At Carle, the house call's back in style — virtually

At Carle, the house call's back in style — virtually

URBANA — You can always go to your doctor's office to see about that rash on your arm or your toddler's earache. But there's another choice gaining popularity among patients who want to skip the waiting room and get medical care at home, whenever they need it.

They're telehealth services, delivering doctor consultations via live chat around the clock, and one of them was launched recently by the Carle health system.

Called InstaCare, it's being powered by the Florida-based telehealth network MDLive.

Using the system requires signing up, and access to a computer with a high-speed internet connection.

Or patients can download a free app to use with a smartphone.

Once patients are signed up, they can call for a consultation any time of the day or night, 365 days a year, and family medicine doctors from the MDLive network will diagnose certain primary care conditions, and, if necessary, prescribe medications.

Carle spokeswoman Jamie Lange said InstaCare has attracted a lot of interest since its April 19 launch. To date, it has picked up 30 registered users, she said.

InstaCare is limited to Carle patients, Lange said, because the system is connected to their medical records and their MDLive consultation needs to be entered into those records.

The $49 cost-per-consultation fee is an entirely out-of-pocket expense, with or without insurance, according to Harry Brockus, Carle's vice president of regional health.

That's less than the cost of an emergency room visit co-payment for many, he said, and for anyone without health insurance, it's less expensive than an in-person doctor's office visit.

"This would actually be cheaper for people who have high-deductible health plans or are uninsured," he said.

Brockus said use of services such as these has been growing, and MDLive was one of three Carle considered to power its InstaCare service.

Online doctor consults aren't new in the area. Carle already offers e-visits to its patients with its own doctors, but generally at a four-to-six-hour wait, because these visits are scheduled around the doctors' other patients, Brockus said.

InstaCare promises to be a much faster option, he said.

"You really press a button, and within 15 minutes, you're going to have that provider talking to you in the moment," he said.

MDLive was launched in 2009 and now sees an average of 1,200 patients a day — twice as many as it did a year ago, according to company spokeswoman Bethany Parker. It has more than 1,800 physicians and therapists in its network across the country.

"MDLive has been trending the last few years at a 60 percent growth rate and does not see anything slowing that down over the next few years," she said.

The company launched virtual behavioral health services in 2014 and this past February launched virtual psychiatry services in all 50 states.

Carle is still analyzing the use of those other telehealth services, Brockus said. It rolled out its contractual relationship with MDLive with primary care consults only.

"That's where we have access issues," Brockus said.

For now, InstaCare visits will handle doctor visits for ailments such as headaches, acne, allergies, coughs, flu, insect bites, nausea, sore throat, vomiting, respiratory problems, diarrhea, fever, pink eye, ear problems and urinary tract infections. There's a potential for more applications in the future, Brockus said.

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