With the launch on their virtual consultation service, Discovery Health has opened a new world of medical assistance for its members. At the Discovery Healthcare Media Summit last week, the medical scheme highlighted the progress it has made with its virtual consultation offering.
Dr Jonathan Broomberg, CEO of Discovery Health, explains that virtual consults went live in June 2015 offering GP (general practitioner) consultations. “At the beginning of 2016 this service offering was enhanced to include paediatric consultations.”
It took approximately 18 to 24 months for this programme to go live from the initial idea taking form. According to Broomberg, virtual consultations globally are experiencing “tremendous growth due to the convenience provided to members, lower costs and direct access.”
How does it work?
Broomberg reveals: “The service is accessed via the Discovery App which is available for download on both Apple iStore and Google Play platforms. Once logged into the Discovery App, members can view their doctor’s availability and book an appointment using the online booking system.”
To see which doctors are active on the service, members can log onto the Discovery Member App. The App shows the availability of the doctors that have signed on for the service, and which members have had a consultation with in the past 12 months.
“As part of the pre consultation process, members type in their symptoms. Fifteen minutes before the scheduled appointment the member and GP receive a reminder notification of the proposed call,” highlights Broomberg.
The pros and cons of virtual consultations
According to Broomberg, there are a number of pros to the virtual consultation service. These include:
- Immediate and convenient access to your healthcare provider.
- Cost effective service as reduced consultation fees have been agreed with the doctors.
- Service complements follow up physical consultations.
- Seamless integration with technology.
- Integration with HealthID for your doctor to view your medical history.
The Discovery Health website explains that HealthID enables doctors to access a patient’s “Electronic Health Records and summary. These contain details about any chronic condition/s and treatment, administrative information around previous medical aid claims as well as relevant pathology and radiology results.”
However, despite the number of benefits that virtual consultations can offer, there are a number of drawbacks to the service. Broomberg points out that some of the cons of virtual consultations are:
- Due to regulatory requirements, the virtual consultations extend to healthcare providers that members have had a consultation with in the last 12 months.
- In addition these healthcare providers need to have signed-on for this service.
- Service offering is currently limited to consultations with GPs and pediatricians.
Broomberg highlights that there is a cost saving when using a virtual consultation as opposed to a traditional face-to-face consultation. However, he was not specific on what this consultation fee is. “Discovery Health Medical Scheme funds virtual consults at an agreed rate that is lower than physical consultations,” says Broomberg.
Knowing when a virtual consultation is the right thing to do
One question that cropped up when looking into virtual consultations is, how do you know when a virtual consultation will suffice and when you should physically see a doctor?
Broomberg explains that there are steps involved in the virtual consultation to assist doctors during these consultations. “As part of the pre consultation process, members type in their symptoms. The doctor with assistance from HealthID is able to review the member’s medical history and combined with the additional information provided by the member on their symptoms can make a well informed decision on the course of treatment and if a face to face consult is required,” notes Broomberg.
However, Broomberg emphasises that the virtual consultation service does not replace a face-to-face consultation. It “rather provides healthcare providers with support and ability to extend their practice and to engage with their own patients at the time of their choice.”
The future of a doctor’s consultation
South Africa is not the only country to make use of virtual consultations. Ping An, Discovery’s partner in China, has also launched a virtual consultations service. Broomberg highlights that this service already has 77 million registered users, and the number of daily consultations carried out over the service is about 200,000.
“South Africa has been slow to adopt to this international trend but we believe that as our society becomes more technologically savvy, more of our members will start to make use of this service,” he says.
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