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Medicine Science

N.Y. Health Insurers To Offer Virtual Doc Visits 74

CWmike writes "Two insurance organizations in upstate New York said on Wednesday that they will offer their members and employers virtual physician visits beginning this summer, making New York the fourth state to provide these types of services. BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York, BlueShield of Northeastern New York and technology services provider American Well said the Online Care service will allow members to talk with physicians in real time through a private online chat network or through a voice-over-IP phone call. The service also offers video chat and instant messages. Members can sign on to the insurer's Web sites and look for physicians who are available online in various specialty areas."
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N.Y. Health Insurers To Offer Virtual Doc Visits

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  • Coming next: (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jgreco ( 1542031 ) on Thursday March 11, 2010 @09:00AM (#31436510)

    Outsourcing doctors offshore.

    • Might not be too bad- once the doctors in India are too busy with these virtual visits, they'll have to hire the unemployed American doctors to diagnose x-rays and whatnot.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by i.r.id10t ( 595143 )

        Actually, it is already being done with digital images from cat scans and such that are sent via internet from rural hospitals and doc-in-a-box places to larger facilities for specialized "reading" and consultation. Assuming something was worked out with licensing and board exams I don't see outsourcing stuff like that to $other_place as much more than a change in the destination IP address.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by daem0n1x ( 748565 )

        You have unemployed doctors? In my country (Portugal) it's very hard to get an MD degree, and getting one is like a licence to print money.

        But our system costs a huge lot less [], and the coverage is universal. Someone is being ripped off.

        So, where does all that money go? I guess to the middle man (insurance and healthcare corporations).

        • by TheSync ( 5291 )

          In my country (Portugal) it's very hard to get an MD degree, and getting one is like a licence to print money.

          2005 Portugal General Physician average salary $ 23,808/year PPP or $ 19,092/year USD.

          2005 US General Physician average salary $98,268/year. (Data from

          THAT is why US health care costs so much. We pay our doctors far more than most European countries. Even more if you account for the fact that US doctors pay for their own medical school.

    • Also:

      Rate increases.

      NY Blue Cross Blue Shield for personal insurance plan cost: $1,150 a month.

    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by houghi ( 78078 )

      I hope not as it will disrupt the health care in those countries that actually have healthcare.

    • I'd go to an Indian doctor any day, even virtually. I go to one now and I tell myself every time: The only thing missing is a chat session so I can understand the bastard.
    • Re:Coming next: (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Steauengeglase ( 512315 ) on Thursday March 11, 2010 @10:34AM (#31437186)

      Good Lord, why should be it cheaper? There is equipment to be paid for and technicians to make sure the equipment is operational; probably some extra coverage for "e-Malpractice". Of course you won't actually get to see a doctor, just another over-worked nurse practitioner; only now they'll have to sit in a cube for 9 hours a day.

      Turn-over will begin to go up in that area as the whole thing turns into "medical help desk". I couldn't imagine the horror of getting pestered for 9 hours a day by octogenarians and hypochondriacs about every pimple and scratch on their body. Not that it matters, the practice bills by both the call and the minute, there are 40 people in que and your sup is complaining about your response times. You pray each day that your practice will get bought out by one of the big boy managed health organizations, because they actually put into your 401k, unlike these organ grinders.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by houghi ( 78078 )

        You think that is bad? Wait till they replace 90% of the people with an IVR. Press one if you are sick. Press 2 if you had an accident. Press 3 if you are pregnant. Press 4 ...

        A few buttons pressed and your appendics will be removed instead of your tooth.

  • Standard Fee (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Ipeunipig ( 934414 )

    I'm curious as to how much will be billed back through insurance. You have a standard fee just for going in to the office to see the doctor, now that the office is not being used how much of a 'discount' will you see.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by natehoy ( 1608657 )

      I'd probably pay the standard fee just for the opportunity to talk to an actual MD. I met my doctor once. Once. She's been my primary care physician for 5 years now, I've been in the office 5 times for routine physicals and 2-3 times for specific issues, and the only time I ever saw her was when I went in for a biopsy. She watched as an intern did the biopsy.

      • If that's how you feel, I'd suggest looking around for a new MD. There are still MDs out there that handle the workload themselves, they just tend to run smaller practices. My primary handles all his own office calls.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by guruevi ( 827432 )

      Most likely none. You will still have to pay your $20 co-pay or pay up until you meet the deductible full charge. The insurance company however will have reduced rates for these types of service provided by their doctors. So they will be billed less ($100 instead of $500) and they will be able to generate more money. Next thing they're going to start staffing their own 'doctors' (probably med students that just finished school) on an hourly rate with a 6 months turnover (so they won't have to provide benefi

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I thought not.

