You got your shopping list: coffee, toothpaste, Tums, and…a doctor’s consultation about your lower back pain? Rite Aid is now your one-stop-shop for everything pharmaceutical, including expert medical advice on prescriptions or any other health-related questions you might ask your primary doctor. Chat rooms are already being installed at Rite Aids Detroit in which you can connect with doctors and nurses through the Internet for one-on-one video consultations. Now the doctors themselves are over-the-counter, and you don’t even need health insurance, just a credit card. Technology continues to make health care more convenient and accessible, and to reshape the clinic as we know it.
Inside the private chat rooms, customers will pay $45 to talk to a doctor for ten minutes. After describing symptoms they’ll receive feedback from the doctor and even a prescription if necessary, which they can then immediately fill. And they can choose to speak to a general practitioner or a specialist such as a psychologist or dermatologist. Nurses are also available for consultation free of charge. Staffed by OptumHealth, the company that also supplies the chat rooms, nurses can provide the customer with basic health information and assist them on appropriate care options. If they’re not comfortable with video chat, patients can choose to chat by typing or talk over the phone. The exchanges are automatically recorded and the recording can be sent off to the customer’s primary doctor to maintain continuity.
The “virtual” clinics are part of the OptumHealth’s NowClinic Online Care services. Rite Aid and OptumHealth’s efforts make health care more convenient. And if the chat rooms are convenient enough customers can still use NowClinic 24/7 by going to www.myNowClinic.com/RiteAid. Of course, it’s also very convenient for Rite Aid to have people in their store who have fresh prescriptions that need to be filled.
The following video is a tutorial demonstrating how to use the NowClinic.
The virtual clinics are part of a growing trend to make healthcare more accessible through technology. Rite Aids in Detroit are the first to receive the NowClinics, but BlueCross BlueShield has a similar system in five different states through which patients are able to gain immediate online access to doctors within the company’s network. Additionally, there are a number of websites such as healthcaremagic.com, goodhealthnyou.com, and askadoctornow.com that have doctors online, ready 24/7 to give advice to paying customers.
And OptumHealth doesn’t want to stop there. Chuck Grothaus, Senior Director of Corporate Communications told Singularity Hub that there are plans to “include some remote diagnostic capabilities including the ability to measure and share blood pressure information, among other things. We are still researching and developing what these tools will entail.”
Some customers, however, might be resistant to this trend towards virtual care, or to taking advice from a doctor they’ve only “met’ ten minutes ago. But a study published earlier this year shows that virtual health care can be as good or even better than old fashioned visits to the doc’s office. The study compared traditional health care monitoring and total internet-based monitoring of a group of HIV positive patients. While neither the physical or psychological healths showed differences between the two groups, the patients monitored through the “Virtual Hospital” felt they had better access to clinical information.
Virtual doctors are just the latest way technology is making it easier for us to stay healthy. We can track our calories and sleep with Fitbit, test our blood sugar levels with our smartphones, and soon we’ll be able to swallow a pill that monitors our internal physiology. But to be clear, virtual visits aren’t meant to replace face-to-face visits but to augment them. An at home, do-it-yourself stethoscope exam probably wouldn’t work. As medical records become increasingly digitized virtual doctors and virtual hospitals will draw closer to true doctors’ office visits, even if they are found at the end of aisle five, just past the toothpaste and hair gel.
[image credits: Academy of Information Medicine]