This story is sponsored by MountainStar Health Care. Learn more about MountainStar Health Care.
An estimated 450,000 patients will see a doctor over the Internet this year for basic ailments like colds, infections, aches, and pains per the American Telemedicine Association. Utilization of telemedicine is estimated to increase from roughly 250,000 patients in 2013 to an estimated 3.2 million patients in 2018, according to the American Hospital Association.
And now, house calls are back in Utah through MountainStar Virtual Care.
Hans Jenkins, D.O., MountainStar Virtual Care Medical Director describes how virtual healthcare works, when to use it, and why it could make your life easier too.
Q: What got you into telemedicine?
Dr. Jenkins: We used it in the military back in 2003. I was deployed in the Middle East, and we couldn’t fly specialists into the desert. So I’d call the states and Germany, and we would talk to specialists that way. We were overworked and understaffed so it was a good way to get consultations.
Q: So what now brings this service to MountainStar?
Dr. Jenkins: We wanted to treat people who can’t always get in to see a doctor easily or quickly. It breaks my heart when care is delayed unnecessarily. A lot of people could be treated over the Internet or on the phone. In particular, parents don’t have to load kids into the car or wait in an emergency room for hours.
I’ve had patients who were able to schedule a virtual doctor visit for an ear infection or urinary tract infection and get care quickly. My own family has used it a few times. It allows people to see a physician outside of regular clinic hours at a much lower cost than a usual urgent care or ER visit.
Q: So Let’s say someone has flu symptoms. How would the service work for them?
Dr. Jenkins: First, they would visit the MountainStar website or download the MDLIVE app to create an account; that only has to be done once. Then they can choose “first available” to speak with a physician immediately or pick a time that’s more convenient for them. They also get to pick which doctor they want to see. If their own primary care doctor participates, they can choose him or her.
Q: How does that save you time as a physician?
Dr. Jenkins: It eliminates the logistics of getting patients to the office, fitting them into the schedule, and finding an exam room. When appropriate, it’s much easier just to have a virtual consultation at my desk for 10 minutes. I can do it on breaks or just jump in real quick.
Physical exams are an important part of any physician’s practice and virtual consultations are not replacing them. Doctors participating in MountainStar Virtual Care can extend time with their own patients and help more people too. Other physicians can direct their patients to this service whenever their practice and urgent care facilities aren’t open.
Q: And which conditions are NOT suited for virtual care?
Dr. Jenkins: Anything that would require a physical exam, like broken bones, or an obvious medical emergency like chest pain. When we first interact with a patient, we screen them and we might end up telling them to go to an ER. We want to tell them that before they get charged for a virtual doctor visit.
Q: Who are the physicians? Are they all MountainStar staff?
Dr. Jenkins: Several are MountainStar physicians, but we have others who are not. Every physician is credentialed and most have at least 13 years of experience.
They have also gone through extensive training in telemedicine and have to be credentialed to provide virtual consultations. The credentialing is almost as if they’re getting hospital privileges; it takes a while because of the extensive background checks.
Q: How would you respond to a patient who wonders about the quality of the care?
Dr. Jenkins: The biggest concern from most patients is that we can’t treat everything virtually. We do still have to refer them back to an in-person doctor visit sometimes. But I don’t hear very many complaints. The cost is very affordable, and if you have a smart device or even a simple phone, then this is a no-brainer.
Q: What about privacy concerns?
Dr. Jenkins: As physicians, we’re the most skeptical about privacy. All of our software complies with patient privacy laws. Then, MountainStar fortified and tested it. We have a third-party company that comes in regularly to test privacy and firewalls. This is the most secure virtual consultation software in the world.
Q: Does insurance cover virtual doctor visits?
Dr. Jenkins: Many insurance providers cover a certain amount of visits per year. Patients will just need to check their coverage beforehand. Even without insurance, MountainStar Virtual Care costs only a flat $49 per visit.
Q: So in 10 years, where will this type of telemedicine be?
Dr. Jenkins: It will be expanded. I think people will be able to go into kiosks at businesses and shopping centers, sort of like telephone booths. They will be able to put their arms into cuffs to get blood pressure. We’ll have a device to listen to their heart and lungs. We’ll be able to get their weight. We’re not far from that now. We will get there.Are you or your kids feeling sick and an urgent care visit or scheduling a doctor’s appointment aren’t great options at this point? Try MountainStar Virtual Care for yourself.
Are you or your kids feeling sick and an urgent care visit or scheduling a doctor’s appointment aren’t great options at this point? Try MountainStar Virtual Care for yourself.