Telemedicine Brings Back House-calls

With so much power at our fingertips modern technology has made life more convenient than ever before. Say your client is overseas and forgot to pack socks. They don’t need a car to run to the store, or cash to buy what they need. They don’t even have to speak the language. That’s because they have a cell phone. There are apps that pay others to run our errands. Digital credit cards to pay for our items. And translation software that does the talking for us.

Yes, 2020 is a convenient time to be alive. Thanks to the power of mobile technology, insurance providers are able to provide convenience to members by bringing back the house call—even if that house is a hotel in Bangkok, a beach in Bali, an airport in Germany or a conference room in Spain. Now travelers can access healthcare anytime, anywhere in the world with an internet connection.

Telemedicine Services

According to a report by the Groupe Spécial Mobile Association (GSMA), “There are now more than 3.5 billion mobile internet subscribers globally. And in 2018, for the first time, there were more mobile internet users than non-users amongst the population covered by a mobile broadband network.” That puts in perspective just how connected our world is. Nowadays travelers are rarely out of touch, no matter how far from home they have traveled.
Currently just 10% of the world is NOT covered by a broadband network. And, that number is slowly shrinking.1 With so much access to the internet, one can imagine that there are remote locations around the globe where getting online may be easier than getting to a clinic for care. For global travelers in need of medical assistance this can be unnerving. However, advancements in telemedicine services have now made it possible for travelers in almost every part of the world to access medical expertise, evaluations and treatments via the internet.

But the ability to access care remotely isn’t the only advantage of a telemedicine service. Telemedicine users can speak with highly-trained, vetted physicians, at any hour of the day, in the language of their choice, without worrying about transportation, wait times, or making special child-care/work arrangements. Users can receive answers to medical questions, obtain prescriptions where legally acceptable, and receive step-by-step treatment instruction on things like how to stabilize a broken ankle.

A Question of Quality

As you make your clients aware of their plans’ telemedicine service, they may wonder if they can trust a diagnosis given through video chat. The short answer to this question is yes, and here’s why. In order to provide care via a telemedicine app, doctors must undergo extensive training and are required to maintain an active license to practice medicine in their respective countries. Doctors are also tightly audited by the service vendors to ensure that they provide safe and appropriate medical care. They must follow the best practices set forth by their governing medical bodies and that specific service vendor’s standards of care.

Some smartphone applications, like GeoBlue’s Global TeleMD™, give members the opportunity to complete a survey which measures their overall impression and satisfaction with the medical services they received. This gives vendors the opportunity to continually improve the user experience and ensure users receive the highest level of care.

In addition to these stop checks, patients can upload their medical records so that the telemedicine doctor can make informed recommendations and safely prescribe medications when medically necessary and compliant to do so.

Who Benefits from Telemedicine Services?

Telemedicine services are designed for travelers of any age experiencing a non-medical emergency. If you know how to video chat using the FaceTime app or Microsoft Skype, you know how to use this service. For instance, missionaries and off-shore workers often work in remote areas where access to health care can be very limited or of poor quality. A business traveler may benefit from the convenience of scheduling and therefore save time. For all travelers, speaking to a physician in their native language can help reduce the potential anxiety and frustration caused by a language barrier.

From a physician’s perspective, telemedicine doctors are comfortable diagnosing and treating a wide variety of medical issues, remotely. However, they are trained to recognize the limitations of such a service and understand the appropriate time to recommend face-to-face care. This takes into account the individual’s condition as well as his/her ability to access quality medical care in the area.

Remote vs. Virtual

When speaking to your clients about telemedicine it’s important to make a clear distinction between “remote” care and “virtual” care. Although these two terms may seem interchangeable, they represent very different levels of service. Virtual care often refers to an interaction between a user and a “virtual” or “non-human” entity. This is the case with online chat bots that offer limited conversation points and medical guidance. While these services can be extremely beneficial to some users, it is very different than a “remote” consultation.

Remote care represents an interaction between two human beings in different locations. This is done through a video or telephone conversation with a real doctor or nurse on the other end. By their very nature, these consultations are more personalized than if users were interacting with a chatbot.

It’s important to note that insurance providers have not fully agreed on the use of these terms and therefore, some companies may use different terminology for their services. Because of this, it’s crucial that you understand which service is included in your clients’ plans, and to set accurate expectations.

Final Thoughts

As global health insurance providers continue to focus on improving the user experience, services like telemedicine apps are becoming a staple in the industry. The ability to receive care from a highly-qualified physician in nearly any part of the globe provides a new level of comfort, convenience and security. Reminding your clients to take advantage of a telemedicine service can help strengthen your relationship and build trust as it brings attention to your commitment to their satisfaction. Be sure to discuss the benefits of these services with your clients to ensure it is top of mind during their next trip abroad.

Don Van Scyoc is the Vice President of Individual Sales at GeoBlue. GeoBlue is the trade name for the international health insurance programs of Worldwide Insurance Services, an independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. GeoBlue combines mobile technology and worldwide healthcare expertise to deliver assistance and health benefits for the health, safety and convenience of world travelers.