A taste of telehealth

Virtual health care encourages patients leery of hospitals to seek treatment.

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As a new treadmill user, I had one fear — falling and flying backward off the moving track.

Last month, as I was feeling too confident during a HIIT workout, my worst fear was realized. But rather than let go of the railing, I held on and injured both legs in the process.

Blame my millennial nature, but I’m the kind of person who puts off going to the doctor unless absolutely necessary. But a week later, I was still in pain. I had to do something. 

So I sought alternative options from the comfort of my couch. I’m a Providence customer, so Telehealth seemed like the best fit.

The technology is relatively new. Most people I told about the service hadn’t even heard of it.

Patients connect to a physician remotely via a secure video chat line. I logged on, picked a doctor who was online and waited in the queue.

Ten minutes later an alert indicated my physician was coming online. I checked the lighting before hearing a voice introduce itself as my doctor.

She asked to see the wounds, gathered my medical history a series of questions. She then prescribed an ointment and sent me on my way.

Thirty minutes after making the decision to seek medical advice I was headed out the door to pick up my prescription.

I’m not alone. The numbers of users logging on for medical advice since Providence launched its Telehealth Express Care Virtual program in 2014 has grown more than 1,000%.

Michelle Wernert, Senior Product Manager for Telehealth, declined to provide firm user numbers, says their customer rating is 4.8 out of 5, and that 95% of people would recommend the service to a friend.

“Once people understand what the service is and have a chance to use it, they are ecstatic about the convenience and affordability of the service,” she says. “Patients also love the personalized interaction with the providers.”

The providers are advanced registered nurse practitioners. When I logged on there were two nurses to choose from. Wernert says Providence continues to add providers to keep wait times at five minutes or less.

Providence isn’t alone in purusing remote medicine. Telehealth and virtual doctors are moving into the mainstream as traditional hospitals as well as specialty practices — Talkspace therapists or skin-care specialists like Curology — sign on.

Consumers want more health care options and greater affordability. My telehealth visit was free under my insurance plan, while a visit to urgent care would have cost $90 minimum.

As a hesitant healthcare user myself, I’m happy to know at least some of my medical needs can be met from the comfort of my couch.