Now, though, one Washington hospital system is offering a way for patients to speak with a medical professional 24/7 using Skype or a phone for $35.
The hospital system, which includes seven hospitals and 100 clinics in the Puget Sound area mostly south of Seattle, is partnering with Seattle-based Carena to provide the service. Carena has already offered virtual visits to Franciscan employees and other self-insured companies for the past few years, but this is the first time the company has teamed up with a health system to offer its services to the public.
The process is relatively simple. You first give information about yourself and your symptoms, and then are connected with a physician, who can prescribe medications or recommend a follow-up visit at a Franciscan location. Insurance likely will not cover the consultation, which is relatively affordable at $35 per virtual visit and similar to a co-pay charge at physical locations.
Technically, anyone in the U.S. can use the service, but it really only makes sense for those in the Franciscan service area.
“If you’re somewhere else, our doctors may not be licensed to prescribe medication in your particular state,” said Scott Thompson, spokesperson for Franciscan. “Or, if you need a follow-up visit at a clinic, it might take us some time to find a place in your part of the world.”
Thompson said that this is the first hospital system in the northwest to offer virtual care to the public.
“In some cases, patients just want to know if they need to go to the emergency room,” said Dr. Ben Green of Franciscan Virtual Urgent Care. “In fact, most of the time our providers are able to keep them out of the emergency room and patients are quite happy about that.”
In June of 2012, Carena landed $14 million in fresh financing from Catholic Health Initiatives and others. The company has offered virtual visits since 2010 and launched its CareSimple platform last year.
This video shows how the virtual visits with Franciscan work: