In the age of WebMD and online pharmacies, it's perhaps no surprise that online house calls would be only a few clicks away. Now, what may have seemed like science fiction a decade or two ago is coming much closer to daily life, given that two of the nation's largest insurers have gotten on board.
Aetna Inc. and Cigna Corp. have now agreed to reimburse doctors for online visits, reports the Los Angeles Times. Given those companies' clout, other large insurers are expected to follow, experts say.
These online "visits" are expected to cost about the same as walking in to a doctor's office, although services are expected to begin with the most minor procedures, understandably. That means follow-up check-ins and consultation for colds and other such common ailments. For many patients, that's likely to set just fine. Who wants to trudge all the way to a doctor's office, particularly in the bad weather of cold season, just to sit in a crowded office with other sniffling, coughing sufferers, screaming babies and well-oiled pharmaceutical reps? Not to mention bad daytime TV or yellowing magazines about subjects you dont care about?
The fact is, going to the doctor can be a real hassle, especially in today's ever-busier world. If the most minor visits can be relegated to online check-ups, it will certainly save gas, greenhouse gas emissions, and congestion, not to mention stress of sitting in traffic and juggling schedules. People will have to take less time off work, and can therefore hopefully secure more time with friends and family.
What's the potential impact? Doctor visits in the United States have surged 20% in the last five years, to more than 1.2 billion annually, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And, while the number of relatively older folks rises (thanks to the baby boomers), the number of doctors is falling. Therefore, relieving some of the pressure on in-person visits may serve a positive roll.
A number of companies are already sprouting up to manage online care, such as RelayHealth Inc. and Medem Inc., and home diagnostic equipment is becoming more affordable and sophisticated. It will be interesting to see how much of a roll online medicine will play in the future.
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