Telemedicine — virtual health care — will spread across the U.S. if Walgreen Co. and two major insurance companies get their way.
The largest pharmacy in the U.S. is planning to expand its telemedicine program to 25 states by the end of 2015. UnitedHealth Group and Anthem insurance companies are hoping to expand their telemedicine treatments to 40 million people, reported USA Today.
Telemedicine began as a novel way for physicians to treat people in rural areas for non-emergency, minor health issues without being there physically. Physicians have also used telemedicine to communicate with other doctors, sometimes during surgery.
ABC 7 in Chicago reported about telemedicine in 2012 and showed how a patient sits in a specially constructed chair at home, which records vital signs, as a doctor appears on a TV monitor via phone system or Internet (video below).
The Associated Press reports Walgreen plans to expand its smartphone telemedicine app to tablets and computers.
Jon Linkous, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association, told USA Today, "I would say without a doubt it's the fastest area of growth in telemedicine. There's this convenience factor that makes it so compelling to consumers."
Walgreen Chief Medical Officer Dr. Harry Leider added, "We're very careful in only using telemedicine for certain conditions that are amenable to this. We're not treating heart attacks."