With the help of your smartphone, the nearest doctor’s office can be as close as your couch.
The E-Doc service from East Jefferson General Hospital in Metairie, launched earlier this month, allows any Louisiana resident to visit a physician over a smartphone or computer’s video stream.
“The convenience is you don’t have to go anywhere,” said Dr. Sidney “Beau” Raymond, chief medical information officer for the hospital. “You can just sit at home and wait for your time.”
Telemedicine — connecting with a doctor by video — has been used for decades with patients in remote areas who need specialized care. But video-conferencing technology made it an expensive proposition, said Dr. Mark Diana, an associate professor at Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans.
“Now we can all do it with our iPhones or Androids,” said Diana. “It’s much simpler to do.”
The East Jefferson E-Doc service utilizes a national Telemedicine service — Texas-based Teladoc — that has previously been available through some insurance plans. All the doctors are certified to practice in Louisiana and are board certified in internal medicine, emergency medicine or pediatrics, Raymond said.
After reaching the E-Doc site through the hospital’s website, ejgh.org, patients can request a doctor’s visit. Patients can usually connect with a physician within 30 minutes. The service is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, Raymond said, and patients are charged a fee of $49. E-Doc does not accept insurance.
Patients who would normally go to an urgent care doctor could use the service. They can upload photos doctors may want to see — such as rashes or contusions — through their smartphone or tablet computer application or via the Teladoc website. “It’s ideal for non-emergency type ailments — colds, flus, bronchitis, conjuntivitis,” Raymond said.
Doctors from East Jefferson can follow up if a patient consents to let others view their records, Raymond said.
The E-Doc program makes business sense for the hospital, Diana said. Patients seeking a quick, convenient appointment may choose E-Doc over a competing urgent care facility.
Raymond knows he has lost visits from patients on weekends and holidays.
“I know good and well that I have patients who have gone to urgent care instead of going into my office just because of the convenience of going at other times,” Raymond said.
While the service makes sense for the hospital, Diana said it also makes sense for consumers — at least for those who are comfortable with the technology.
Doctors trained in interacting through telemedicine are just as capable as traditional doctors of diagnosing patients’ medical problems, Diana said.
“We’ve been doing this long enough,” he said. “The technology’s changed, but we’ve been doing this long enough. I wouldn’t have any reservations about it.”
When first contacting the service, patients are made aware that acute problems are not appropriate for E-Doc, Raymond said.
“Let’s be extreme on this. If you’re having a stroke or something like that, calling a physician over the phone is not the best thing to do,” he said. “You should be going to the emergency room.”
During the first weekend after E-Doc’s Feb. 15 launch, 80 people used the service, Raymond said, and the average wait time for an appointment was 11 to 12 minutes.
That kind of convenience will attract some people to the service, Diana said, but the price will deter others whose insurance plans would completely cover a traditional urgent care visit.
“I’m not sure how patients are going to take to that,” he said. “I’m not sure that for the convenience it will be worth $50 or whatever it is.”
But for others with a high-deductible insurance plan, E-Doc could be a bargain, he said.
Telemedicine is the future for many patients, Diana said, especially those dealing with chronic diseases like diabetes or asthma who may need occasional check-ins with doctors to regulate medicine. While these types of visits are not available with E-Doc, telemedicine could help people with chronic conditions lower their healthcare costs.
“They wouldn’t have to come into the office, but you stay engaged with them,” he said. “In that way, you help them manage the disease better.”
Diana said he thinks services like E-Doc will continue to grow more popular. The average American, he said, has the technology needed to see a doctor virtually.
“It is pretty amazing,” he said. “Why not take advantage of it?”