Pros and Cons of Virtual Urgent Care Visits

Posted by jsavage on Jun 10, 2017

Everything has it's pros and cons, right?  Urgent Care video visits (telemedicine) is no different.  Take a look at this list to help you understand where you may benefit and where problems may arise.

Pros of Urgent Care Video Visits (Telemedicine)

  1. Cost - If you have not gone to the emergency room ever in your life, count yourself lucky.  One of the many problems with our healthcare system is how expensive it is.  Compared to nearly every other form of healthcare access, an urgent care video visit can be an outright bargain.  Most urgent care video consult services run anywhere from $39 - $59 if paying directly.  Compare that to $100+ for a typical office visit, $150+ for urgent care, and 650++ for an emergency room visit for a minor medical issue.  Plus, if you live in a state that requires telemedicine to be covered by your health insurance, you may pay nothing more than a small co-pay or co-insurance.
  2. Improved Access to Care -  All across America, from urban environments to rural communities, it can be difficult to get in to see a doctor.  Some difficulties could be physical such as for the elderly that may have problems walking. Other difficulties could be related to geographic location or health provider shortage.  It is estimated there will be a shortage of up to 35,000 primary care physicians by 2025 according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. This shortage adds to longer wait times for appointments which only compounds the other problems which make accessing affordable quality healthcare possible.  With a video visit, many services are available to you no matter what your access pain point is.  In general, as long as you have a computer and internet access, you also have access to a medical provider.
  3. Time Saving - Between traveling, sitting in a waiting room, filling out forms, and the actual visit, it is estimated the average in-person doctor visit takes 2 hours of a patient's time.  This is in comparison to the less than 15 minutes of time spent between requesting care and getting care for a video visit(does not include time waiting which is usually at your own house or place of work so is not counted as lost productivity time as you can continue to get things done).  In a world where time is money, the time saved remaining at home or work may equal money saved or earned.
  4. Hassle Reducing - Rearranging work schedules, family schedules, arranging family-member's care, and just getting to visits on-time can be added burden for many and anxiety-inducing for some.  With a virtual visit that allows for a life less interrupted, some of the stress of needing and getting to medical care can be reduced or even eliminated.
  5. Privacy - For most, it doesn't get much more private than one's own room, home, or office.  Add in a pair of headphones and an already private medical evaluation becomes more so.  Additionally, telemedicine companies are required to follow HIPAA regulations in all aspects of your care which means that even your communication method with the health provider is encrypted before or during transmission.
  6. Instantly share x-rays, lab reports - Some of the software of certain telemedicine companies allow for screen sharing.  This allows you, the patient, to share labs, x-rays, or other medical reports you have on your computer with the evaluating provider.  This also allows the provider to share with you medical images, videos, or other education to help you have a better understanding of your health situation.  Overall, this makes for a better informed and less error-prone interaction.
  7. Care notes easily available to you and your doctor - After your video visit, your care notes will be entered into a secure electronic medical records system.  However, you can have access to your records through a patient portal.  From there you can print out your records if you desire to keep them or take them to your regular doctor.  Additionally, if your doctor participates in direct messaging, the records can be encrypted and secure messaged straight into your doctor's medical records system.  Lastly, your records can also be electronically faxed to your regular care provider's office.
  8. Prescription electronically sent to your local pharmacy - The days of getting a written prescription, dropping it off at the pharmacy and either waiting or coming back hours later to get it are over.  Now, no matter where you are located within the state, the prescriptions can be sent electronically to the nearest participating pharmacy.  Imaging you are on vacation all the way across the state and become ill.  After an urgent care video visit from wherever you are, any needed prescriptions can be sent to the nearest pharmacy.  Much of the stress of finding care in a location you do not know well is alleviated.
  9. More time focused on you - Even though a typical video visit lasts less than 10 minutes, that is pure one-on-one time between the healthcare provider and you.  No distractions of others walking into the room, text messages, phone calls.  The focused time-frame gets you a more attentive clinician and allows more time for the clinician to explain things.
  10. Insurance will likely cover it - Many states now have what is known as telemedicine parity laws.  In Colorado, this means that private insurers must now pay for telemedicine like they do for regular in-person visits.  You can review Colorado's current telehealth policies on the Center for Connected Health Policy website. Medicare is exempt from this law and still has strict regulations on who can use telemedicine and where they must be located to use it.  How well the insurer will cover the video visit depends on several factors, including whether or not the healthcare provider is "in-network" or "out-of-network" with that particular insurer.

