The Doctor Will E-Mail You Now

Online visits increasingly covered by insurance companies

Whether she’s flying to Maryland to close on a million-dollar home or assisting a California businessman looking to relocate his corporation, Jenice Brinkley is always on the go. For the successful Georgia real estate agent who generated more than $6 million in real estate sales for ReMax of Atlanta, time is money. And she’s not keen on wasting either.

With her busy schedule, Brinkley can not afford to get sick. In fact, she loathes taking the time to call for refills for son Rashad’s asthma medicine, husband Percy’s high blood pressure pills, or her own heartburn prescription. “It just gets so cumbersome. We have to search high and low to locate the bottles for our prescription numbers. My Nexium expired and to save time from calling the doctor, I just bought an over-the-counter drug,” says Brinkley, who, with her husband and son, co-owns Real Estate Investments by Brinkley, Brinkley and Brinkley Inc. “When you are on the phone with the doctor’s office, it’s too time-consuming and aggravating. I just wish there was a simpler process.”

Like Brinkley, many Americans want to make their lives easier by not having to take time off work to go to the doctor or waste precious minutes listening to elevator music as they wait for lab results. Many physicians have taken notice and conjured up a remedy: online doctor visits. As a result, several major insurance companies have begun providing coverage for this service.

Eleven insurance companies nationwide offer webVisit, which is designed by RelayHealth Corp., a provider of Web-based communication services that connects doctors and their patients. Launched in 2001, this service, which is secured by encryption technology, automatically bills patients for co-payments and the insurer for the balance. It also guides the user through an interactive questionnaire that reviews symptoms or specific conditions and stores health records. “Using easy-to-understand language, each of the more than 140 webVisit interviews asks you the sort of questions a physician would during an examination and constructs a succinct, structured message to your doctor, presenting the answers provided,” says Eric Zimmerman, senior vice president of marketing for RelayHealth. “It’s a quick, convenient, and effective way for patients to report their non-urgent symptoms and physicians to deliver a fast, informed response. The response may even include a prescription to your pharmacy — if that’s medically appropriate.”

Online doctor visits are available 24 hours per day, seven days per week. Some services are available for free. The insurance companies that do cover these visits charge an average $5 to $10 co-pay. If your insurance plan does not cover your visit, the cost is normally $20 to $30.

The downside for patients, however, is the loss of face-to-face interaction, the inability for doctors to check vitals on the spot, and the potential for hackers to tap into medical records. Therefore, online visits may be better suited for the management of recurring ailments such as asthma, diabetes, and arthritis as well as minor complaints such as colds and seasonal allergies.

For those doctors and patients who have concerns

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