning and Psychiatrist at Health Link Now, a major telemedicine service, sees patients online and over the phone. "Our patients come from all over the country," she says. "They are people who are looking for medication management, therapy or both. They have a wide range of diagnoses or reasons they are seeking out help. In addition to treating anxiety, depression, bipolar or other mental health needs, we focus on improving wellness, helping people manage and cope with chronic medical conditions, and complete consultations for patients wanting to undergo weight loss surgery or receive a transplant."
Join a weight loss clinic
Some people lose weight better when they are part of a group. At BMIQ, weight loss management is geared toward people who have a high body mass index (BMI), which is associated with medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease.
BMIQ offers 8- and 16-week programs with registered dieticians. "The cost of our programs is less than $20 a week," says Laura Cipullo, who is one of BMIQ's registered dieticians and who has her own private practice in New York City.
Each online meeting is 45 minutes; patients get to ask questions, and between meetings patients can email questions to their registered dietician.
"The online live class teaches patients what and how to eat healthy while providing the support you need to make those changes," says Cipullo.
Get a teeth checkup at home
Even the American Dental Association's (ADA) Council of Dental Practice will discuss creating standards and guidelines for teledentistry when it meets later this month. According to the ADA, The University of Nebraska began a teledentistry project in 2003, while the Division of Dentistry at Children's Hospital in Los Angeles and the University of Minnesota offers teledentistry to their patients.
The Pacific Center for Special Care at the University of the Pacific, Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry in California offers a virtual dental practice for school-age children in low-income areas. Most of these students have a higher rate of not going to dentists than students from more affluent neighborhoods. For that reason, it makes sense to bring the dental care to them.
Dental technicians go into those communities, take X-rays and photos of the students' teeth, and share that information and photos with dentists. After a dentist looks at those uploaded records, they can determine who needs to come into their offices for treatment.
Making health convenient
For people who skip out on doctor or dentist visits, because they can't spare the time, telemedicine options can help make health a priority. "The major advantages are that people can receive care at home or in their office, wherever it is convenient for them," says Gladding. "They just need access to high-speed Internet, a webcam and a computer or mobile device."
While a lot can be done over the phone or via computer, it isn't a cure-all. Doctors and dentists will ask patients to come into their offices for blood work or if their findings show something critical that needs to be treated in person.