Some patients looking for convenient medical appointments can now see UCLA Health System doctors via cellphone, computer or tablet.
It’s part of an effort by the health system and other organizations to extend alternatives to the in-person doctor visit to people who might not be able to get to a doctor’s office.
The doctors are available through LiveHealth Online, a service designed for business travelers and parents who don’t have time for an office visit.
“There is a need for the entire health-care industry to be a lot more responsive to what patients want,” said Samuel Skootsky, chief medical officer of the UCLA Faculty Practice Group and Medical Group. “One way to do that is to have multiple channels of access to doctors.”
The traditional medical appointment “is not convenient for everybody,” Skootsky said.
While telemedicine isn’t new, it has traditionally been used to expand medical access to rural areas with doctor shortages or to connect primary-care doctors with specialists. This represents a new way for telemedicine to give patients more control over their health care, said John Jesser, vice president of provider engagement strategy for Anthem Blue Cross, a major insurer in California.
“It saves them one of the most important things, which is their time,” Jesser said. “The number one benefit really is convenience.” It also allows patients who get sick over the weekend to avoid going to an urgent-care center or an emergency room, he said.
LiveHealth Online operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The UCLA doctors may not always be available, but other board-certified physicians are.
Jesser said that doctors who are contacted through the service decide whether they can treat the patient remotely or if the patient needs to be seen face to face.
The appointments are designed for non-emergency conditions such as sore throats, coughs and rashes. Patients who need X-rays or lab work or who have complex medical conditions must make in-person visits.
Ingrid Antall, a family-practice doctor in Thousand Oaks, Calif., who is part of LiveHealth’s network, said she can often diagnose patients with colds and minor infections by talking to them and seeing them over the phone or via computer.
Antall said she relies heavily on patients’ explanations of their symptoms and guides them through a self-exam, sometimes using flashlights or cellphone lights. “It causes me to be a little more creative,” she said.
She acknowledged that the visits have limitations. “If they really need to be seen in person, I have no hesitation in sending them” to a doctor’s office, she said.