You can see the doctor now, online
If any of the 21 employees of Goodmans Interior Structures office in Albuquerque get sick, they won’t need to call their primary care doctor, make an appointment, or spend time in the waiting room reading out-of-date magazines. Those workers will be able to go to a private room at the firm, log on to a computer and make an appointment to see a doctor online via a webcam within 15 minutes.
The room is equipped with a Healthcare Kiosk complete with scale, thermometer and blood pressure sleeve. Employees who have webcams on their home computers will be able to use the service from home, as will their families.
Goodmans, a $60 million Phoenix-based company with 150 employees that designs and installs commercial work spaces, has signed on with MeMD, a one-year-old Phoenix telemedicine firm, to offer its employees online doctor visits 24/7. While Goodmans offers employees traditional health insurance, it sees the MeMD program as a supplement to that insurance. Employees can be seen sooner than their primary care doctors could see them. In some instances, when workers can’t see their regular doctor, they will go to an urgent care center or the emergency room, which are more expensive, said Goodmans Human Resources Director Brian Turner. Those urgent care and emergency room visits, which can cost $170 to $600, are tracked by insurers and can add to the price of insurance premiums, he said. Because the employees are seen more quickly, they are away from work less and they get well sooner, leading to fewer sick days, Turner added.
Employees’ health savings accounts can be used to pay for the MeMD visit, said MeMD COO Ian Vasquez. If a patient is diagnosed with a condition that requires more intensive care – about 10 percent of all MeMD cases – the MeMD provider will refer them to a primary care doctor, an urgent care center, or in rare cases, an emergency room, Vasquez added. Goodmans subsidizes the MeMD program so employees pay $35 a visit instead of the normal $39.95, Turner added. “We’re always looking for new and innovative approaches on the health care side for the staff, and we found that MeMD model fit because the majority of our staff already had a webcam built into their machines, and we think there are cost benefits, and we will do it as a pilot project for a year,” Turner said. “Membership fees are negligible and we pick up some of the cost for the staff. It helps the company’s bottom line by saving money in health care expenses over the long term.”
Goodmans is launching the program in its Phoenix and Tucson offices as well, Turner added, explaining that company research has led it to favor the online, or virtual doctor visit, over what he calls the “white glove,” or physical office visit. “We’re a much bigger fan of this model than the white glove approach. It’s faster, and some people don’t like going to doctors’ offices, where they might catch something else,” Turner added. “So far, the reception from employees has been good. But it will take a year to get everyone used to it. Some people are more comfortable with doing things over the Internet. Some already do their banking online, and others are a little leery of it.” MeMD is one of a growing number of companies that offer virtual doctor visits. It was founded in March 2011 by Dr. John Shufeldt, who had practiced emergency room medicine for 26 years.
MeMD has contracts with more than 200 doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants in 25 states, Vasquez said. Anyone using the MeMD service, which costs $39.95 per visit, will be treated by a health care provider licensed in their state, Vasquez added. Telemedicine comes in different forms, including online doctor’s visits, image reading, remote monitoring and virtual medical centers, according to the Washington, D.C.,-based American Telemedicine Association. There are more than 200 telemedicine programs in the U.S. that link multiple health care centers, the organization said. The Dallas-based Teladoc claims on its website that it is the largest telehealth company in the U.S., with more than 3 million members. The company was founded in 2002. MeMD and its health care professionals can treat a variety of illnesses, including allergies, bites and stings, coughs, earaches, fevers, sore throats, sprains and strains, headaches, urinary tract infections and nausea, Vasquez said. Its doctors can prescribe medications, but they do not prescribe controlled substances that are regulated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, or so-called lifestyle medications for things like hair loss, obesity or erectile dysfunction.
Vasquez said the firm is working to expand its network of health care providers, and recruiting companies to use its services. All Aboard America!, an El Paso-based charter bus company with an office in Santa Fe, also offers MeMD services to its employees, Vasquez added. All Aboard America! officials were not immediately available for comment. Turner said Goodmans will continue to look for innovative health care models. “We want employees to be in charge of their health care,” Turner said.