LIFE LINE: Michael Gorton’s TelaDoc service is breathing new life into a flatlining health care system. photography by Elizabeth Lavin

MD, Phone Home

TelaDoc’s CEO Michael Gorton gives new meaning to "house calls".

Michael Gorton isn’t a doctor. But it didn’t take a brain surgeon to see that the health care system was hurting. So in 2002, Gorton founded Dallas-based TelaDoc, a medical service that connects patients with doctors over the phone.

How it works: People who are uninsured or on-the-go can call the TelaDoc hotline and request a consult 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A credentialed physician will review the patient’s online medical history (which they complete upon registration) and return their call within three hours to make a diagnosis and, when necessary, prescribe medication that can be picked up at a nearby pharmacy. The service costs $18 to start, plus a small monthly fee and a per-call charge of $35, the same as most insurance copays.

Convenient, yes, but not a cure-all. Prescribable medications are limited to those with no street value in order to prevent drugs from getting into the wrong hands. And of course, not everything is as easy to treat over the phone as spring allergies or minor infections. Gorton recognizes the value of face-to-face appointments for more serious cases, and though 90 percent of calls are handled “in-house,” TelaDoc’s network of nearly 200 licensed and board-certified physicians are encouraged to turn patients over to in-person caretakers when necessary. “We tell every patient that we’re not trying to replace the primary care doctor,” he explains. “We are just trying to be there when their normal doctor is not.”

Gorton points out the benefits of the service for employers as well. “You never leave your desk, you get your antibiotic quicker so your efficiency comes up quicker, and you’re not contagious as long, so Joe in the next office has less probability of getting it,” he says. And in the event of a person-to-person pandemic, a remote diagnostic system like TelaDoc’s would help isolate the infected from practitioners.

Since opening to the public last year, 150,000 patients in 45 states have signed up for the service, though Gorton expects that number to skyrocket as several insurance providers and third-party administrators begin to grant the service and as it expands into the remaining five states. (TelaDoc wasn’t available in Florida, Iowa, Idaho, Tennessee, and South Carolina as of press time.) It’s already accessible through a partnership with the National Association for the Self-Employed. TelaDoc is, for now, the only service of its kind, though Gorton is convinced that it won’t be for long. If he’s right, the health care industry might soon face an outbreak of appealing alternatives.

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