The Equinoxe Virtual Clinic, the first online medical clinic, just opened up in British Columbia, Canada. It’s like a real clinic with regular hours (it’s closed Sunday, actually,) but instead of having a street address, it has a URL. If patients need to follow up with their doc or get a referral, they can do that. If they see a weird rash or want to make sure their sneeze isn’t Ebola, they can describe their complaints to a doctor and get clinical advice. They can also renew prescriptions online. None of this involves having to go to a doctor’s office to sit for ages in a waiting room with sick people. Patients just connect with doctors virtually, from wherever they are.
A medical clinic without a waiting room
While the Equinoxe Virtual Clinic is the first of its kind, it’s really not that futuristic. Call it instead an early manifestation of the inevitable future. For years, patients have been getting clinical advice from their doctors via computers, iPads, and phones. In fact, the clinic builds on progress made by Medeo, a company that’s hosted thousands of eVisits on its secure video conferencing platform since 2013. The partnership between Medeo and health care management company Equinoxe LifeCare to create this virtual clinic reflects the trend to leverage online communication tools in healthcare.
Initially, the focus in telemedicine was reaching patients who live in rural areas. And that’s some of the virtual clinic’s appeal for those living in British Columbia miles away from doctors. As the telehealth movement grows, however, it’s becoming more about providers offering new ways to connect with their patients meaningfully—and make healthcare better. It’s not just happening in Canada, either. Most American providers are pursuing some type of telemedicine initiative, according to a recent survey conducted by Foley. Half say their main motivation is improving care quality.
While telemedicine won’t eliminate the need to go to a doctor’s office, it does work great for certain health complaints. And it’s convenient. In fact, that’s what most patients get excited about. The clinic’s weekday hours make it easy for patients who work to get clinical advice over lunch without having to worry about getting there and back before the hour’s up. Patients with kids don’t have to round everyone up, mitten them, and troop them into the car. And patients with a quick question for right now don’t have to schedule an appointment for a week away.
If you’re like me, you’re dying to find out how a visit to an online clinic works.
How the virtual clinic works
Patients start by choosing their family doctor or having a doctor assigned to them. Like an in-person appointment, patients give information about their symptoms. They type up all this info into an online form, along with whether they’re taking any medications, what allergies they have, and so forth. We’re already doing better than WebMD here, since it’s personalized, but the other neat thing is that patients can upload photos or files, if they need to. So someone with a staph infection that just won’t heal can snap a quick pic and send it off with their information.
Next there’s a quick video chat with a care coordinator to confirm admin information, like the patient’s pharmacy and health ID number. Once that wraps up, patients connect with a doctor via video chat to ask questions, get clinical advice, and receive any prescriptions. If the doctor wants to make a referral to a specialist, he or she writes up a referral letter and sends it over to the specialist’s office so an appointment can be scheduled. Once the visit’s done, all the details about the visit get sent to the patient’s family doctor.
And patients get back to their day.
Does telemedicine sound crazy to you? Here's a reality check
It might seem like seeing your doctor via the Internet would make the visit less personable. Think about your last appointment, though. Chances are, your doctor whirled in and out in a matter of minutes, leaving you feel like you hadn’t quite gotten all your questions out of the way. Or maybe you didn’t feel comfortable asking your questions in the white, sterile exam room. For some patients, having an online visit improves their time with the doctors they see.
“It felt like I could just talk about what I needed to, because I was in my home. The pressure of the doctor needing to go to the next patient wasn’t there,” said Liz, a patient who appeared in one of the Medeo’s video series, Medeo Stories.
And that’s really the beauty of the virtual clinic. It puts patients in touch with real doctors instantly, giving all the convenience and comfort of a house visit, without driving up transportation costs.
As someone on Twitter wrote, “Just had an online doctor consult with @medeo. Living in the future is nice.”