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People Unsure About 'Virtual' Doctor Visits


Dermatologist Dr. Anne Burdick checks the computer screen in her Miami office, as she discusses telemedicine, 2014. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
People Unsure About 'Virtual' Doctor Visits
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From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle report.

Being able to find high quality health care at an affordable price is an issue in many countries.

In the United States, Walmart, a large chain store, is trying to help. It is offering something new to its employees: cutting the cost of a doctor’s appointment to only $4.

The Associated Press (AP) news agency notes that Walmart once required its employees to pay $40 for the same service.

Why is the price so low, you might ask? What’s the catch?

The catch is that the patient and doctor must meet electronically -- over the internet. This online service is called “telemedicine.”

Walmart is the latest major business in the United States to push its workers toward a high-tech way to be examined and treated by doctors. Thanks to telemedicine, people can talk with medical experts from the privacy of their own homes, often using a secure video connection.

Many in the U.S. healthcare industry see this as a good time to teach people how telemedicine services can help them. The AP reports that widespread use of smartphone technology, an easing of rules and employer interest are all fueling the expansion of telemedicine.

Supporters say online visits make it easier for patients to see an expert or quickly find help for problems considered non-emergencies. But many people continue to go to the doctor’s office when they are sick.

Some healthcare needs are well-suited for telemedicine

Some areas of healthcare seem like a good choice for telemedicine. It can help people seeking treatment for insect bites or skin conditions. Patients who have had medical treatments and cannot move around easily can use telemedicine for their follow-up visits. Also, people seeking help for mental health issues can benefit from the privacy that telemedicine gives.

Still, many people do not use telemedicine

But generally, Americans have been slow to try virtual health care.

The AP reports that 80 percent of middle-size and large U.S. companies offered telemedicine services to their workers in 2018. That is up from only 18 percent in 2014. However, the AP found that only 8 percent of eligible employees used telemedicine at least once in 2017.

This seems to support what many health care experts say -- people are often not willing to change their way of thinking about health care.

Who uses telemedicine? And who doesn’t?

Compared with seeing a real doctor in person, some people may think the quality of telemedicine is not as good. Parents, for example, may feel they are not giving their child the best care if they use a virtual doctor appointment.

Older adults may also not want to see a doctor online. Experts say that one reason may be that older people may look forward to their in-person doctor appointments.

The company InSight Telepsychiatry provides virtual mental health services. Geoffrey Boyce, the head of the company, spoke with the AP about the people who use telemedicine.

Boyce explained that, “going to the doctor’s office is a big event” in the lives of many older people. He said it is something they look forward to.

Another reason some adults may not use telemedicine services is trust.

Tom Hill, age 66, lives in the state of Indiana. Hill told the AP he has no plans to ever use telemedicine. He does not buy anything online, let alone do something as personal as seeing a doctor. He says, for him, it is important to look his doctor in the eye and shake hands.

However, for some people -- such as young people and busy students -- telemedicine might be a good choice. It can cut down on the time away from work. It can also cut down on the cost of doctor visits.

And that's the Health & Lifestyle report.

I’m Anna Matteo.

Tom Murphy reported this story for the Associated Press. Anna Matteo adapted his report for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

affordable adj. having a cost that is not too high

chain store n. one of numerous usually retail stores having the same ownership and selling the same lines of goods

What’s the catch? slang phrase : “What is the drawback?” This means something sounds too good to be true. So, a person asks if there any hidden problems.

virtualadj. being on or simulated on a computer or computer network

high-techadj. technology involving the production or use of advanced or sophisticated devices

benefit n. a good or helpful result or effect

eligibleadj. qualified to participate or be chosen

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