By Jana Soeldner Danger
Getting sick in the middle of the night or on a weekend used to mean a trip to the emergency room. Even during regular business hours, a visit to the doctor’s office can involve a lengthy stay in the waiting room, especially if the appointment is last-minute. Now, however, seeing a doctor can be as easy as tapping your cell phone, tablet or computer.
Cleveland Clinic Florida recently launched MyCare Online, a service that allows patients anywhere in Florida to make virtual visits to medical professionals 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Patients can be seen and treated almost instantly for conditions that include cough, urinary-tract infections, abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever and headaches. If the provider determines that the individual requires medication, prescriptions can be sent to the pharmacy electronically.
“Patients today want 24/7 access to health care, not just Monday through Friday, and they want it from the convenience of wherever they are,” says Dr. Gregory Rosencrance, chairman of internal medicine at Cleveland Clinic Florida. “We’re moving past having to sit and wait for your physician in an office – and many patients can’t travel to come to an office.”
A patient accesses the service using a free app called Cleveland Clinic Mycare, which can be downloaded from Google Play, the App Store or at Clevelandclinicflorida.org/mycare. After logging on, the user answers some preliminary questions. Next, he or she will see a list of available providers, choose one, and proceed to a face-to-face video visit. Providers include family practice physicians, internists and nurse practitioners, and although they are physically located in Ohio, all are licensed in Florida, Rosencrance says.
Will there be lengthy online delays? “We anticipate no more than a two-minute wait,” Rosencrance says.
The patient pays the $49 cost of a virtual office call with a credit card at the time of service. Insurance typically does not cover the virtual visits, Rosencrance says. “However, there are several insurers that do have policies that cover a limited set of uses, particularly in the area of urgent care concerns.”
The service is likely to become more common. Telemedicine is the fastest growing segment of the health-care delivery industry today, says Christa Natoli, associate director of the Center for Telehealth and eHealth Law, a legal and regulatory nonprofit research institute in Washington, D.C. “It will be a $40 billion industry by 2021.” λ