According to the Associated Press, Walmart is now offering its employees coverage for telemedicine, a cheaper and seemingly more convenient form of urgent care. In short, telemedicine is basically a Skype call with your doctor. I personally had never heard of telemedicine prior to reading about Walmart’s recent initiative, and I believe that, even in the digital age, the idea of a virtual doctor’s visit is a bit questionable.
Imagine if your doctor told you that they attended medical school 100% online. Now ask yourself, how seriously would you be able to take a diagnosis given over online video chat. Although the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) has been around since 1993 and they provide its members and the public with safety and best practice guidelines, you can still consider telemedicine something I’ll need a little bit more convincing on.
I was curious to hear what others thought about telemedicine and Walmart and other companies’ push for insured employees to embrace it, so I reached out to two colleagues who work in the field of public health to get a more sophisticated opinion on the matter.
Stephanie Green, a project coordinator for the National Partnership for Women and Families, says she is okay with virtual medicine visits in combination with an initial in-person visit. “You can go to your actual appointment and then do virtual follow up,” she said. Stephanie also offered that she feels that virtual visits may also cut down on workers calling out, which creates a favorable situation more for the employer, or more for the hourly employee or both.
And that is when I pictured myself in the ladies room at my job on FaceTime with my gyno, posing like a gargoyle in a stall so that they can get a good angle for my tele-pap smear.
That simply is no life that I desire for myself.
New York-based HIV prevention specialist, and dear friend, Yaw Amonfoh, brought up a few more points that I hadn’t considered.
“What if you have to have conversations in places you can’t be that vulnerable in?” Yaw asked. Yaw was was curious as to what Walmart planned to do with all the money they were looking to save by paying for more telemedicine and less traditional doctors’ visits.
“Not everyone has Internet, a phone, or a consistent phone line. Even if they have a job,” my friend went on to say. “And it’s not like [Walmart] pays their employees well.”
I took a brief, sacred moment to indulge in my freshly brewed Earl Grey.
After these conversations, my main concern now is whether or not a time will arise when people are forced or coaxed into embracing a form of care that they may not be familiar or comfortable with.
Luckily, telemedicine is still just optional for insured employees and doesn’t appear to something employers are forcing or manipulating employees into part take in. It should also be noted there are telehealth services covered by Medicaid.
The ATA’s mission and the thought process behind telemedicine are rooted in the desire for affordable and accessible care for everyone. After hearing different perspectives and doing a little more research, I’m more willing to spread to the word to folks about this alternative.
With all of that said, I must know, are gynecologists participating in this growing phenomenon?