A shot in the arm: Pandemic has brought more, and often lower-cost, telehealth options

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Updated Jan 26, 2021
Owner-operator Kenneth Jones and his family access low-stakes medical care from the road via his subscription to Konexial’s $15/monthly My20 GoMedRx telemedicine service. Pictured with Jones are his wife, Somphane, and their daughters, from left, Jadzia, Janessa and Jasmine. Photo courtesy of the JonesesOwner-operator Kenneth Jones and his family access low-stakes medical care from the road via his subscription to Konexial’s $15/monthly My20 GoMedRx telemedicine service. Pictured with Jones are his wife, Somphane, and their daughters, from left, Jadzia, Janessa and Jasmine. Photo courtesy of the Joneses

Much has been made of the efficacies of telemedicine for basic healthcare services in recent years. Over-the-road truckers – far from home, sometimes lacking health insurance and needing care outside of business hours – have been prime candidates for consultation, prescriptions and related services.

Now the new dynamics of coronavirus have upped the ante for healthcare providers to offer alternatives to office visits to minimize infections for staff and patients. There’s also been a greater emphasis on keeping the mildly ill out of hospitals to avoid undue strain on medical resources.

Tele-consultations can be as low-tech as the time-honored call from home to your family physician. Absent a primary provider, however, as is the case for many in the trucking community, there are newer, relatively low-cost services that operate nationally and around the clock.

Telehealth options for nonemergency needs are quickly approaching the “new normal” for routine health care, said David King, who formerly headed the National Association of Independent Truckers (NAIT). He now develops transportation business for the Home20Health service, which partners with transportation companies and other organizations to offer telehealth benefits.

King entertains no doubt about the future of doctor visits. “You’re going to do it over the phone or over video in almost every case — it’s the way it’s going to be,” he said. “The physicians I know couldn’t be more happy about it.” They can see more patients in a day, and when it comes to truckers, limited in their ability to get to a doctor’s office, “it’s always made sense,” he added.

Kenneth Jones, based in Dothan, Alabama, and leased to small fleet CTR Trucking, has greatly benefited from access to a telemedicine service, My20 GoMedRx, offered by trucking service provider Konexial. Three years ago, Jones’ wife underwent brain surgery to remove a tumor and needs support, so his entire family rides along for most hauls.

Jones, his wife and three young daughters used the service early in the COVID-19 period as allergy season was getting into full swing. Using the app, he set up a 10 a.m. appointment for his wife and three daughters, then one at 11 for himself.

“At 10 a.m. on the nose, my phone was ringing for them,” he said. “Then at 11, the phone rang for me — they sent the medication right to where we wanted it” on the road. That included a sinus-related prescription, a cream to treat a dermatitis for his girls, and allergy meds for himself. In the case of the cream, “we were able to get that refilled without sitting in a doctor’s office for a renewal of the prescription,” he said, reflecting the medical profession’s increasing reliance on tele-consults.

The My20 GoMedRx subscription costs $180 annually ($15 a month). It covers an owner-operator and up to seven family members. Virtual video/phone consults are booked through Konexial’s My20 app.

Services such as this are cost-effective ways to fill the gap between the high-deductible coverage self-employed people often carry to cover only catastrophic events and the need for routine care, eliminating the need for costly office visits.

The TruckPark parking-reservations aggregator app is working on implementing a telemed service for its users. NAIT offers a telehealth service to its members, as does the National Association of Small Trucking Companies.

“The big companies can offer major medical and stuff like that,” said David Owen, NASTC president. “Small carriers often can’t afford that kind of health insurance, but they can afford this.”

Required medical certification exams won’t be conducted virtually anytime soon, but for routine medical consults, increasing telehealth options are filling a long-held need for mobile professionals away from home.Required medical certification exams won’t be conducted virtually anytime soon, but for routine medical consults, increasing telehealth options are filling a long-held need for mobile professionals away from home.

Telehealth is a growing part of a more traditional healthcare provider serving the trucking industry. The UrgentCareTravel network, in existence for the last half-decade, is a series of 14 truck stop clinics at Pilot Flying J locations. Its newest telehealth option is its Driver Coronavirus Evaluation Service launched in March.

