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Can a virtual doctor visit save you money?

While some patients are skittish about it, doctor's visits over a computer are becoming more popular.

By Stacy Johnson Sep 13, 2010 11:18AM

This post comes from Stacy Johnson at partner site Money Talks News.


In Maryland, an 87-year-old woman wakes up each morning and takes her blood pressure in her apartment by slipping her arm through a collar hooked up to a computer -- which sends the results straight to her doctor. In Utah, a family therapist meets online with a mother whose children are acting out and offers counseling. In Hawaii, a 59-year-old nurse with an infected cut on her arm sits at her computer to chat with a doctor and get a prescription for antibiotics.

Welcome to the future of medicine. For some of us, it's already here. But are the rest of us ready for it?


We recently talked to Angie Hicks, founder of Angie's List, about virtual doctor visits, as well as doctors and patients who are embracing the idea. Check out the following news story, then meet me on the other side for more.

As we mentioned in the video above, a poll by Angie's List showed that 87% of us would love the convenience -- and the the savings -- of using online technology to consult with our doctors. But only about a quarter of us actually have that access now. And 6% prefer seeing their doctors in person.


The cost of online visits varies by doctor. At the high end, they could be the same price as an office visit. But more often, they're significantly less -- commonly from $10 to $35 for a brief consultation.


"Patients like these services because they are convenient, cost less and save time while still getting the patient closer to better health," Hicks said. "We've heard from Angie's List members whose doctors' offices uploaded test results on the facility's website. Patients can then log in and read their doctor's notes in detail. It's a huge help for patients to be able to go back and reread details of the appointment instead of having to try to remember everything that was discussed at the time."


Of course, Hicks added, "If you're having chest pains, trouble breathing or have a serious injury, clearly you should seek emergency care."


What the future will look like -- and cost

The boldest vision of tomorrow's health care may come from a new joint venture between computer processor company Intel and GE Healthcare, which envisions homes wired with monitors and infrared devices that can detect medical emergencies, as well as regular online checkups. The two companies even drew a picture of how it would work.


"We think this joint venture will offer great potential to address these challenges by improving the quality of life for millions while lowering health care costs through new technology," said Jeff Immelt, GE's CEO.


For now, your best bet is to ask your doctor if online consultations are offered now or might be in the near future. Smart doctors will notice if their patients are clamoring for this and will look into it. Also check with your insurance company, because even if you have a tech-savvy doctor, your health insurance might not cover the cost of the visit.

While online consultations are still rare, online prescription refills are much more common. And we've written about other ways to save on prescription drugs.

So, ask about ways to save. If you have minor health problems, you can get some general guidance by logging onto sites like freeMD and IBS Help Online and typing in your symptoms.


More from Money Talks News and MSN Money:

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