Here’s a potentially exciting development in the area of health insurance — carriers may start paying for online medical consultations. More and more doctors and clinics are making themselves available to their patients online, usually for simple questions. This process can save the hassle and the expense of an in-office medical visit. If carriers will pay for these consultations, more people may use them and we’ll have fewer people walking around sick because they can’t take the time to visit the doctor in person. Here are excerpts from a Dallas Morning News story on the subject:
Since the dawn of e-mail, patients have been pleading for more doctors to offer medical advice online. No traffic jams, no long waits, no germ-infested offices.
There was always one major roadblock: Many health insurers wouldn’t pay for it.
In recent weeks, Aetna Inc., the nation’s largest insurer, and Cigna Corp. have agreed to reimburse doctors for online visits.
Other large insurers are expected to follow, experts say.
These new online services, which typically cost the same as a regular office visit, are aimed primarily at those who already have a doctor.
The virtual visits are considered best for follow-up consultations and treatment for minor ailments such as colds and sore throats.
But some specialists, including cardiologists and gynecologists, also see these e-mail visits as ideal for periodic checkups that don’t require in-person presence.
“People can wait a long time to get in to see their primary-care doctor and longer for a specialist. … To have immediate access is huge,” said Dr. Melissa Welch, Aetna’s medical director for northern California.
“Paying doctors to do more patient care over the Internet is a small but important step in a good direction,” said David Cutler, a Harvard University health care economist. “It increases patient access and could significantly improve their satisfaction.”