You can use Skype and similar services to visit with friends and family who live around the globe. You can even use the technology to visit the doctor. The best part is your insurance company might actually pay for it. The largest insurer in the country is on board with the idea and others could follow suit.
UnitedHealthcare has partnered with three telemedicine groups to give customers the opportunity to visit doctors over video chat. The companies working with UnitedHealthcare are NowClinic, Doctor on Demand and American Well.
According to Peter Mueller, a healthcare industry analyst at Forrester, United’s embrace of doctor visits by video is a major step for the healthcare industry. “There are a lot of pros to telemedicine,” he says. “Convenience is one. Access is another. Then there’s the immediacy of it, too.”
Visiting the doctor's office via video chat usually costs around $40 to $50. But, UnitedHealthcare customers will only have to pay their normal copay for these types of visits.
Virtual visits can provide great benefits for people that live in rural areas that aren't near doctors' offices. They can also be good for working parents that can't take the day off work to check in with the doctor when their child is under the weather.
Of course, helping others isn’t the only motivation. By offering telemedicine services, health insurers stand to substantially lower their costs, because virtual visits are significantly cheaper than urgent care or even primary care visits. Much as online retailers did to brick-and-mortar shopping, telehealth companies have used technology to eliminate most of the overhead that contributes to the high cost of healthcare.
There is a drawback, though. You won't be seeing your normal doctor. Instead, you'll virtually visit one of the thousands of doctors that works for UnitedHealthcare's partner companies.