Online Doctor Visits, Paperwork Can Lessen Office Wait Time for Patients

August 11, 2008

Memphis Business Journal – by Jessica Otwell

The waiting room at the doctor’s office may not be as filled as it has been in times past.

RelayHealth, an online health care database, provides patients the ability to preregister for appointments, fill out patient history forms and even consult with a doctor to receive prescriptions, advice and schedule a physical appointment.

Olu Faleye, president of PrimeHealth Medical Center PC, uses this program at his clinic, but hasn’t seen the patient participation he hoped he would see. Out of roughly 9,000-10,000 patients, a mere 30 patients take advantage of the online program.

“We are finding that people have old habits and change very slowly,” Faleye says. “People who have done the virtual office visit are very pleased and surprised that they haven’t heard about it earlier.”

This online service has been available at PrimeHealth since 2003. Faleye says that online medical services have been popular in areas like Manhattan, Los Angeles and places with a higher number of younger, Internet-savvy users. Other than his own clinic, he is unaware of any other clinics in Memphis who use an online program like this.

This program, however, isn’t for anyone and everyone who needs a doctor, according to Faleye. This service is only available to his existing patients to ensure he has adequate patient history and charts on hand.

“Basically, it’s a service that we feel gives us more access to the patients for after-hours care,” Faleye says. “We have to have treated them as a patient in our office at least once.”

The service can be accessed simply by visiting Faleye’s Web site, www.primehealthclinic.com, where patients are prompted to click on a link to direct them to a login screen. Once patients create a user ID and password, Faleye can confirm that they are indeed patients and services will be available for them.

In Faleye’s new medical office under construction, he plans on including a “virtual office visit,” where a video conferencing tool will be used to consult with patients.

John Fowler, an internal medicine physician at Baptist Memorial Hospital-East, used the program before he began work at a hospital.

“Patients could notify me for their need for refills and I could take care of all of their needs in one fell swoop,” Fowler says.

Since his former clinic went out of business and he is now in a hospital environment, the online program isn’t as easy for him to keep up with all of his patients.

Victor Carrozza, director of membership and communications of the Memphis Medical Society, says that e-mail correspondence with medical services has been met with resistance by physicians because, unlike secure Web sites, they are not a secure form of communication. Also, physicians aren’t reimbursed for time spent with e-mail correspondence and it “adds yet another layer to their already hectic days.”

As far as the online services are concerned, Carrozza thinks physicians may be hesitant for the same reasons, as well as loss of personal contact with the patient.

Still, local doctors such as Faleye and Fowler are advocates of the program.

“There’s no financial award in the sense of you don’t get paid to sit in front of the computer, but refilling the prescription with the click of a button cuts down on time,” Fowler says.

For Faleye, he just sees this service as an extension of modern medicine, and providing this service is fulfilling a lifelong interest of his.

“I’m not going to practice medicine like my dad and granddad did,” Faleye says. “To me, this is just the future.”

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