The health system at UCLA is taking a promising new medical approach mainstream: virtual doctors’ visits. Here and there isolated doctors’ practices or experimental groups have taken up treating patients over Skype or online consultations, but UCLA is setting up a much more extensive system—a 24/7 online doctors’ office of sorts that patients can access at any time for consultation on non-emergency conditions. More, via Kaiser Health News:
While telemedicine isn’t new, it has traditionally been used to expand medical access to rural areas with doctor shortages or to connect primary care doctors with specialists. This represents a new way for telemedicine to give patients more control over their health care, said John Jesser, vice president of provider engagement strategy for Anthem Blue Cross.“It saves them one of the most important things, which is their time,” Jesser said. “The number one benefit really is convenience.”It also allows patients who get sick over the weekend to avoid going to an urgent care center or an emergency room, he said.
This isn’t just a time-saver; it’s a money-saver too. Virtual visits at UCLA cost about $49, while an in-person visit can cost double that. Given that technology allows doctors to diagnose many common, non-emergency conditions without seeing a patient in person, there’s no reason why our system should continue to be burdened by the costs of unnecessary in-person visits. It’s a promising sign that UCLA is helping to normalize virtual visits—we hope health care policy makers and practitioners take note.