The promise of getting immediate access to healthcare from the comfort of your own home, or your own hotel room, is really appealing. No need to fight traffic or try to find a doctor in a strange city. No need to wait in a germy office. No need to wait at all. Just pick up you phone or tablet and dial up a doctor. But does a virtual doctor visit really work? This Traveling Mom tested the service from American Well to find out.
Virtual Healthcare from American Well
The strange red blotch on his leg could have been a mosquito bite, scratched into a slight infection. Or perhaps it was one of those flesh eating viruses you hear about where they eventually amputate the limb. In the end, the diagnosis was ringworm; the only medicine needed, an over the counter anti-fungal cream. The end result may be ordinary, but the journey to that diagnosis was quite innovative.
If you read TravelingMom regularly, you know American Well or Amwell, has contracted with TravelingMom for a host of promotions including a free first virtual doctor visit using the code TMOM at AmWell’s telemedicine site. Use the code at checkout through Dec. 31, 2015, to get the free first visit with a doctor.
That generous offer was extended to us TravelingMom writers as well. So when I realized I’d need to take my son to the doctor for his red blotchy leg, I thought, “Why not test out Amwell instead?”
A Host of Virtual Healthcare Providers
Had I gone the traditional route to treatment, I would have made an appointment with my pediatrician, taken my son out of school for the appointment, driven the few miles and paid $5 to park in the garage. If I’d been on vacation, it would have been harder. I’d have to find a doctor in network, make an appointment and figure out how to get there from my hotel. Either way, I would have waited in a waiting room that may or may not have been filled with sick kids. In all likelihood, the doctor would have come up with the same diagnosis. But, as happens with increasing frequency, he may have sent us to a specialist to be sure.
When I looked on the Amwell website, I saw a host of specialties, including a dermatologist. Bingo. Why not take out the middleman and go straight to dermatology?
The Good News
The AmWell website is easy to navigate. I clicked on the top bar for ‘See a Doctor’ and went to the “Our Doctors” page. There you can chose by provider or specialty.
Setting up my Amwell account was free and easy, too. You only pay when you see a doctor (don’t forget the TMOM code to get your first visit free) and the site makes it easy to test your computer and make sure your camera works and everything is set up for your appointment.
Michelle Mohr was the doctor I saw through Amwell. She had a good bio, was exceptionally responsive, very approachable, seemed knowledgeable, and spent well over the 15 minutes allotted for the appointment.
She even followed up after the appointment with a message summarizing her instructions and asking that I check back in a week to let her know how it was going.
She was personable with my son and answered both of our questions. She also helped me navigate the Amwell system to register my son – parents must register their children in order for them to have an appointment. That way the doctors can leave notes and write prescriptions for the child. It’s easy to do in the Profile settings, but it took a little bit for me to find that and set it up. Dr. Mohr waited patiently and we chatted while I found the right screen to add him.
Any time you introduce something new, there is a learning curve. Amwell’s site is no different. There are Amwell doctors available 24/7, but I have a feeling that’s for general practice vs. specialties.
Dr. Mohr has another job as a researcher, so her availability is different, which she stated in her bio. I also appreciated that she said contact her for an appointment and she’ll get you in within 24/48 hours. Ok. I could wait. But then I couldn’t figure out how to contact her.
It was a weekend, but I called the customer service line anyway – but it never went anywhere. A true test of a company isn’t the problems they have, but how they handle those problems. Amwell was apologetic and quick to remedy the situation; even following up with me afterward to make sure things were resolved. I called again Monday and was set up with an appointment with Dr. Mohr the next day after my son got home from school.
The next day I logged on for my appointment and the screen said “Your appointment has been cancelled.” WHaatt? When?
I contacted customer service again. The rep was very nice even though he could tell I was quite annoyed. As I was asking the Amwell rep why my appointment had been cancelled, I realized there was a message box with two messages. Dr. Mohr had messaged me the night before saying she could not make my appointment time, but gave me four other times – including later that night. Mystery solved on why the appointment was cancelled. I messaged her back with a new appointment time.
My Appointment Experience
At the appointment time, Dr. Mohr called my cell phone. I went online, logged into my Amwell account and found her profile. A green strip below her name says “Start Visit.” I clicked that, went through a few set up screens, which included payment. I used the TMOM code with no trouble and my fee was $0.
I was able to send her a picture of my son’s leg, and then show her via the video screen. She assured me he wouldn’t lose a limb today and with the over the counter treatment should be good as new in a week or two.
Would I Do It Again?
I like the idea of telemedicine and virtual doctors. It’s so much easier to pull up a computer than it is to drive across town in traffic, pay to park and wait in a waiting room.
With American Well, we can still enjoy the sites while on vacation instead of searching for a doctor’s office or hanging out in a strange waiting room for the appointment. We weren’t traveling this time, so another bonus was I didn’t have to take my son out of school.
Would I use American Well again? Yes, and have already recommended it to friends.
I think Amwell has a steep learning curve right now, for patients, doctors and just working some of the bugs out of the system, but the more its used it will become second nature. The customer service reps were helpful and patient, as was Dr. Mohr.
First time users to the system will likely need a bit more than the 15-minute appointment time. As I mentioned, in the middle of my appointment, I had to go back and register my son. Not a problem, but it took a little bit to do that. If I had been used to the system, my appointment would have taken 5 minutes – show me his leg. Ask a few questions. Probably ringworm, here’s what you need. Have a great day.
Virtual doctors and telemedicine may not work for every health issue, but it certainly is a great option.