Nurse Lines vs. Telemedicine Benefits: What’s the Difference?

November 5, 2015

Will Rumsey

My close friend’s father is a doctor. I am so jealous because having a doctor in the family can be an incredible time- and money-saver. Who wants to spend a few hundred dollars to figure out if that ankle sprain is really broken or if that bronchitis is becoming pneumonia? Sometimes you just want professional advice on where and when to seek help. But not all of us were lucky enough to grow up with a doctor a phone call away.

I always panic when I get sick or injured because I can never get to a doctor during business hours. Whether I need a quick answer, prescription or even a referral to a specialist, I simply need guidance.

My insurance company has a nurse line. Hooray! A quick phone call to a nurse seems like a perfect solution when I’m not feeling well –– no appointment, no drive across town, and no co-pay needed. I can call for quick medical advice over the phone from a licensed nurse as a perk of my health insurance plan, hoping he or she could help with my ailment.

But when I actually used this perk, I was disappointed. The nurse was knowledgeable and kind––but she was unable to provide a definitive diagnosis or prescription. The nurse gave me some general advice, but recommended that I follow up with my primary care physician first. So at the end of the day, I was still going to have to deal with making an appointment, driving across town, waiting in a room full of sick people, and paying for treatment.

No time saved. No money saved.

By comparing nurse line benefits to those of telemedicine, we can see those gaps even more clearly:

What Can a Nurse Line Do for Me?

Your health plan probably includes this benefit, which serves as a way for you and your employees to connect with a medical professional 24/7, 365 days a year. The nurse on the other end of the call will be able to direct you to your next step in care––which is a the most important thing to remember here. They cannot provide a diagnosis, fill out a prescription, or give specifics on how to care for the illness or injury in the future.

A nurse line is not helpful in getting a conclusive treatment plan. Instead, they can answer questions like, “I think I sprained my ankle. How long should I ice it?” Or, “How many Advil can I safely take in one day?” They will also be able to tell you where your next stop should be: either the emergency room or waiting for an appointment with your primary care physician.

How Is That Different From Telemedicine Benefits?

Telemedicine will be provided by your employer, not by your healthcare provider. You won’t have any costs associated with care. The main difference between a nurse line and telemedicine is that the latter connects you with a physician who is able to provide diagnosis and treatment over the phone, including a prescription. This is a more comprehensive benefit because it can literally take the place of a visit to a doctor’s office in just five minutes.

A nurse line simply told you if you needed to see a physician in person or not, but a telemedicine consultation avoids 60 to 70% of all doctor’s visits beforehand.

The Biggest Gaps in Care

The lack of diagnosis with a nurse line means more time and money spent for you and your employees. The discomfort and anxiety that come with waiting––for an appointment and in the waiting room––only add to your pain.

Telemedicine benefits solve your illness or injury with a treatment plan, while a nurse line simply affirms, “Yes, that’s a problem,” or, “Maybe that’s a problem, but see your doctor anyway.”

In short, the advice a nurse line can give is not very different from what you would get if you spent some time on WebMD or reading the side of the over-the-counter medicine bottle. With telemedicine benefits, you talk to a real doctor and get actionable advice.

By providing this for your employees, you’re giving them a piece of their life back by saving them time spent in a doctor’s office or emergency room. No need for a doctor in the family!

Are you ready to learn more about how to secure internal buy-in for telemedicine and what the benefit could mean for your employees? 

Originally published Nov 5, 2015 2:00:00 PM.