Telemedicine's Expanding Options
"The Teladoc offering is just basically continuing down that path of saying, there are going to be some young, hip consumers that are going to want to be able to video chat with their doctor at 2 in the morning, because they're working on some computer algorithm and don't want to leave their office or their apartment, and they're going to want to access it that way, and we need to be able to deliver it that way," Henick says.
Some physicians also view services such as Teladoc as their new career path. Timothy Howard, MD, was a family practitioner in Huntsville, Ala., for 20 years. In 2009, to earn additional income, he began working for Teladoc as one of its physicians reachable by telemedicine technology, primarily
This January, after providing several months' notice, the 52-year-old left private practice to work for Teladoc full time. "I want to practice actual medicine and take care of people and not a bunch of administrative things," he says. "You're talking directly to the patient. You don't have a third party or someone else telling you 'Restrictions here, restrictions there, do this, this is preapproved,' this kind of thing. It's really pretty straightforward."
At the top of the list of conditions Howard treats via telemedicine: sinus problems, urinary tract infections, allergies, flu, cough, and ear infections. Video is "exclusively requested by the patient, when they desire to either let you see them or their child," he says.
Due to Teladoc's low overhead, "it's very possible to earn a living with it," Howard says. Out of an average of 180–240 patients per week, four or five a week have problems severe enough that he refers them to seek in-person help.
"The key is that we're episodic," Howard says. "We are not seen as the primary care physician. The urgent may take the place of the important. But that's one of the nuances, and I tell patients all the time, 'I said, the best way to be cared for as a patient by a physician is a hands-on exam.' "
Services such as Teladoc also set and monitor their own quality standards, such as whether doctors are overprescribing antibiotics, Howard says.
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