Tele-Health: You Are Not the Customer

Getting your healthcare over the phone used to be the norm.

You were sick.

It was after hours.  Or you were stuck at home. Or you just couldn’t come in to see your doctor.

So, you called.

And you got the care that you needed.

Then, the regulations a doctor had to meet to keep practicing became too much.

So, she had to become an employee.

Her employer valued her more for the data she could collect during routine office visits rather than for any real medical care she could provide.

And she enjoyed the perk of being able to punch the clock at five and not have to take anymore phone calls.

How to fill the gap?

Pay doctors to take phone calls after hours.

You’ve seen the ads. It’s 3:30 in the morning. Your child is sick. And you’re speaking to a doctor, bright-eyed in a clean, white coat.

It’s convenient.

It’s easy.

And it’s free!

It comes with your insurance. Or your job. Or from your health system.

And that’s one of the biggest risks of using these services.

The most important thing to keep in mind when using them?

Even if you pay a co-pay, you are not the customer.

So, your goals and priorities may not be the same as the company you call.

Today, most tele-health services are provided through independent companies who sell their services to the insurers, employers and health systems noted above.

And these tele-health companies may want to be able to sell their services by demonstrating that they can reduce antibiotic use. Or direct care away from the ER. Or increase the use of a particularly profitable service line.

When you call, you are really not interested in any of these. You’ll just want to feel better.

There are a number of tactics you can use to keep yourself safe when using tele-medicine and make the system work for you.

But the most important one is this:

Remember you are not the customer. If the advice you receive over one of these services feels wrong, then it is wrong. You may be sensing your goals conflicting with the company’s.

If that happens, go see a clinician right away.

If you don’t, you may be worse off than if you had never called a doctor at all.