It makes the initial evaluation via videoconference with team members at the UCT clinic location nearest to the driver needing the evaluation. By doing so, UCT offers not just convenience but also hopes to protect the well-being of truckers accessing their clinic sites and the surrounding truck stops by minimizing the number of people in one place at any time.

“We’re trying to make it as easy as possible and as cost-friendly as possible,” said Mitch Strobin, UCT senior vice president. They’re offering the evaluation for a onetime $40 charge. Drivers who are exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms – most prominently a fever that rises over time and a dry cough – and looking for evaluation on whether they should get tested can call the UCT clinic nearest to them to set up an evaluation.

This UrgentCareTravel clinic at the Oklahoma City Pilot Travel Center at I-40 and South Morgan Road is part of the UCT network of truck stop clinics. The facilities offer single-stop service, though Vice President Mitch Strobin believes that for drivers with chronic conditions needing management, subscription service makes more sense. “Telehealth absolutely is a big part of it,” he said. Photo courtesy of UrgentCareTravelThis UrgentCareTravel clinic at the Oklahoma City Pilot Travel Center at I-40 and South Morgan Road is part of the UCT network of truck stop clinics. The facilities offer single-stop service, though Vice President Mitch Strobin believes that for drivers with chronic conditions needing management, subscription service makes more sense. “Telehealth absolutely is a big part of it,” he said. Photo courtesy of UrgentCareTravel

When it comes to those evaluations and follow-on testing, Strobin added, “drivers are pretty educated and aware and knowledgeable of COVID. We’re seeing drivers taking care of themselves quite well. We’ve had very, very few positives,” considering the hundreds of tests UCT has handled.

The risk for many drivers is serious given the prevalence of conditions such as hypertension, obesity and diabetes, Strobin added. “Forty-eight percent of drivers have some sort of chronic condition” and sit at “a higher risk for infection. If they do get the coronavirus, results are far worse than the general population.”

Plenty, UCT has found, see the “bigger picture” and “recognize that they need to get healthier also.” In that vein, UCT offers individual drivers and carriers a chronic disease management program as a subscription service it calls UCT Health.

Strobin pointed to it as an example of “telehealth,” which includes nutrition, exercise and other aspects of wellness. He sees it as distinct from the more narrow “telemedicine,” though the terms often are used interchangeably. “We do focus on telehealth,” which he described as “an ongoing relationship between that driver and a health provider — we call them ‘health coaches.’ ” Telemedicine he defines as more of a use-as-needed service.

Stay tuned for monthly installments in this ongoing feature — what would about your business, trucking operation or life on the road do you feel is changed for good as a result of the pandemic? Send ideas for future coverage to tdills@randallreilly.com.Stay tuned for monthly installments in this ongoing feature — what would about your business, trucking operation or life on the road do you feel is changed for good as a result of the pandemic? Send ideas for future coverage to tdills@randallreilly.com.

The telehealth approach is being taken up with new urgency by healthcare networks of many stripes. Redirect Health offers trucking’s small-business employers a “medical cost sharing” program they can offer employees that covers routine care, said Dr. David Berg, president and co-founder. It costs $125 per employee per month.

The program eliminates much of the hidden costs “in the traditional healthcare and insurance system,” Berg said. “Those could be money, time, stress, fear, not understanding how things work. … Let’s replace complexity with simplicity and complete transparency as to how money flows.”

Programs such as this sometimes are referred to as health sharing ministries in which all members pay into a pool that then is used to cover members’ medical expenses allowed by the plan.

Part of what makes Redirect unique is it has separated catastrophic health needs – “the thing most people want protection for,” Berg said – into a $175 option. Redirect customizes programs for employers in specific industries, including trucking. The system is intended to eliminate the “absolute craziness” of requiring an initial in-person primary care visit, which starts the chain of healthcare costs.

“We’ve got all [members’] info in front of us,” Berg said. “Our goal is to predict what they need before they need it. When they do need to go in to a brick and mortar [office for a visit], we streamline it to where they need to be.”

Telehealth as an overall approach is a big part of driving out unneeded procedures and in-person visits to “get the fair price” for services, he said.

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