Guest column

4 tips for Houstonians tuning into telemedicine from local health care exec

Telemedicine is a growing resources for Houstonians, but here's what you need to know about tapping into digital health care. Ian Hooton/Getty Images

When health issues crop up, people often have to decide where best to seek medical attention, with urgent care and the emergency room being potential destinations. But for more and more Houston residents, their smartphone is now the preferred way to see and talk to a doctor.

Telemedicine visits, also known as virtual care, typically last less than 20 minutes, often cost less than $50 and enable people to connect 24/7 with a health care provider via a smartphone, tablet or personal computer to help diagnose and treat certain medical conditions. While nearly 40 percent of Americans said they are interested in using telemedicine in the future to access care a separate J.D. Power survey found nationwide telehealth adoption is currently as low as 10 percent.

Closing this gap by expanding the use of virtual care may prove beneficial, as this technology can provide consumers improved convenience and lower costs. In fact, 68 percent of patients rated their telemedicine visit a "nine" or "10" on a 10-point satisfaction scale; 74 percent had their care concern resolved during the first visit; and net savings per virtual visit exceeded $120.

To help people take advantage of this emerging technology, here are four tips to consider:

Identify Available Resources
Among people who had not used telemedicine, the J.D. Power survey found that 37 percent said they did not know if they had access to this technology. To find telemedicine resources that may be available to you, check with your hospital or care provider group, health insurance plan or employer. In fact, nearly nine out of 10 employers are offering telemedicine to their employees, while 76 percent of U.S. hospitals already connect patients and care providers using video or other technology. For Medicare beneficiaries, some Medicare Advantage plans are offering coverage for telemedicine and resources to access virtual care, in some cases at no out-of-pocket cost.

For Houston residents, most people enrolled in UnitedHealthcare employer-sponsored plans have coverage for virtual physician visits, giving plan participants secure, online access to a physician via mobile phone, tablet or computer 24 hours a day. Several Houston-area hospitals and provider groups have also introduced virtual care resources, and changes in state regulations in 2017 helped spur additional national telemedicine companies to start serving the market.

Understand Appropriate Uses
While telemedicine may have the potential to help treat other health issues, the technology is most widely used to address minor and nonemergency medical conditions, including allergies, flu, pinkeye, and rashes. Telemedicine is also emerging as a helpful resource for behavioral health services, making it more convenient for people to access this type of care. If needed, doctors can prescribe medications and send prescriptions to local pharmacies for pickup. While people who experience a significant or serious medical issue should go to the emergency room (ER), it is important to recognize that about 25 percent of ER visits typically involve conditions that could appropriately be addressed with a virtual visit.

Keep Your Primary Care Physician
Telemedicine may be ideal for treating minor and nonemergency medical issues, but it is important for people to maintain a relationship with a primary care physician for wellness checkups, diagnostics, management of long-term conditions and some urgent and non-urgent treatments. As telemedicine programs evolve, people may have the option to use virtual visits to access primary care and maintain an on-going relationship with their preferred doctor.

Other Connected Devices
Consumers can consider other connected devices to help access care and potentially improve their health, ranging from smartwatches and activity trackers to continuous blood glucose monitors and connected asthma inhalers. These connected devices – and others like them – may provide important real-time information and offer people actionable feedback about their behavior patterns, while helping make it possible for care providers to counsel patients to more effectively follow recommended treatments.

Making telemedicine more widely available – and used – may be especially important for people with chronic conditions and the 20 percent of the U.S. population that lives in rural areas where access to health care, particularly specialty care, is often lacking. By considering these tips, people may make the most of telemedicine resources as part of their journey toward managing their health.

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Dave Milich is the CEO of UnitedHealthcare of Texas.

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Welcome to Houston, Lalamove. Photo by @HoustonTips

Holiday shopping is in full swing, and the bane of everyone's existence — especially during a pandemic — is shipping.

For smaller and mid-sized local businesses, that means paying big-business prices to a national shipping company. And for consumers, it's waiting a week or more to receive your item, even if you paid for shipping.

Lalamove has a solution for both parties. The 24/7 on-demand delivery app recently launched in Houston and offers affordable, same-day delivery services for the local merchants we're all trying to support right now.

"Amidst COVID-19, it is more important than ever to shop local and support our small businesses," says Lalamove's international managing director, Blake Larson. "We look forward to providing our services to Houston businesses in need of a fruitful start to the holiday season."

Unlike other delivery options, Lalamove delivers everything from food to small packages to bulky furniture within the same day, and it operates on a base-plus-miles pricing model with no commissions.

Deliveries in a sedan start at $8.90, with $1 per additional mile. SUV pricing has a base fare of $16.90 plus $1.25 per mile. Other same-day delivery options with national shipping companies can be well over $100 dollars, depending on the size and weight of the package.

Neighborhood-to-neighborhood sedan pricing is more affordable than traditional same-day shipping: Museum District to Midtown is $9.90, Midtown to The Heights is $14.90, and Northside to East Downtown is $17.90.

This also contrasts with food delivery platforms that charge restaurants 15-30 percent commission on the entire order; with Lalamove, the delivery charge for a $25 meal is the same as a $150 meal.

Users and businesses can place an order via the Lalamove app or on its website, which is available 24/7. When placing your order, you are instantly matched with a driver and their car, based on your delivery needs. You can deliver to (or order from) up to 20 locations in one order with the multi-stop delivery feature, and can schedule a delivery in advance or book for right then.

Lalamove app Using Lalamove is simple. Graphic courtesy of Lalamove

Shoppers can request Lalamove's services with local boutiques and stores that don't normally offer delivery, and get instant gratification (and a much smoother holiday season) with same-day delivery.

Both sides can rest easy knowing that things will arrive in time for the holidays in a trusted, secure, and quick fashion.

To help small businesses provide fast, reliable delivery throughout the holidays, Lalamove is offering $10 off with promo code LACMHOU10. Business owners can try out the service, or customers can take advantage of Lalamove if they need delivery.

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