Thursday, November 24, 2005
A controversial service is providing over-the-phone medical care to patients across the country, and while it is filling a need, some states say TelaDoc Medical Services is violating the law. The Dallas-based company began providing non-emergency medical care, including prescriptions, earlier this year, and has so far treated 40,000 patients. Patients must be more than 12 years old, subscribe to the service through a monthly membership fee, and pay a $35 fee for each call. After the patient sends an online message to the company, a licensed doctor calls the patient back within three hours. In states where regulations require doctors to diagnose patients in person, a technician visits the patient, takes vital statistics, and conducts a videotaped interview to send to the doctor. TelaDoc is popular with people who do not have the time or the money to see a doctor in person. But groups like the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Medical Association oppose the service and worry that a patient could be seriously harmed. “They don’t examine the patient,” said Dr. David Goldstein, co-director of the University of Southern California’s Pacific Center for Health Policy and Ethics, “What about the clinical benefit of looking at someone’s skin or their eyes or listening to their heart?” The Medical Board of California says TelaDoc may be violating state law requiring that physicians conduct “a good faith prior examination” before prescribing drugs. But the company says it is not violating the law. “This is no different than doctors who’ve treated people over the telephone for years,” said TelaDoc’s general counsel Rocky Dhir.