Walgreen, Insurers Push Expansion of Virtual Doctor Visits

By Associated Press | June 10, 2015

Walgreens is expanding into the telemedicine market and expects to reach about half of the country by the end of 2015. The massive drugstore chain will give customers using a new smartphone app access to doctors who can then diagnose and treat minor ailments 24 hours a day.

The news comes as two major insurers, UnitedHealth Group and Anthem, are expanding their own telemedicine services. Their services will give primary care access to around 40 million subscribers. The growing use of smartphones and tablets appears to be fueling both the customer demand and the rapid expansion of telemedicine into care that the family doctor is unable to provide.

Walgreen’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Harry Leider says that its doctors will be “careful in only using telemedicine for certain conditions that are amenable” and that they are “not treating heart attacks.” The doctors in the program are specifically trained to recognize when telemedicine patients need to be referred to in-person evaluations or emergency rooms and all patients will receive a record of the visit which can be forwarded to their primary care physician.

The American Telemedicine Association estimates that about 450,000 patients will see a primary care doctor via telemedicine for minor ailments and routine checkups and that about 15 million people who will have care delivered by telemedicine urgently or emergently. Doctors say telemedicine improves access to care especially in rural communities. As long as the care given is good and a record of the patient visit makes it back to that person’s regular doctor, safety won’t be compromised.

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