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Great New Medical Concept . . . It's Called TelaDoc


By James Donahue

December 2005


Imagine getting quick access to a doctor, getting inexpensive medical advice and a prescription for what ails you without ever leaving the house.


That is what the new TelaDoc Medical Service in Dallas, Texas, now offers. And the service that has been operating almost exclusively over the telephone wires since it opened at the start of the year, already boasts an estimated 30,000 customers from all over the United States.


Company CEO Michael Gorton says TelaDoc is not meant to replace the family physician, but rather provide a needed service, especially for a growing number of people who now live without the benefit of medical insurance.


“For the vast majority of Americans, being able to talk to a doctor in an hour is next to impossible,” Gorton said.


TelaDoc subscribers are guaranteed to hear back from a licensed doctor in their state within three hours of calling the 800 number hotline. The service is available 24-hours a day, seven days a week. After a consultation over the telephone, the doctor can prescribe medicine or refer the caller to a specialist, or the emergency room if the case warrants.


Gorton says TelaDoc is available when the family doctor cannot be reached.


The cost of this service is a registration fee of $18, plus each subscriber pays $4.25 a month and $35 for each consultation. Before acceptance as a subscriber, the patient completes a medical history that goes on file.


The doctors involved in TelaDoc hold licenses to practice in all 50 states. They do not treat children under 12.


Five states, Virginia, Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi and South Carolina, require an examination. To accommodate those states, Gorton said patients get blood work and have their temperature and blood pressure checked before they use TelaDoc.


Naturally doctor’s groups, including the American Medical Association, are taken back by the concept of TelaDoc. They argue that patients should be personally seen by a doctor before they can be effectively treated, and that service over a telephone is inadequate. There may even be attempts to put TelaDoc out of business because it breaks the old and long-established rules for medical service.


But are these arguments valid?


Doctors in the United States are in such short supply nowadays that a visit to the family physician somewhat resembles riding through on an assembly line. Unless it is an emergency, you wait sometimes a week or longer to get into the office, then are whisked off into a small cubicle of a room where a haggard-looking nurse takes your blood pressure and temperature, asks what is wrong, makes some notes, and then leaves. Later the doctor enters, asks a few questions, sometimes puts a stethoscope to your chest, writes a prescription, and the visit is over.


The bill for the first visit can be as high as $100. Normal office visits after that usually run about $40. Sometimes the doctor sends you off for some blood work in a laboratory. Then the bill can run into the hundreds of dollars. If you are struggling along like most Americans now, without good health insurance or trying to get past that first $250 deductible payment, you may put off the visit and skip treatment because you can’t afford to pay.


The old days, when a doctor really examined you when you came to his or her office, appear to be over.


Other than the blood pressure and temperature recording by the nurse, which most people can do at home, the service provided by Gorton’s TelaDoc doesn’t seem to be lacking much of anything. The only thing you don’t get to do is have physical and eye contact with the doctor that you are consulting with.


And there is also a question of medical competency. You don’t get to see the posting of the doctor’s degrees from various medical schools on the wall of his or her office when you get telephone service.


With the new Internet telephone services with attached cameras, there is a promise that even these lapses may soon be resolved. The day may soon come when we can visit with a doctor on line, have eye-to-eye contact, and even get to see his or her degrees posted on the walls during our consultations.


With the threat of an H5N1 pandemic looming, the concept of TelaDoc becomes even more inviting. If we need medical treatment, but are afraid of going to a doctor’s office because of a chance of being infected, getting prescriptions for lesser ailments via the telephone sounds like a very good option.



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