Consumer Wise: More patients turning to virtual doctors

By Angie Moreschi, Consumer Wise Host
Last Updated: Tuesday, June 21, 2016, 11:55 AM EDT

We’re all so busy these days that a new way to visit the doctor is becoming popular. It’s called tele-medicine.

“It’s fast and convenient,” said Mike Gorsage, Tampa General Hospital's senior vice president. “You don’t have to take three to four hours off from work to get in to see a doctor.”

Tampa General created a video to show how easy it is to have a “virtual doctor visit.” The video shows a mom picking up her kids from karate class, when a little girl in the back seat coughs.

“Ooh, I don’t like the sound of that. Let’s see what the doctor says,” said a mom acting in the TGH video.

The mom pulls over and clicks the TGH Virtual Care app on her smart phone. Within a few minutes, she’s video chatting with a doctor.

How it works

TGH is teaming with national tele-health company American Well to provide doctors for the service. Patients download the app through the TGH Virtual Care website, the Apple app store or the Google Play store. Then, you fill out medical information and a credit card number for payment.

When a patient logs in, they get access to a virtual waiting room with several doctors seeing patients. Users can check out the doctors' bios and see whether they have other patients waiting. Then, patients pick a doctor to see them. The average wait time to talk to the doctor is less than 10 minutes.

“It’s very similar to a regular doctor’s visit,” said virtual doctor Dr. Shannon Simon. “We talk to them first. Then, we perform a physical exam, which is the part that’s different.”

Virtual exam

The doctor examines patients through the camera on a phone or computer.

“If they’re having a rash, I may have them take a picture of the rash, so I can get a better look and they can upload the picture,” Simon said.

The most commonly treated problems include sinus infections, sore throats, pink eye, flu, cough and more.

The virtual doctors are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They can treat minor problems and send a prescription to a patient’s pharmacy for most things. That does not, however, include controlled substances such as painkillers.

“It’s a real convenient way for patients to receive medical care wherever,” Simon said.

Not for serious emergencies

The virtual doctors are easy and convenient, but they’re not designed to deal with serious emergencies such as a possible broken limb or chest pains.  Those are things patients will have to handle the good, old fashioned way: seeing a doctor in person. 

TGH’s Gorsage says it’s definitely a growing trend in health care.

“Many organizations, like the Cleveland Clinic, and us, and many others are already using tele-health all over the country, all over the world,” Gorsage said.

Besides TGH in Tampa, Nemours Children’s Network in Orlando is also participating. For more information on that program, click on this link: Nemours CareConnect: Pediatric Telemedicine.

The virtual care visits cost from $39 to $49, depending on the service. Generally, that’s out of pocket. Some insurance companies are beginning to cover tele-heath visits, but you should check with your carrier to find out whether you're covered.