Technology is already here and can offer access to online medical consultations, including rheumatology. Why should you consider to use an online rheumatologist? There are approximately 6000 rheumatology specialists in the United States. However, about 62 million people with arthritis and 23 million with autoimmune diseases, which continue to rise, live in the United States. Online rheumatology breaks the mental and geographical barriers.
Let me tell you a story: I met John a few days ago. He is a young 30 years gentleman who developed joint pain over about 6 months. Finally, he decided to call his primary care physician, who ran some tests. One of the ANA tests, an antinuclear antibody, came back positive and with a very high titer. The patient was handed a referral to rheumatology. The patient started to call the rheumatology offices in his area. To his surprise, after two days of calls to about 7 rheumatology practices in a 200 miles radius, he was either refused or offered an appointment in about 6 months. Desperately, his wife started to search for an online rheumatologist. They found Rheumatologist OnCall, a telemedicine practice that opens the door for patients in need, breaking geographical barriers. After thorough research about the doctor’s medical background, they decided to try it. In two days, the patient was seen and had a clear medical plan in place.
As a traditional local clinic rheumatologist, I witnessed how patients wait for 4-6 months or travel for tens or hundreds of miles to see me. I often thought that offering online consultations could open the door to seeing more patients and be more convenient for them. Traveling, arranging care for your kids, and taking time from work are limitations for many patients. Not to add the additional cost of gas, paying someone to help with your kids, and cutting your work time.
Moreover, rheumatology specialists have other limitations in seeing patients. From licensing difficulties, signing non-compete with their clinics, and signing contracts with insurance companies, just to name a few. Obtaining a medical license is a tedious and expensive process. As a physician, you can’t practice across the state’s borders without a license in the state where the patient is located. Maintaining the license is also difficult since there are many requirements that you need to meet to have the license renewed every one to two years. Being hired by a hospital system, you will be forced to see the patients in that medical system network and can hardly accept outside referrals. Signing contracts with insurance companies will limit your practice to seeing panels from these panels.
Why is this the time to adopt online rheumatology consultations? Break the mental barrier!
Technology is here to help us. We are all comfortable doing online shopping, banking, entertainment, online business, getting legal advice, or finding our way home using google maps. In an era where technology is at our fingertips, I wondered why patients couldn’t access their doctor using a phone, laptop, or desktop? Why not get medical advice and evaluation from the comfort of their home?
Telemedicine or virtual consultations are not new but have been more accepted after the 2020 COVID- 19 pandemic. Finally, more and more patients were convinced that online consultations are a viable way to see a physician and ask for medical help.
There is an actual national shortage of specialists, especially in rheumatology, and getting access in a timely fashion will become more difficult for many patients.
Online rheumatology consultation offers the advantage of getting the specialist evaluation and treatment when you need it the most, without the hassle of traveling, spending extra time in the waiting room, and exposing yourself to potentially sick people around you.
Delaying medical care, primarily when dealing with an autoimmune disease, can result in many complications. Let’s say this patient that I mentioned above has a diagnosis of lupus. Without proper medical management and treatment, his complications can be devastating and potentially fatal in six months. Complications like a renal failure from systemic lupus can lead to dialysis or even a kidney transplant. That will translate in very poor life quality for the patient and outrageous medical expenses.
Why should you use an online rheumatologist? Break the geographical barriers
Rheumatologist OnCall was born on the idea to broaden access to a specialist from the comfort of your home, with no travel, no wasted time, and no waiting rooms. Many rheumatologist physicians are based on the west or east coast. Many physicians have a medical license to practice only in the state where they live. Many rheumatologists are hired by hospitals that don’t accept out-of-network referrals or don’t contract with your insurance company. The average waiting time to be seen is 6 months. The time that you spend with the physician is 7-15 minutes. Then follow-ups are in 3- 4 months.
Rheumatologist OnCall broadens access to a specialty in high demand.
As an online rheumatologist or virtual doctor, I offer online consultations. The appointments are 60 minutes, all time spent with the patient. The average waiting time for patients is about one week. The communications with patients are direct via text/ email/ phone. The patient is involved in the decision of ordering tests or prioritizing the tests that are needed. The consultation costs and laboratory and imaging services are affordable and transparent. The patient can choose to pay cash or use their insurance.
Direct specialty care is here to offer patients an alternative. It is here to empower patients to choose what is best for them when they need medical care.
Thank you for reading!
About the author:
Diana Girnita, MD, PhD is an US board certified internal medicine and rheumatology. She completed a PhD in immunology, postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University, immunology fellowship at University of Pittsburgh and rheumatology fellowship at University of Cincinnati. She is the founder&CEO of Rheumatologist OnCall, a telemedicine company that serves multiple states in the US. Dr. Girnita is a graduate of the Nutrition Science course from Stanford University. Dr. Girnita was recognized many times with “Top Doctor” award (2017-2020) and is frequently invited speaker of the US National Arthritis Foundation. Read more