  • by Dr_Barnowl ( 709838 ) on Thursday March 11, 2010 @09:02AM (#31436520)

    "Please present the affected body part to your webcam."

  • by Anonymous Coward

    First-contact doctors working directly for the insurance company sounds like a bit of a conflict of interest.

    Even if you trust in them not to be simply bought off, their jobs may depend on how much their instructions cost. Dr Caring who believes suspect lumps should be biopsyed every time just to make sure they aren't cancerous is unlikely to have as long a term with the company as Dr Casual who tells the patients to just wait two weeks and see if it goes away on it's own.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      In most states doctors are paid by insurance companies to prescribe xx% generic drugs out of all drugs prescribed.
    • It's a good thing they are not, then.

      The Online Care service will allow eligible members to engage in immediate live encounters with credentialed physicians from the Blues plans' established provider networks. []

    • by Renraku ( 518261 )

      Yep, this will be like workman's comp doctors.

      "Sore eye after you've been welding without a mask? Probably just dehydrated. Drink more water and come back in a month..if you come back sooner you'll have to pay out of pocket."

      "Numbness in your legs after you slipped on that banana peel in the warehouse and hit your head? You're just tired, walk it off."

      "Strange black mole that's doubled in size in the past few weeks? Well, I didn't get the pictures you emailed, but just put a bandaid on it."

      I do NOT fors

    • by TheSync ( 5291 )

      First-contact doctors working directly for the insurance company sounds like a bit of a conflict of interest.

      Of course, one could argue that health insurance companies compete with one another to provide the best service, or else they may lose contracts with employers (which I have seen happen).

      The problem is that the person choosing your health insurance (in the USA) is not you, but your employer's HR staff, due to WWII-era tax rules.

  • by Turzyx ( 1462339 ) on Thursday March 11, 2010 @09:11AM (#31436574)
    Although this certainly sounds more sophisticated, the UK NHS offers an 'over the phone diagnosis' service, NHS Direct []. Although the article mentions 'physicians' being used to monitor the network, how long will it be until they too are using unqualified staff to handle more routine cases? []

    The danger for misdiagnosis is huge, although they no doubt have a clause somewhere about it - they may just end up telling patients to visit their doctor in person for a proper check-up, which kind of defeats the object.
    • by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Thursday March 11, 2010 @09:49AM (#31436828) Homepage
      Ontario (in Canada) has a hotline [] you can call to get help. It's staffed by registered nurses, not doctors. However it works pretty well, because the point of it is really to tell you if you should just to direct you to the next point of care. Be it the emergency room, walk-in clinic, family physician, or just a little bed rest. Nurses are perfect qualified to at least direct you to where you should be going after hearing the symptoms, and it's a lot cheaper than having doctors on the phone. I think the main point of it was to keep people from going to the emergency room simply because they had a cold. Which happens way more often then it should.
      • We have the same sort of things (Healthline []) over here in Saskatchewan.

      • Alberta has similar... We used it a lot when we were new parents because, face it, babies are weird and you don't trust your intuition about what might be wrong... Turns out every time we called, the response was "you need to go to the hospital and have that checked out"... So either our intuition was spot-on or the hotline is a waste of time...
        • We've called a couple times, and sometimes they say take the kid to the family doctor. Other times it was the emergency room. A doctors visit costs a lot less than a trip to the emergency room, and can be scheduled, and requires less waiting around, and doesn't clog up the emergency room with something that really isn't an emergency. Anything that keeps non-emergencies out of the emergency room is a good thing.
    • Used the English 'NHS Direct' system 3 times (at night, for children and elderlies). Thorough script, reassuring qualified nurse, triage between 'take aspirin', 'see doc tomorrow', 'request night visit', and even 'emergency ambulance now' (they get your location first). And of course whichever the option, everything is free here. Rumour says it's been massively more popular than expected - Surprise! It's certainly one of my quickdial numbers.
    • by RDW ( 41497 )

      Our local GP (family doctor) practice in the UK offers phone consultations (where appropriate) quite routinely, which seems perfectly sensible and sometimes preferable (or even safer). This week the doctor decided that a family member who happens to be in an immunocompromised state due to their treatment needed to come in for a followup face-to-face consultation at the surgery. All very well, except that another patient in the (small) waiting room was a chickenpox-infected child thoughtfully brought along b

    • by TheSync ( 5291 )

      The danger for misdiagnosis is huge

      My experience is that plenty of full-fledged doctors misdiagnosis all the time as well.

      Research has shown that expert systems are better than the average doctor at diagnosis.

  • Can you? (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    pay your virtual bill with virtual money from MMO's

  • a/s/l (Score:3, Funny)

    by psnyder ( 1326089 ) on Thursday March 11, 2010 @09:19AM (#31436622)

    The service also offers ... instant messages.

