NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 26, 2005

A group of entrepreneurs is gambling that patients are willing to pay for fast, low-cost medical care -- by telephone, with doctors they've never met.

The controversial new business, a twist on the decades-old practice of doctors responding to phone calls from their own patients, is aimed at two modern issues: demanding, time-crunched people and those who lack health insurance.

  • The service's promoters say patients, both the insured and the uninsured, can save money by using TelaDoc instead of urgent care clinics or the emergency room.
  • For individuals, the service costs $18 to join, and $4.25 a month; each call to a doctor is $35.

TelaDoc might simply be the latest offering in what some see as a new health care niche: convenience.

  • On one end of the convenience spectrum are "concierge" practices for patients willing to pay sometimes steep stipends to their doctors to guarantee 24-hour access, quick return calls and other perks.
  • On the other, "nurse-in-a-box" miniclinics in retail outlets offer a menu of low-cost tests with no-appointment-necessary speed.

"There is a whole move toward consumer-oriented health care: Your time, your place, your way," says Jonathan Weiner, a professor of health policy at Johns Hopkins University.

"This is a poor man's concierge medicine," says Weiner of TelaDoc. "In that way, it's not entirely bad if they're getting advice."

The launch of Dallas-based TelaDoc last month has already raised debate about whether doctors should provide treatment to patients they've never met and comes amid nascent efforts by doctor groups to win payment from insurers for the time they spend on the phone or writing e-mails, answering questions from their established patients.

Source: Julie Appleby, "These docs are literally on call," USA Today, May 24, 2005.

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