A few Saturday mornings ago, I woke up with a headache and a minor sore throat. I was, at the time, in the early stages of what would quickly become the 2019 edition of the influenza virus. Not the I-don’t-feel-like-going-to-work-today-so-I’m-going-to-tell-my-boss-I’m-not-feeling-well sort of illness, but the actual, murderous flu. Which is to say that in a few short hours, my physical state would go from a sickly but still capable human being who is able to fend for himself to a feverish, hallucinating subhuman creature that could barely lift a tissue to his nose without seeing the light.
As I mentioned, this mental and physical devolution began on a Saturday morning, which meant that I, a citizen of the U.S. lucky enough to be employed and therefore have medical coverage, still had to wait until Monday to use said coverage to drag myself into a doctor’s office and plead for drugs to keep me alive.
But was I wrong? Was there another way to get medical help on the weekends without having to check myself into the ER?
Interestingly, the weekend illness is fairly common. It’s even got a name, according to a 2002 BBC article: “Researchers in the Netherlands say a significant proportion of the population is suffering from so-called leisure sickness,” per their report. “They have found 3 percent of people become ill with a variety of different complaints as soon as they stop working and try to relax.”
But again, in my specific case, I wasn’t so much “ill with a variety of different complaints” as I was wishing that I was dead. Of course, I had the option of going to an urgent care center that, while expensive, is a far more financially feasible option than the thousands of dollars I’m sure to spend for an ER visit. “The average urgent care visit costs patients $71 to $125 for basic care, with additional costs added for shots, x-rays and labs. The average emergency room visit costs $1,318,” reports SolvHealth.com. “The average emergency room has a wait time of 2.4 hours, whereas urgent care centers are able to see walk-in patients within 15 to 45 minutes.”
Let’s say, though, you don’t feel like or simply can’t pay for Urgent Care — what then? According to HealthPartners.com, writing about what to do when your kid gets sick outside of office hours, yet another alternative is a 24/7 nurse advice line. “Most health insurance plans and many clinics have one,” per their report. “A nurse can immediately assess the situation and tell you whether you should take your child in, or give you home remedies that will help get her through the night until she can see a doctor.”
But at the time, I needed more than just home remedies: I yearned for drugs of the antibiotic variety. Which is why, if I’d done a quick internet search at the time, I would have learned about the wondrous world of online drug dealers better known as telemedicine. “Telemedicine is the practice of assessing patients remotely using videoconference, digital photography, instant messaging or other technology,” reports Risk Management Magazine.
In fact, according to a recent CNBC report, “usage [of Telemedicine] is up 53 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to a J.D. Power study issued in July. Telemedicine is reducing emergency room visits, noting that just a 1-percent decrease in emergency room visits, replaced by telemedicine, can result in average savings of $102 million per year.”
Yet since the U.S. government doesn’t really care whether its citizens are healthy or not, telemedicine does require private insurance. “Right now, 26 states have laws that require private insurers to reimburse healthcare providers for services delivered through telemedicine,” reports ChironHealth.com. “These are often referred to as ‘Parity’ laws. In addition, 10 more states are also considering legislation to do the same.”
For folks who have health insurance through Medicare, well, you’re better off going to a wellness guru. As per ChironHealth, “patients must live in what is known as a Health Professional Shortage Area that is outside a metropolitan area.” Not to mention that Medicare also “requires that patients go to a designated healthcare facility in order to initiate a video visit.” In other words, for Medicare subscribers, telemedicine is pretty much useless.
There is, however, a telemedicine silver lining for the wildly irresponsible: Their doctors are eager to give you the drugs you want, rather than the ones you need. According to a 2019 study from the University of Pittsburgh, “kids with cold symptoms seen via telemedicine visits were far more likely to be prescribed antibiotics than those who went to a doctor’s office or clinic, researchers found,” reports Modern Healthcare. “And a higher proportion of those prescriptions disregarded medical guidelines, raising the risk they could cause side effects or contribute to the rise of antibiotic-resistant germs.”
So, y’know, if you’re sick on a Saturday and your doctor’s office is closed, there’s an app for that.