Friday, July 25, 2014

Phone app could connect S.C. patients to their doctors — no appointment needed

Bringing back the house call

Posted by Paul Bowers on Fri, Jul 25, 2014 at 11:50 AM

A smartphone application called meVisit could soon connect South Carolina patients to their primary care physicians without the need for an in-person doctor visit.

Invented by Dr. William C. Thornbury for his practice in Glasgow, Ky., meVisit is being promoted locally by Advance Benefit Management Systems, a Mt. Pleasant company. CEO Ken Johnson says he's currently pitching the app to one insurance company and six hospital groups in South Carolina. According to Johnson, the app has already been adopted by more than 10,000 doctors nationwide and is covered by insurance companies in Indiana, Tennessee, and Ohio.

Using the app, patients can send text, photos, and audio recordings to their primary care physician, who can respond with a diagnosis, personalized treatment plan, and even certain prescriptions via the app.

"It ends up saving the consumer time," Johnson says. "For the employer that allows the employee to use it, it helps reduce absenteeism, reduces people taking half a day off to go in for a 30-minute office visit. It helps the doctors better utilize their time."

Me-Visit Patient Demo from MeVisit on Vimeo.

Telemedicine, the use of telecommunication devices to provide medical care at a distance, is not new to South Carolina. The Medical University of South Carolina is using a Duke Endowment grant to provide telemedicine services to four rural hospitals around the state. Now doctors in Charleston can use electronic stethoscopes, X-ray images transmitted via laptop computers, and remote-controlled high-definition cameras to assist doctors at Conway Medical Center, Waccamaw Community Hospital, Georgetown Memorial Hospital, and Colleton Medical Center. The Duke Endowment has been promoting telemedicine as a way of dealing with a shortage of specialty doctors in certain geographic areas.

Obviously there are limits to the kinds of medical care you can provide via phone, and some doctor visits can actually be carried out more efficiently in person. For example, one study published in 2011 in the Australian Rural and Remote Health Journal found that a teledermatology consultation can take up to 30 minutes, compared to just 15 minutes for a traditional consultation.

An FAQ for the app lists the following types of cases where a meVisit session might be appropriate:

• Acid reflux flares

• Bronchitis

• Cold sores

• Colds and coughs

• Early stage flu

• Food poisoning

• Hemorrhoid flares

• Lice issues

• Mild sprains and strains

• Mild urinary tract infections

• Pink eye

• Mild hives

• Rosacea flares

• Seasonal allergies

• Sinus infections

• Stomach viruses

• Yeast infections

Other situations, such as active bleeding, chest pain, shortness of breath, and refills of controlled substances, are not appropriate for meVisit, according to the FAQ.

Johnson says future generations of the app could allow patients to gather some biological data themselves, such as blood sugar levels in diabetic patients, and submit it to their doctors. "The two biggest killers in the state of South Carolina are hypertension and diabetes — two things that are ideal to be monitored in a telemedicine environment," Johnson says. "One of the things we want to focus on starting here in South Carolina is to get this into the hands of as many low-income people as we possibly can. Why is that important? They can't afford to take time off of work to go to a doctor."

The price of a meVisit session varies depending on negotiations with different health insurance companies and healthcare providers, but Johnson says the recommended starting price of a meVisit session is 70 percent of the price of an in-person session.

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