The other day I was clicking around a new health website by a company called Lemonaid Health. The site allows consumers to connect remotely with a health care provider for very specific reasons, such as obtaining birth control or treating seven ailments, including urinary tract infections, sinus infections, flu and acid reflux. The fee is $15.
To start the virtual visit, people enter their zip code. I put in my New Jersey zip code and immediately saw: “This service is not available in your area.”
So if you live in New Jersey you cannot access a convenient method of obtaining treatment for a few common illnesses — or even obtain a method of birth control that is sold over the counter in most countries. In New Jersey, you will need to find a physician, make an appointment, travel to the doctor’s office and spend time in the waiting room.
To be clear, Lemonaid will not treat every patient or every health complaint. If your symptoms of sinus infection include neck pain or if you have diabetes, for instance, you will be directed to a local physician.
But relatively healthy, busy people with straightforward needs or common ailments should have access to safe and convenient alternatives to the in-person physician visit. Allowing consumers to connect with health care providers through phone, email, and video-conferencing provides accessibility and the potential for cost savings.
In New Jersey, the laws are far behind the technology. Here’s a good place to start: Recognize that not every patient needs an in-person visit with a physician every time.
Recognize that good health care is accessible health care. Easily obtained birth control, for instance, prevents unwanted pregnancies. And a quick treatment for a UTI prevents pain and agony.
There are sticking points.
Some want to prevent insurers from reimbursing for telemedicine at lower rates. But a virtual visit will likely require less time than an in-person visit and, as such, providers can be reimbursed at a lower rate.
Some want to limit telemedicine only to follow-up visits. I have seen no evidence that providers should not use telemedicine to treat patients they have not first seen in person.
And, finally, once we modernize our laws, we can require that tele-health providers be licensed in New Jersey or subject to our licensing boards through other means. We need to make sure that consumers are protected and receive care from reputable providers. New Jersey should retain oversight. State residents should be able to file a complaint with a state licensing board or bring action against a physician in a New Jersey court regardless of whether the care was delivered in-person or remotely.
We must not get bogged down in turf battles and miss opportunities to improve care and reduce costs through telemedicine. Technology is improving so many areas of our lives. Medicine should be no different.