Telemedicine: Future for non-emergency care?

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telemedicine-for-truckersSelf-employed people, including owner-operators, in today’s world often look at purchasing health insurance and make a cost-benefit calculation that just doesn’t justify the expense, particularly when routine care is all one is bound to need. Set aside a professional driver’s much-higher likelihood of being involved in a serious accident and needing emergency care for the moment.

A healthy young man, or a similarly-situated young woman not planning a pregnancy, otherwise has little need for insurance that can cost an arm and a leg. There’s some evidence the Affordable Care Act’s growing penalties have driven a small percentage of the approximate third of uninsured owner-operators toward the ACA’s health-insurance exchanges. But given high deductibles in insurance plans that are becoming standard issue following the advent of the exchanges, “those that do have insurance have such high deductibles, they almost feel like they have no insurance,” says Marc Ballard of the Truckers Insurance Exchange, a private exchange partnership between the National Association of Independent Truckers and ConnectedHealth that I’ve written about in the recent past.

Last week, Ballard and NAIT announced a new partnership program available to NAIT members at $10.95 monthly. In a briefing document with press materials attendant to the announcement, NAIT noted those utilizing the telemedicine program gain unlimited potential usage and that “it includes the entire family with no additional per-usage fees or co-pays. Telemedicine care is available 24/7/365, wherever there is a telephone or internet access, from home, at work, or on the road.”

In a nutshell, as Ballard describes it, for basic health questions, consultations and any non-emergency care, for that matter, “telemedicine provides users with immediate telephonic access to U.S.-based doctors.” (Find more about the service in particular via this link, and for MATS attendees, you’ll find Ballard at the NAIT booth throughout the show this week in Louisville.)

What about mental health?
Given recent mainstream coverage of post-accident PTSD and talk among truckers about it — read more in Wendy Parker’s blog post from yesterday, rounding up the Atlantic’s recent look into the subject and one trucker’s well-informed, -considered response — I asked Ballard whether mental-health consultation is included in typical telemedicine services and this one in particular. Short answer: No, but “as telehealth continues to evolve, it’s believed it will extend” to such specialists, he says.

It’s not intended to replace a primary-care doctor, necessarily, for regular medical check-ups, but rather to exist as a route toward mending temporary maladies. The briefing document describes a situation many of you no doubt know well:

Truckers, being away from home for days or longer with limited or no access to care, can get a lot of mileage from a telehealth provider. In most cases, a driver with flu-like symptoms that is miles from home will probably “ride it out,” possibly leading to further complications and time missed from work. With telemedicine, that driver now has quick access to care and, if needed, prescription medication potentially a few exits down the highway. That driver is on the mend immediately and, most likely, continues with no time lost from work.

Anybody using such a service today?

We’ll have more coverage in the April issue on the future of such services, offering greater access to patients in need of a doc, wherever they are — in part 2 of the Tomorrow’s Trucker series. You can access Part 1’s stories via the main page linked below:

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