NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

NEW SERVICE PROVIDES OVER-THE-PHONE CARE

November 17, 2005

TelaDoc Medical Services, a Dallas-based company, offers medical care over the phone. TelaDoc, which provides service 24 hours a day and seven days a week, answers calls from patients and guarantees that a doctor will call them back within three hours or they will not be charged. After discussing a patient's medical history and symptoms, TelaDoc physicians can write prescriptions, excluding controlled substances.

They treat only nonemergency medical issues, such as allergies, respiratory infections and sprains. If a patient has a serious medical issue, TelaDoc physicians provide referrals to local doctors or emergency departments.

  • The service costs $35 per call, along with an $18 registration fee and monthly membership fees of $4.25 per individual or $7 per family.
  • Children under 12 are not treated, and most insurers do not pay for the service. The physicians must have medical licenses in the states in which patients reside, so the company contracts with doctors in all 50 states.

Rocky Dhir, TelaDoc's general counsel and spokesperson, says, "We're not here to replace primary care physicians. [T]his is what consumers want. We can help them with 75 percent of reasons they go see a doctor."

However, the American Academy of Family Physicians, American Medical Association and Medical Board of California have all come out in opposition to the service. David Goldstein, physician and co-director of University of Southern California's Pacific Center for Health Policy and Ethics, says the idea is "totally unethical and inappropriate" because phone consultations often can miss important information about patients. "They don't examine the patient. What about the clinical benefit of looking at someone's skin or their eyes or listening to their heart?" Goldstein said.

Source: Daniel Costello, "The doctor won't see you now," Los Angeles Times, November 14, 2005.

 

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