Virtual doctor visits growing in region

Dublin, Ohio-based HealthSpot Inc. has opened 25 telemedicine stations in Rite Aid pharmacies in Ohio, including more than a half dozen stations locally. The Rite Aid stores with a HealthSpot stations in the Dayton area are located at:

• 437 North Wolf Creek Street - Brookville

• 2916 Linden Avenue - Dayton

• 3875 Salem Avenue - Dayton

• 900 Union Boulevard - Englewood

• 564 McAdams Drive - New Carlisle

• 590 West Main Street - New Lebanon

• 1805 South Limestone Street - Springfield

Remote health care services are spreading quickly across the Miami Valley, giving residents wider and faster access to care for minor ailments while at the same time curbing costs for providers and health insurers.

By the end of the year, an estimated 450,000 patients will have seen a doctor over the Internet for colds, infections or aches and pains using the latest telecommunications technology, according to the American Telemedicine Association.

And that number is expected to grow exponentially has health insurers, employers and hospital systems increasingly connect patients with doctors online.

The so-called telemedicine trend allows doctors and other health care professionals to provide care without an appointment in more places and at lower cost than regular office visits, which can be reserved for the sickest patients, said Dr. David Doucett, chief medical officer at Kettering Physician Network — the doctor group Dayton-based Kettering Health Network.

“There aren’t enough primary care physicians right now that are available at the hours when people want to see them,” Doucett said. “But with this, (visiting a doctor) is no longer at the convenience of a physician or their ability to open an office with all the extended staff. Now, it becomes limited only by the hours and areas where these kiosks are open.”

Doucett was referring to telemedicne kiosks opened since May in Rite Aid pharmacies across the state by the Dublin, Ohio-based health care technology company, HealthSpot Inc., which said the stations have already served more than 15,000 patients.

Kettering is one of a number of health systems — including Cleveland Clinic, MetroHealth, University Hospitals and United Health Rainbow Babies and Children — providing doctors for virtual visits at 25 HealthSpot kiosks in the state, including more than a half dozen in the area and a Rite Aid in Springfield on Limestone Street.

“Certainly, comparing it to a regular office visit, you don’t have the tactile part of it. You can’t feel for enlarge lymph nodes, for example,” Doucett said. “But you do have modalities in the kiosks that are fairly sophisticated in terms of being able to gather data and diagnose and treat patients.”

Unlike some telemedicine services that only offer virtual consultations with health care professionals, the HealthSpot kiosks, which are staffed by trained wellness attendants, utilize high-definition cameras and interactive medical devices, including a digital stethoscope and blood pressure cuff, to diagnose and treat patients.

“You can get blood pressure, a pulse, weight, and you can also have a face-to-face video conference with the doctor,” Doucett said. “Of course, if you come in with a real extreme case of chest pain, you’re not going to be treated in a kiosk. They (attendants) are going to send you to the hospital. But if you exclude those people who are not appropriate, the kiosk visit becomes equivalent to a regular primary care visit.”

An increasing number of health insurers are beginning to cover services like HealthSpot, which not only increases access to care for their members but also saves money for the insurer by reducing coverage for more expensive services like emergency room visits and hospitalizations.

Downtown Dayton-based CareSource signed an agreement last year to cover HealthSpot visits for its approximately 1.4 million Medicaid and Just4Me commercial health insurance customers.

“At CareSource, we want to serve members where they live, work and have most of their activities,” said Dr. Craig Thiele, CareSource’s chief medical officer. “The goal is to offer more opportunities than ever to meet the non-urgent healthcare needs of members.

“We are still learning from our initial experience with usage, and that data is being collected,” Thiele added. “But based on what we do know, telemedicine services are designed to and will save dollars.”

Telemedicine could save more than $6 billion annually in health care costs and reach nearly half of all insured consumers, according to several recent industry reports.

And companies like HealthSpot, which has already expanded into several other states, are posied to capitalize on the new business model for health care delivery.

“Almost all of the major payers have said we recognize the value of this type of telehealth,” said Dr. Gail Croall, chief medical officer with HealthSpot. “What we provide in our station is not just the service, but an integrated technology platform for health care.”

HealthSpot uses a software platform that interfaces with insurance eligibility and billing systems as well as electronic medical records, making it even more enticing for consumers, health insurers and physicians, Croall said.

As such technology advances, Croall predicts telemedicine services will become even more commonplace and available at a wide variety of locations.

“We have stations in employers’ work sites, schools, grocery stores, college campuses; there are a lot of different places were you can put these stations to provide access to care,” Croall said. “I tend to liken the trend to how we changed with the banking system. Before you had to go into the bank to do all your banking. Now, with ATMs and online banking, you hardly ever need to go into a bank anymore.

“I think the same thing is going to happen in the medical field,” she said. “With technology, you’re going to have more and more ability to manage your care outside of a bricks-and-mortar building, and to use those hospitals and other facilities for those critical, high-risk, high-acuity patients.”

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