Patients are bidding adieu to crowded, germy waiting rooms, opting to video chat with a doctor on their phone, tablet or computer within minutes of making the request.
About 400,000 patients had appointments with doctors via webcam in 2014 and experts expect that number to double this year. Large employers also have started offering the virtual doctor visits, via phone or web, as a benefit to their employees, according to Mercer data. The growth is driven by the fact that people feel more comfortable with technology than ever before, experts say, and insurers are starting to pick up the tab.
Consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers data estimate that nearly 39 percent of adults would be willing to have an appointment with a physician via smartphone, representing a potential $42.1 billion market. About half of the doctors surveyed by PwC?s Health Research Institute said more than 10 percent of patient office visits could be replaced by e-visits. About 37 percent said one-third of visits could be done virtually.
Several companies have popped up in recent years to facilitate e-visits between doctors and patients. Bailey, with a specialty in family medicine, works for Chicago-based Doctor on Demand, co-founded by a cancer radiologist and a technology entrepreneur in 2012 and backed by Google and TV personality Dr. Phil.
The Doctor on Demand app has been downloaded a few million times since it launched nationally about a year ago. Six or seven doctors in Chicago are online each day, part of a nationwide team of 1,400. Combined, the physicians handle as many as 1,000 patient calls a day nationally, which last an average of 10 minutes. If doctors work full time, usually from home in eight- or 12-hour shifts, they can make $150,000 to $200,000 a year. The cost to patients is $40, a figure that?s sometimes covered by insurance or employers, said Dr. Pat Basu, Doctor on Demand?s co-founder and chief medical officer.
Jamelia Hand recently used the Doctor on Demand app. Even though she?s a single mom in pharmaceutical sales who also runs her own side business, she?d always made time to go to the doctor?s office to refill her prescription.
But it was Christmas Eve when she realized she was on her last pill and the doctor?s office would be closed the next day. She?d seen a commercial for Doctor on Demand, but was skeptical.
?Being skeptical came from ? knowing how impactful it is to sit before someone and have a meaningful interaction,? Hand said, ?but I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that (my doctor) wasn?t distracted. In a medical office, they?re doing 15 things. They?re not really able to listen to the patient. But with the video visit, I felt like I had all of her attention, it was all about me.?
Doctor on Demand is one of several companies that have seen growth opportunity in e-doctor visits, including Teladoc, American Well and MDLive, which recently partnered with Walgreen to launch an e-visit app.
The price for a visit is $40 to $49, not significantly more than some people dole out for copays, and sometimes less than a patient with insurance would pay to visit the doctor in person. That?s increasingly the case as more employers offer high deductible health plans to employees, requiring them to meet deductibles of $1,000 or more for employee-only coverage and thousands of dollars for family coverage before insurance kicks in.