Virtual Office Visits? Not Really

A friend of mine sent me a link today in which the article uses the term "virtual office visit." What comes to your mind when you hear this phrase? Well, to me, this sounds like you type in your symptoms, the doc makes a diagnosis and sends a prescription to the pharmacy for you to pick up. Simple, right?

Well, not really. Again, this is a case of the press inaccurately describing something in the text article. If you watch the video clip, it's from a national morning news show. In the video piece, the anchor and the medical reporter talk about a computer program. Yes, a computer program. No, the computer doesn't diagnose and treat.

This program actually is a communication piece between the physician and the patient. I see it as a tool to be used to communicate things like routine lab work. One of the goals at the physician's office is to try to find a way to cut down on the number of phone calls.

We see this every day. You want to let the patient know that she/he has normal blood tests that were drawn at the office last week. The office calls the patient - the patient is not home - the office leaves a message to call the office - the patient gets home just before the office closes - the office has to get the chart from the stack of charts marked "left message with patient to call back" - the lab results are communicated - the patient has some questions - a message is taken - the message is communicated to the doctor - the office calls the patient back - leaves a message on the answering maching - etc - You get the point.

Well, this program gives the doc the opportunity to communicate those lab results via the internet and the patient can check these results anytime. Of course, there are internet security issues to deal with. But, for the most part, this program looks promising.

If you read the text article, it leaves the impression that this is an "office visit" that can serve as a substitute for an in person visit. Doctors can even charge for this visit. As kind of an afterthought, the article sticks in there, "if insurance covers it" - which it doesn't.

I guess my question is this - Would you, as a patient, like this type of communication made available to you? If your insurance company didn't pay for this service, would you pay for this type of service, or are you content with telephone communication with the office. I'm just curious....