September 26, 2011, 5:47 PM — One of the nation's leading drug store chains, Rite Aid, has begun rolling out online physician chat rooms in its stores, allowing customers to participate in virtual face-to-face consultations prior to purchases.
Rite Aid today said it worked with healthcare provider OptumHealth to introduce its NowClinic Online Care services, which are currently available at pharmacies in the Detroit area.
The NowClinic offers Rite Aid customers real-time access to medical information and resources from doctors and OptumHealth nurses. Rite Aid said it is the first to provide a virtual clinic in a retail pharmacy setting.
Currently, conversations with nurses are free and a 10-minute consultation with a doctor is $45.
While Rite Aid is the first to offer in-store kiosks, it's not the first to offer virtual physician visits. For example, two BlueCross BlueShield insurance organizations in upstate New York began offering their members and employers virtual physician visits last year, making New York the fourth state to provide such services. The service allows patients to talk with physicians in real time through a private online chat network or through a voice-over-IP phone call. It also offers video chat and instant messaging.
Other medical facilities throughout the U.S. offer physician/patient communication through Twitter .
Far from impersonal, studies have shown that virtual medicine , where physicians conduct face-to-face online chats with patients, or use instant messaging, is as effective as in-person visits. In fact, one study showed remote treatment improved doctor-patient communication because a physician can spend less time with administrative duties, has an electronic medical record on hand and can share information in real time with the patient.
With Rite Aid's face-to-face consultations over the Internet, customers can see and speak directly to doctors who are able to discuss symptoms, provide guidance, diagnose and prescribe certain medications. Customers can also interact with OptumHealth nurses, who are able to offer basic health care education, information on common acute issues and assistance in identifying appropriate provider options for care.
A customer record is automatically captured at the end of each interaction and is available for immediate sharing with the person's primary care provider. That helps maintain continuity of care.
The technology for the online consultation services is provided by American Well, a supplier of telehealth software.