The ever-changing health care landscape is one that has seen a lot of innovation in an attempt to reign in high costs. There has been an explosion in the number of urgent care centers which are faster and cheaper than the emergency room that have also expanded to offer routine medical services. Another healthcare innovation has been the development of telemedicine or telehealth.
Telemedicine is not a new phenomenon, with the nonprofit American Telemedicine Association formed in 1993 and with 9,000 members, this industry has been around a while. With the advanced telecommunication capabilities that we have access to along with the improvement of information technology, it is possible for healthcare professionals to provide clinical healthcare without physically seeing the patient.
Such care is not without controversy though. Hospitals seem reluctant to employ such technology, Dr. Fred Cerise, CEO of Parkland Health & Hospital System, said that “Pretty much anything we add is a cost addition for us,” making it not financially feasible for Parkland to offer such a service. This is in addition to the regulations put into place by Texas where regulators and doctors have resisted telehealth.
Because Texas has made it hard for telehealth to grow, Dallas-based Teledoc is fighting back. With 12.6 million members, no malpractice claims, 95% satisfaction, a 10 minute response time, and resolution of patient issues 92% of the time, at a fraction of the cost of urgent care or the emergency room. The company has also been willing to fight Texas over cumbersome regulations such as the rule that only doctors that have seen a patient in person can interact with them virtually. Teledoc claims that the Texas Medical Board has limited the supply of medical services, thus increasing prices.
Teledoc services are available for many common ailments like flu, fevers, acne, and allergies, but there are some limitations to care. Teledoc does not handle emergency situations. While Teledoc physicians write prescriptions for the patient, but they will not write prescriptions for any DEA-controlled substances, non-therapeutic drugs, or drugs that could be abused. Teledoc also offers over-the-phone consults for dermatology and behavioral health, with in-person appointments suggested to patients if telehealth is not appropriate.
While Texas has not been friendly to the telehealth field, with Teledoc ready, able, and willing to fight back- they are protecting the market and increasing competition, which reduces prices. This is better for the consumer and the overall health of the state, freeing up doctors offices and emergency rooms for the patients most in need of urgent care.