Although research has found that employees who work in clean offices have an 80% reduced probability of catching a cold or the flu, it can be extremely difficult to avoid getting sick when you’re stressed or you’re exposed to loads of bacteria on a daily basis. And even with healthcare coverage, paying a visit to your doctor’s office or seeing a specialist can be a financial burden. Telemedicine has proven to be a viable solution to the economic and physical barriers of healthcare, allowing patients to receive necessary care with help from a phone, a webcam, and other kinds of technology. Now, one of New York City’s major health systems and a well-known pharmaceutical chain have teamed up to ensure New Yorkers can receive on-demand healthcare when they visit their nearest drug store.
NewYork-Presbyterian just announced their partnership with Walgreens, which will bring several telehealth kiosks to Duane Reade locations around the city. The move is the latest in NYP’s OnDemand telehealth and mHealth series of services, which initially launched in 2016. These kiosks will provide on-demand care to NYP patients with no visit to their doctor or hospital required. Instead, patients can video conference with a physician (in HD, no less) for examination, diagnosis, and treatment of non-life-threatening injuries and illnesses. There are even connected devices, like a forehead thermometer and a blood pressure cuff, that can be used during the 10-to-20 minute sessions. Physicians can also send prescriptions to the patient’s preferred pharmacy (even if it isn’t owned by Walgreen’s).
The first of these kiosks is already in place in a secure, private room inside Duane Reade’s Wall Street location. It’s open from 8 AM to 9 PM on weekdays and 9 AM to 6 PM on weekends. On weekdays from 6 PM to 9 PM, patients can speak to a pediatric emergency medicine physician.
As Dr. Augustine M.K. Choi, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medicine, explained in a press release: ” These kiosks provide real-time care for our patients, enabling them to consult Weill Cornell Medicine physicians privately through the convenience of their local drugstores.” Weill Cornell will be responsible for providing emergency medicine physicians for the platform, and ColumbiaDoctors practitioners will be added in 2018.
In a city like New York, having better access to telehealth services could have a huge impact. Some workers’ compensation executives say that telehealth can help control costs for businesses while ensuring that employees benefit from improved care. Although the median number of days away from work due to occupational injuries was eight in 2015, that number could potentially continue to decrease with more widespread access to telemedicine. Industry leaders say that services like these are vital for connecting injured workers to the health and rehabilitation services they need, which could speed up the recovery process.
Workers’ compensation benefit costs have already reached record lows in New York state, but construction fatalities show that there’s much work to be done in terms of safety. While telemedicine access won’t make the actual sites any safer, they could allow workers with more minor injuries to receive assistance they might not otherwise be able to access.
But telehealth does have its opponents. Studies have found that although direct-to-consumer telehealth does improve patient access, it also creates greater opportunities for increased healthcare costs for the consumer. This means that although they can get the services they need much easier, they’ll also have to contend with healthcare providers who might take advantage of the chance to sell them on a product or service.
Even so, telehealth holds a lot of possibilities for the rest of the nation, too. Or, it did, until the FCC decided to revoke net neutrality. Although it’s unclear as to how the vote will impact healthcare, many advocates of telehealth care concerned that the lack of regulations could hurt a lot of patients, especially those who live in rural areas. Since more than two dozen rural hospitals have shut down since 2013 (with even more on the way out), this could be of grave concern to many Americans who don’t live in close proximity to their healthcare providers and who may not be able to afford the alternative.
Mei Wa Kwong, J.D., interim executive director and policy adviser at the Center for Connected Health Policy, told FierceHealthcare: “Telehealth doesn’t work if you don’t have that connectivity. It’s an essential element of telehealth. If you price people out, they aren’t going to be able to use it.”
In the near future, many New Yorkers will be able to receive healthcare in more convenient ways. But how this year’s changes to the healthcare system will impact those who live in more removed areas remains to be seen.