Many of the virtual telemedicine services tout that they are revitalizing the concept of the house call, but a new company based in New York is connecting patients via an app or phone call for medical care in their home, office, or other location. Like the other services, Pager connects patients with physicians for urgent care needs using technology, but the board-certified physicians skip the video chat or phone call and visit the patient at their home or other location of choice. The physicians typically arrive within two hours, but patients pay a premium for the services; house calls are only available from 8am to 10pm in Manhattan and Brooklyn in New York City at a cost of $199 for daytime visits and $299 for weekends and evenings.5 However, unlike other telemedicine services, this fee may be reimbursable under some insurance plans.

Because most telemedicine services only address acute or urgent care, they are not structured to substitute regular doctor visit or treatment for chronic conditions. However, the convenience and cost for anytime access is appealing to many and has become an alternative to traditional urgent care in the United States. Similarly, the retailer Walmart has adopted elements from telemedicine and brought them to their brick-and-mortar stores for easy access to healthcare.6 The company has opened 17 walk-in primary health clinics in their stores for both acute care and long-term therapies for conditions like diabetes; the cost per visit is $40 without insurance and only Medicare insurance is currently accepted at the clinics.

Virtual care is thriving as a means to supplement, rather than replace, traditional healthcare in the United States. For acute or urgent conditions, the ability to receive a diagnosis and treatment plan at the patients’ fingertips is convenient and significantly faster than typical office visits. However, most are not designed to provide long-term care for chronic conditions and diseases and are not covered by private insurance or Medicare/Medicaid. As well, telemedicine services are usually limited in the conditions that they can diagnose and the medications prescribed. Patients should be informed that these services can be beneficial for acute and urgent situations but face-to-face care is still needed for complete and comprehensive healthcare.


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References

  1. American Telemedicine Association. “What is Telemedicine?” http://www.americantelemed.org/about-telemedicine/what-is-telemedicine#.VE_cXPnF_C9. Accessed October 28, 2014. 
  2. Doctor on Demand. 2. http://www.doctorondemand.com/. Accessed October 28, 2014.
  3. MDLIVE. https://www.mdlive.com/consumer/seeadoctor.html. Accessed October 28, 2014. 
  4. HealthTap. 4. https://www.healthtap.com/what_we_make/members. Accessed October 28, 2014. 
  5. Pager. http://getpager.com/. Accessed October 28, 2014. 
  6. “Wal-Mart’s new everyday low price: A $40 doctor visit.” Marketwatch. October 17, 2014. http://www.marketwatch.com/story/wal-marts-new-everyday-low-price-a-40-doctor-visit-2014-10-17. Accessed October 28, 2014.