With a rise in mobile healthcare applications, “telehealth” services such as Lemonaid Health, Maven, Doctor on Demand and Nurx are providing students with increasingly immediate medical assistance.
Ali Javanbakht, UCSB Student Health Services medical director, said these services are generally cheaper than physically stepping into a doctor’s office.
“The reality, however, is that in-person interactions aren’t always practical or cost-effective,” Javanbakht said.
Lemonaid has a flat fee of $15 per visit, payable through credit or debit card transactions. Most apps stay within the range of $15 to $20 per visit and, when compared to Gaucho Health Insurance (GHI), can save students between $5 to $10 on each visit. Additionally, most telehealth apps accept a variety of health insurance, allowing students with family health plans to receive covered visits and medication.
However, according to Javanbakht, patients lose the benefit of in-person interaction when using telehealth apps.
“Given the choice, any clinician would much prefer to see someone in person,” Javanbakht said. “We can sometimes tell if someone is fatigued, sleep deprived, malnourished or hasn’t been able to take care of themselves when we see them in person,”
Javanbakht said there can be something “very powerful” about in-person interactions. “Smiling at someone, a reassuring pat on the shoulder can be amazingly powerful agents of comfort and healing.”
While technology is usually associated with younger generations, Dr. Brendan Levy of Lemonaid said it can be a broader healthcare solution. Before Lemonaid started, Levy was a family physician in the Washington D.C. area who would text “a surprising split” of patients about their questions.
“There’s certainly a lot of young patients who couldn’t get time out of school or had jobs that made it hard to get to the doctor, but there are also older patients who have mobility challenges or the people that take care of them. So, it’s kind of a surprising mix I would say.”
Levy said before researching which apps can be your potential “doctor,” it is important to note that these services address only a set list of ailments.
“If you were getting a new diagnosis of bipolar disorder … then sometimes it is more valuable to see a doctor face to face,” Levy said. “For a lot of these things, though, these are diseases that people know … and a lot of the time, we can help them figure out what’s exactly appropriate for them.”
Regardless of a patient’s health insurance status, telehealth apps are providing faster treatment at cheaper rates. While the applications cannot replace in-person doctor visits, patients with easily treatable conditions can avoid the logistics of scheduling appointments and can access timely healthcare.
A version of this story appeared on p.7 of the Friday, April 1, 2016 edition of the Daily Nexus.