Local News

Patients can now log on for check-up

Posted August 17, 2009 6:05 p.m. EDT
Updated August 17, 2009 7:04 p.m. EDT

— Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina is among a growing number of insurers to cover online consultations with physicians.

The e-visits would be allowed only for patients with an established face-to-face relationship with a doctor and only for non-urgent ailments or rechecks. Doctors could prescribe medicine through an online interaction or ask that a patient come into the office for a more extensive check.

"It's a great idea," said patient Steve Brechbiel, who recently interrupted his workday for a doctor's appointment to check out a nagging cold that had moved into his chest. "Let's face it. One of the things you don't want to do is sit around the doctor's office."

MedFusion Inc., a Cary-based health care technology company, already provides a secure Web portal to 28,000 physicians nationwide. If doctors adopt the program, patients can sign in online, make any required co-payment, fill out a detailed questionnaire about their symptoms and submit it.

A physician would review the information at his or her convenience and then respond by answering questions, prescribing medication or seeking a follow-up in person. MedFusion officials say physician response time is typically within one business day.

Physicians are intrigued about the concept of online consultations but said they want to learn more about it first.

"We generally like the idea. In family medicine, this goes with what we do already," said Dr. Conrad Flick, a Raleigh physician, noting his practice uses electronic medical records.

Flick said he thinks online consultation could work well for treating chronic conditions, such as sinus infections or diabetes, but he said he wants to know more about patient privacy protections and the financial implications.

"(I want to) start finding out the cost both in time and real dollars to put it in place," he said.

Blue Cross began covering e-visits on June 1, but no physicians have signed up for the program yet.

"The e-visit is really just a way to get around that administrative burden and make it more convenient to the patient and the practice," said Dr. Genie Komives, medical director for Blue Cross.