Are online doctor visits the next big thing?
What if you could skip the drive to your doctor’s office and those agonizing minutes in the waiting room? How about saving a little cash too? A new study suggests that patients are doing just that by using “e-visits” for treatment of minor ills, such as sinus infections and urinary tract.
How do e-visits work? Patients simply fill out an online form about their symptoms and wait for a physician or nurse at their doctor’s office to get back to them in a few hours with a treatment plan.
In Illinois and across the country, more and more clinics are using e-visits. Advocate Dreyer Medical Clinic, which operates several facilities in the Aurora and Fox Valley area, launched its e-visits program in 2011. At Dreyer, only physicians conduct e-visits, and they’re treating patients with everything from sinus infections to back pain, runny noses and allergic reactions. The doctors say their patients seem to love the convenience of e-visits as an option.
“Our patients tell us they enjoy being able to stay home when they are sick and avoid spreading germs to others, especially when they feel their symptoms are not urgent,” says Dr. Rich Kelly, who practices family medicine at Dreyer.
Kelly added that e-visits help families that are juggling their time caring for their loved ones, especially when they don’t have to schedule an appointment beforehand.
Insurance companies also believe e-visits will help save money. For example, the national average for treatment of a urinary tract infection is around $74 per e-visit, versus $93 for an office visit, researchers estimate. At Dreyer, the average cost of an e-visit is $30, which is submitted to the patient’s insurer.
E-visits are still relatively new, and health providers are still working out some of the kinks. The study raised some concern about physicians overprescribing antibiotics based on information provided through an e-visit, which could cause patients to build up resistance. And they want to ensure that doctors don’t miss physical clues about other underlying conditions that might be more obvious in a face-to-face visit. But clearly defined criteria for e-visits, coupled with a knowledgeable clinical team, could make e-visits very popular in a culture that thrives on convenience.
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health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.