Carle e-visits: 10 questions and answers

Now that you can get an e-visit through Carle, here are 10 questions about these medical encounters of the electronic kind, courtesy of staff writer Debra Pressey:

1. How do they work?

Patients can now log onto the MyCarle system, select 'eVisit,' choose a condition, then answer questions about their symptoms, according to Carle. The doctor will respond within four to six hours on weekdays during normal business hours.

2. Why are they now available?

Dr. Bill Schuh, Carle's chief medical information officer, said the main advantage for patients is convenience.

But offering e-visits is also linked to federal "meaningful use" standards for the use of electronic medical records technology, he said. How compliant to certain standards hospitals and medical practices are will dictate their future payments from government payers such as Medicare and Medicaid.

More information on 'meaningful use' standards is at http://1.usa.gov/HPun1k

3. Are they covered by insurance?

Schuh said it is Carle's hope that these visits will be covered, but for now, that is something patients will need to work out with their individual insurers.

4. Why seven conditions?

The selected ailments for e-visits were chosen because primary-care providers at Carle said those are the most common conditions they see that wouldn't be too complex to diagnose and treat electronically, Schuh said.

5. Do I pay twice if I still need to see a doctor?

Based on the symptoms you communicate, if the doctor isn't comfortable diagnosing you electronically and wants you to come in for an office visit, the e-visit will be terminated without charge, Schuh said.

6. Are they available throughout the Carle system?

They are available for patients of all Carle facilities other than those at Hoopeston and Danville.

7. Are they available at other medical offices?

The American Academy of Family Physicians says e-visits are growing in popularity.

8. How about in this area?

E-visits aren't offered through Christie Clinic.

They have been offered through the primary-care doctors at Decatur Memorial Hospital Medical Group since October 2011. A $35 e-visit at the Decatur practice is available for allergy symptoms, bronchitis, colds, cold sores, cough, diarrhea, dizziness, earache, hives, nausea, pink eye, poison ivy, rash, sinus symptoms, sore throat, urinary tract infection, vomiting and yeast infection.

Patients largely use e-visits for illnesses such as sore throat, sinus infection and bronchitis and busy moms indicate they like the option, said Decatur Memorial spokesman Mike Cassell.

9. Where do family medicine doctors stand on them?

The American Academy of Family Physicians supports e-visits occurring on safe, online communication systems. The doctor group has established the following guidelines for e-visits:

They are only for established patients who have previously received care from the physician practice.

The patient initiates the process and agrees to the service terms, privacy policy and charge.

The electronic communication occurs over a connection that is compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the law that covers patient privacy.

They include the total interchange of online inquiries and other inquiries associated with the patient encounter.

The doctor should document them and all pertinent communication related to the encounter in the patient's medical record.

The medical professional responding to a request for one has a defined period of time in which to do so.

10. Are there any concerns?

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in January compared e-visits and in-person visits for two conditions: urinary tract infections and sinusitis. One of the findings was doctors conducting e-visits were more likely to prescribe antibiotics for either condition.

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