NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 21, 2008

Information technology has the potential to restructure medical care in ways that can solve many of these access problems, while reducing costs and improving the quality of care.  Already, entrepreneurial providers are creating services outside the third-party payment system that allows patients to pay directly for access to physicians or nurses electronically or by telephone, says Devon Herrick, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis. 

Consider the example of TelaDoc Medical Services, a phone-based medical consultation service that links physicians, patients and health plans across the country.  The service is not intended to replace primary care providers, but it allows patients who are away from home to obtain less expensive and time-consuming treatment by contacting a local physician, rather than visiting an emergency room or expensive urgent care center. 

  • An individual enrollee pays $35 for each consultation (compared to an emergency room visit costing an average of $383), and the service is available around the clock.
  • For efficiency, medical records are digitized and placed online, allowing medical personnel access from anywhere in the country.
  • TelaDoc guarantees a physician will return the call within three hours or the consultation is free, but customer surveys show that most calls are returned within 30 to 40 minutes.


  • A physician returns a patient's phone call within 30 minutes (or less) 50 percent of the time.
  • Seventy-five percent of patient calls are returned within one hour.
  • Eighty-eight percent of those who used the service reported they saved time and money compared to a traditional office visit or a trip to the emergency room.

A recent analysis by the consulting firm Mercer found that 97 percent of users rated the service good or outstanding, and 98 percent said they would use it again.

Source: Devon Herrick, "Physician Care and Telemedicine," National Center for Policy Analysis, Brief Analysis No. 624, August 21, 2008.

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