New Business Seeks To Provide Medical Care Via Telephone
USA Today on Wednesday looked at Dallas-based TelaDoc, a new service that allows patients to telephone a doctor for medical advice rather than being treated by primary care providers, urgent care clinics or emergency departments. TelaDoc is being promoted to uninsured and insured "demanding, time-crunched people" as a cheaper alternative to traditional medical care. Patients phone TelaDoc with a list of symptoms or a medical question, and a physician calls back within three hours.
TelaDoc physicians will not prescribe narcotic painkillers or treat patients younger than age 12. Individuals pay $18 to join TelaDoc, as well as $4.25 monthly and $35 for each call. TelaDoc CEO Michael Gorton said, "We're trying to address access, how quickly you can get to a doctor. ... We believe that we can address 75% of the issues that come in the door." But Ann O'Malley, senior researcher at the Center for Studying Health System Change, said, "If this TelaDoc has a market, that's a red flag that something is broken. It signals that people are having a difficult time accessing their primary care physicians."
Joseph Heyman, an American Medical Association trustee, said, "They're suggesting they will make a diagnosis over the phone and treat a patient they've never met. That is not the best way to handle patients." However, Robert Berenson, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and a medical doctor, said, "There's nothing radical about people diagnosing over the phone. What makes this interesting is people taking a chance on a doctor they don't know." Berenson added that he is "skeptical" about TelaDoc as a "solution for the uninsured," as the service does not offer follow-up services, which many people will require (Appleby, USA Today, 5/25).