If you haven't used telemedicine, you're not alone

Mar 6, 2017

A new benchmark survey finds the use of telemedicine across Upstate New York very low, but the vast majority of those who have used it say they liked it.

Have you ever been too sick to go see a doctor? What about driving through the snow to get to a routine appointment? Telemedicine is a way to access healthcare without leaving the comfort of your own home.

Telemedicine, in some form, has been around for decades: perhaps mom sends information from her pacemaker through the telephone line to her cardiologist's office or perhaps dad Skypes with the family physician about the flu instead of driving into the clinic.

However, a new survey conducted by Univera Healthcare found only 6 percent of Upstate New Yorkers have ever tried telemedicine. Univera Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Richard Vienne says it is not surprising that the concept has yet to catch on.

Credit Doctor on Demand / National Public Radio

"You know, in 2015, the Governor did push the law and mandated that telemedicine services be covered by insurance," says Vienne, who says the insurer conducted the survey to find out how well accepted the concept was across Upstate New York.. "It's a relatively new phenomenon and it's going to take a little time for the uptick."

The most cited reason for not using telemedicine was a preference for in-person visits. However, half of the 2,000 people who self-completed the online survey also said telemedicine was not offered by their physician or by their health insurance plan.

Although 54 percent of the people surveyed said they were not even aware of telemedicine, 25 percent said they did plan to use it. In addition, 80 percent of those early adopters who had tried telemedicine reported they had a "very good" or "excellent" experience.

Nurses monitor the condition of a patient who is miles away via the hospital's technology.
Credit Alex Smith / National Public Radio

"I think our position is, ideally, we would like medical care to be between a patient and their primary care physician," said Univera Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Richard Vienne. "But when that's possible, telemedicine is a 24/7 alternative to going to the emergency room or going to an urgent care."

Vienne suggests people at least contact their health insurer to find out what telemedicine services are offered. It may not be less expensive than an in-person visit, but he says telemedicine can be much more convenient, especially for minor conditions and rural patients.