Telemedicine and Health Care Don’t Always Mix Well

Technology won’t be the panacea that will make the system function smoother and less expensively. In fact, it could well make matters worse.

It started with a phone call. It so happens that this call was made by one of Elisabeth Rosenthal’s children, who reached out to a physician’s office to get advice about a possible infection. That will be $235 for a “telehealth” visit that lasted all of five minutes. Rosenthal writes for Kaiser Health News and uses that disconcerting nugget to examine just what we might be getting into when we hail telemedicine and other technology as “the answer” to the health care system’s problems.

Not too long ago, Rosenthal’s physicians offered advice via phone and email for free, though it wasn’t called telehealth and wasn’t pushed by vendors with sci-fi sounding names and funded to the tune of $10 billion by private equity firms.

“And my obstetrician’s office offered great support and advice through two difficult pregnancies—maybe they should have been paid for that valuable service,” Rosenthal writes. “But $235 for a phone call (which works out to over $2,000 per hour)? Not even a corporate lawyer bills that.”

Not that she doesn’t see the potential telemedicine and other telehealth technology offers. But we should not overlook the danger, either, because “if virtual medicine is pursued in the name of business efficiency or just profit, it has enormous potential to make health care worse.”