    Dr: a/s/l?
    Dr: to help me diagnose

  • by Em Emalb ( 452530 )

    but also a waste of time in a lot of cases. Case in point, my in-laws, who go to the doctor if they stub their toes.

    I'm only slightly exaggerating, any little thing and off they go. It's unreal. If they knew about this, I'm sure they'd have a lot more "afflictions" to get "treated" by these doctors.


  • Awesome (Score:4, Funny)

    by CODiNE ( 27417 ) on Thursday March 11, 2010 @09:30AM (#31436700) Homepage

    Hypocondriacs of the world REJOICE!!

  • Dr Eliza (Score:3, Funny)

    by L4t3r4lu5 ( 1216702 ) on Thursday March 11, 2010 @09:35AM (#31436724)
    Eliza: Hi, I'm Dr. Eliza. How can I help you today?
    Patient: Hi, I have a pain in the left of my chest. It's quite bad.
    E: I'm sorry to hear that have a pain in the left side of YOUR chest is not feeling well.
    P: Yeah... Uhh, do you know what it could be? It's getting worse.
    E: I understand.
    P: You understand what? My left arm is starting to feel funny.
    E: Your problem is arm feel funny?
    P: No, my problem is my chest! It's really painful, I can hardly breathe!
    E: You can hardly breathe and your left arm is feel funny?
    P: yes
    E: I like this conversation! Do you like this can hardly breathe and your left arm is feel funny?
    E: Hello?
  • Lisa: Maybe I ought to check with the doctor.
    [Lisa, Bart, and Homer gather around Lisa's
    computer. She starts a program that displays a
    medical logo -- the one with two snakes wrapped
    around a staff]
    Snake 1: Welcome to "Virtual Doctor."
    Snake 2: From the makers of "Dragon Q

    • She starts a program that displays a medical logo -- the one with two snakes wrapped around a staff


  • ... this offers some incentive to doctors to return/make phone calls in more competitive markets like Manhattan where doctors seldom spend more than 3-4 minutes in the diagnostic room and won't return calls

    perhaps these insurance companies might even establish a reasonable co-pay and fee for such a service (can I dream?)
  • No office, no staff, low overhead....think we'll see a drop in insurance premiums? Nope. They have to pay for that fancy camera and 'puter. I bet you'll still have to pay a co-pay, even.
  • Does this also mean the end of the patient-gouging $75 office visit fee?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ColdWetDog ( 752185 )

      Does this also mean the end of the patient-gouging $75 office visit fee?

      Of course not, how can you be so strange? Real visits are going to be "premium" experiences and will now cost $150.

      This is Capitalism man, get with the program!

  • The only way I would consider something like this is if it was sans copay. Otherwise, any situation where it would be useful will be replaced by me just calling my doctor. Shockingly,you can actually call an upstanding doc for a quick question without going through the insurance co at all. And for any issues I wouldn't feel comfortable resolving over the phone, I am going in to the office anyway - the internet be damned.

    Though after this program is in effect, I wouldn't be surprised if doctors refuse t

  • by Kingrames ( 858416 ) on Thursday March 11, 2010 @10:59AM (#31437412)
    When the process begins, the doctor says, "Please state the nature of your medical emergency."
  • by Thaelon ( 250687 ) on Thursday March 11, 2010 @01:30PM (#31440342)

    How is this any better than a phone call?

    The doctor still can't palpate anythying, nor even make a good visual examination since the quality is likely too poor to be of any use.

    Answer? It's cheaper for the insurance company than a real doctor visit, and so saves them money, and you get inferior care for it, while they get increased profits.

    Don't let them spin this as something good for you, it's just another way to reduce costs (and this time, care quality too).

  • Many doctors I've gone to only listen to about half of what I say, so I have to repeat myself repeatedly to get the points across. Moving doctors to a chat room is a pretty silly idea. Anything a doctor can tell you in a chat room you can already find on WebMD or by googling.
  • Seems fair. Virtual money for a virtual visit...

  • To keep their prices high, the AMA has prevented new med schools from being done. The last one was back in the 70's. So, part of the reason why docs get paid so much is that there is not enough of them. What is needed is for feds and states to say enough of this, come up with another standards groups, and start developing new med schools. I have written several congressmen and have suggested adding a med school at Colo State. Then have cut rate med school there, HOWEVER, the docs would only work in Colorado
  • I've just written an in-depth article on the Notal Vision at home monitor for AMD sufferers, that is linked via a call center to a patient's retinal physician. The doc can monitor changes in retinal health of his patient, and arrange for an urgent visit if changes in vision require it. In this way, vision can be preserved/saved for those with late-stage dry AMD before it converts to blindness causing wet AMD. Here's the link: [] Irv Arons

They are called computers simply because computation is the only significant job that has so far been given to them.