Doctor video visits aren't new, but they are a growing form of treatment across the U.S. Aurora Health Care began treating patients via video six months ago.
Here's how it works: Patients log on to Aurora's platform and select an on-call provider. The doctor reviews a patient's health records before accepting the video call.
"I think that what we've seen over the last three to five years in particular is a significant growth of comfort and acclimation that physician, patients and ultimately federal and state regulators have gained in regard to delivering health care services via telemedicine technologies," says Nathaniel Lacktman. He's a health care lawyer at Foley & Lardner and chair of the firm's Telemedicine Industry Team.
"Certainly 10, 15 years ago many boards of medicine were reluctant. Now it's allowed, you can practice telemedicine in every state," Lacktman says.
And Wisconsin's taking note. The medical examining board implemented new rules for telemedicine this past June. They include a license requirement, doctor-patient relationship and the same standards of care, such as patient confidentiality and recordkeeping.
Andy Anderson, the chief medical officer for Aurora Health Care, says there are reasons why patients are moving toward telemedicine.
"When someone feels sick they may not feel like they want to drive to the physician's office and this provides an opportunity to get a answer quickly and then conveniently from the setting of your own home," he says.
Anderson says video visits could be more economical for some patients.
A video visits costs $49. The program does accept insurance, but it varies by plan. Yet, Anderson says telemedicine care still might be cheaper. "That's less expensive than many of our consumers are experiencing in terms of co-pay and deductibles."
But the convenience does have drawbacks. Anderson says it can be a challenge to determine if telemedicine is the best medium of care.
"I think the challenge is sometimes it's not clear how sick someone is and exactly what they need and it certainly might be a starting place that might lead to a higher level of care and higher level of assessment depending on how the person presents and what their symptoms are," he says.
Aurora's Dr. Rob Frank agrees. He says that he's optimistic about the future of telemedicine, because it can treat people who otherwise might not be able to easily access care.
"We see a wide opportunity for video as a venue of care that expands our ability to connect with our patients," Frank says.
The Aurora program saw a 21 percent increase since July. And with the cold season fast approaching, the health care provider expects the number to grow.