Raleigh ER doctors start online telemedicine service

An enterprising group of Raleigh physicians has jumped into the telemedicine trend by launching their own online service to conduct remote medical appointments by video link.

Their online service, RelyMD, is designed to provide patients with an alternative to making a late-night run to the hospital emergency room or urgent care clinic.

The expected wait time for an appointment: 10 minutes.

Wake Emergency Physicians will staff the round-the-clock service with its own doctors, touting RelyMD as a cheaper and quicker alternative for minor medical issues such as cuts, colds, allergies and infections.

The patient only needs to have an Internet connection, a webcam – and $49.95 for the consultation.

“It is online urgent care,” said Bobby Park, RelyMD’s director of telemedicine and a partner in Wake Emergency Physicians. “It is not meant for serious conditions, nothing of any kind of life-threatening nature.”

Wake Emergency Physicians, with nearly 90 doctors and nearly 50 physician assistants, staffs the ERs at WakeMed, as well as Granville Medical Center in Oxford and the newly opened Clayton Medical Center. The practice treats the kind of patient that RelyMD is seeking to divert away from the ER.

Park said an ER doctor at Wake Emergency Physicians is typically paid $150 for seeing an ER patient, and the hospital typically collects $750, totaling $900. An urgent care clinic charges about $300 for the same patient episode.

The RelyMD charge represents a significant markdown on the going market rate, Park said, and benefits the health care system by bringing down costs. Many ER visits are not true emergencies, Park said, and can be handled over the Internet.

By shifting patients from ERs, where Park and his colleagues treat patients, Wake Emergency Physicians will cut its own per-patient revenue. But Park said the transition to telemedicine is imminent, and his colleagues realized they needed to become participants rather than bystanders.

“One hundred percent of my revenue is dependent on ER care,” Park said.

RelyMD plans to launch an app this year so that remote consultations can be conducted by smartphone in addition to home computer. The service also plans to introduce a monthly subscription rate, allowing patients to get discount fees for telemedicine consultations.

RelyMD will prescribe antibiotics, Prednisone and other medications, but will not prescribe powerful narcotics such as Percocet and OxyContin.

RelyMD’s fee will have to come out of the patient’s pocket, since insurers don’t cover the service. The state’s largest insurer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, pays for telemedicine only if the doctor has an established relationship with the patient, but most of RelyMD’s calls will not come from regular patients.

RelyMD is similar in concept to national dial-a-doctor services such as MDLive, American Well and Teladoc, but the Raleigh-based service operates only in North Carolina. Park said RelyMD supplies ER doctors exclusively, whereas the other companies hire internists and pediatricians in addition to emergency doctors.

Park has used all three competitors about 10 times in the past two years when his three children experienced allergic reactions, coughs, colds and sore throats.

“One of my interactions was terrible because the dude was taking my call and I could hear the drive-through attendant talking on that side of the phone,” Park said. “He was like, ‘I’m sorry, it’s a very busy day, and I gotta get lunch.’ ”