Cons of Urgent Care Video Visits (Telemedicine)

  1. Requires your computer to be video capable - Not everyone has a video-enabled device.  While some telemedicine programs allow for telephone and text conversations, this generally is not the most accepted format to conduct medical evaluations in most states. So for those who have a computer without a working webcam, they may be out of luck.
  2. Technical glitches - Everyone knows that technology is glitchy.  Throw in a little user-error and things can occasionally get outright frustrating.  This is oh so true for telemedicine technology too.  Wifi and cellular strength play gigantic roles in using the internet in general.  Then try having a fluid, high-definition video interaction over it.  While the technology is often able to compensate for poor connectivity, it also can create frozen, pixelated, or dropped connections.  Prescriptions, medical records, secure text messages, and other components of your care encounter all require interdependent technologies to work together smoothly.  This is not always the case.
  3. Some limitations to exam - While a video evaluation can be great for getting an evaluation, due to the limitations of a straight-forward audio-visual communication, some diagnoses simply cannot be made.  Telemedicine providers generally cannot look directly at your eardrums to tell you if you truly have an ear infection or not.  However, there are some cameras on the market that will now allow you to show the evaluating provider your eardrums directly.  Additionally, tests cannot be performed, so many diagnoses are made by a good set of questions and by having you, the patient, participate in helping conduct the exam.
  4. Difficult to assess quality of care from certain telemedicine services - While convenience is great, you may not know who the provider is on the other end of the conversation.  Background checks and quality control policies will vary from telemedicine service to telemedicine service.  Some research have suggested that inappropriate antibiotic writing among telemedicine services has been fairly high.  With well researched, implemented, and enforced quality guidelines, your quality of care from a telemedicine evaluation should be the same as an in-person visit for a similar issue.
  5. Not accepted as a valid practice model by some doctors - The provision of medical care is steeped in tradition.  This is not always a bad thing.  Human beings in general are generally resistant to change, but medical personnel seem to be more resistant than most.  This became quite evident during the transition to electronic medical records but is just as bad or worse when it comes to telemedicine.  So if you are hoping your regular doctors are going to start using telemedicine soon, I wouldn't necessarily hold your breath.  Many are waiting for the research to completely validate its use, some are simply skeptical of not following tradition and others fear a potential loss of livelihood without considering the overall benefit to patients.
  6. It may reduce continuity of care with primary doctors - Patients are increasingly disconnected from traditional primary care practices.  Even those with primary care doctors, many are using telemedicine as a one-off encounter.  Healthcare seems to exist in multiple silos where one place to receive care does not communicate with another.  If you go to more than one source of care, the clinician finds it difficult to obtain or verify prior records, which may result in repeat testing and increased costs.  Telemedicine has not been much better in this regard.  Most companies exist in a silo themselves and often do not communicate your information to the rest of the healthcare system.  Also, many are using telemedicine as their source of care instead of the primary doctor.  This may contribute to the breaking of relationships with primary care doctors and patients, and may also be contributing to the resistance among doctors listed above where they fear that telemedicine companies are taking away their patients.
  7. It may not be a provider you know - Somewhat related to quality of care and acceptance, but this is listed separately because some patients do prefer to see a doctor they know.  Patient have developed relationships with a certain healthcare provider and wish to maintain that relationship.  That may be difficult to do, as there is little likelihood that the provider that sees you through a video visit service will be your own doctor.
  8. Hours of availability may still be limited - Video visits still require someone to be on the other end of the connection with you.  With a shortage of physicians that is expected to grow, telemedicine may improve efficiency of existing providers, but it does not increase the number of providers.  It still takes manpower to run telemedicine operations and due to most physicians already leading quite busy work-lives, it may be difficult to have access to video care consults whenever you need it.

While there are some potential problems with the current state of telemedicine, overall, the benefits of access, convenience, cost, and quality make obtaining a lower cost telemedicine a worthwhile method of getting healthcare more many.

Care on Location offers urgent care video visits using background-checked experienced providers who have access to research-based nationally accepted care guidelines.

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