Telemedicine: Would You Pay for an Online Visit to the Doctor?

telemedicine online doctorIf you enjoy visiting the doctor, please raise your hand.

Well, too bad I can’t actually see any of you, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that very few of those reading this actually enjoy going to the doctor.   Those that do enjoy going to the doctor might have one that they find to be very attractive.  What other reason would there be to actually like making visits to the doctor, and dealing with all that it entails  :)

Let’s face it, going to the doctor involves a number of things that are not pleasant:

  • You’re not feeling well (which is the reason you’re there in the first place)
  • You’ll have to pay for the visit via copay
  • If you need medicine, you’ll have to pay for that too
  • If there are tests or procedures that need to be done, you may have to pay for those too
  • You’ll have to leave home to go visit the doctor
  • You just might have to wait a long time at the office
  • While you’re in the doctor’s office, you might be exposed to other sick people too

The list can go on and on.

Admittedly, it’s way better to have access to health care than to have none.  And yes, we wouldn’t be going to doctors (and they wouldn’t be making solid income) if they weren’t necessary.  Thankfully we have them!

However, a few of the things on the aforementioned list of “unpleasant” things could possibly be avoided through telemedicine.  Yes, this means seeing the doctor online!  An article in The New Yorker discussed this alternative approach to seeing the doctor, and I found it to be an interesting concept to consider.

By seeing a doctor online, it stands to reason that you won’t need to leave home, and you won’t deal with other sick people at the doctor’s office.  Perhaps you won’t have to wait a long time either, or perhaps not as long anyway.  One would hope.

Would you try this?

I never have, and haven’t spoken to anyone that has either.  However, I brought it up in conversation with someone who said that there is absolutely no way that he would ever do that.  The reasoning he had is that this seems like an insufficient way to get an accurate diagnosis, and that it’s a way for doctors to see more patients in less time.  Thus, making them more money.

My view is a bit different.  I think that this might be worth it, and it could potentially work for things that can easily be diagnosed.  Something more complex or involved, I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable with it.  But for very simple issues, why not?

I’ve written before about how I had a less than positive customer service from a doctor, who did actually happen to be very good though at what he did.  The process was painful though, as I had to wait over an hour past my appointment time after driving quite a while to get the office.  Not to mention that the actual visit was incredibly short and I had very little time to ask a question.

Doctors, in my view, are customer service providers – albeit very important ones.  While we might be limited in terms of choices based on insurance, we are generally free to go to doctors we feel best meet our needs.  That being said, the “competition” for our service might be somewhat limited to geography.

If we could remove geography as a barrier, perhaps things get a little bit more competitive for them.  Maybe this will work in our favor as customers, in terms of better service or – optimistically – downward pressure on prices that are charged.  Supply and demand, right?  Or, it can be as simple as just giving us a little bit more convenience in terms of not having to leave home to see the doctor, as we explored earlier.  Kind of like a modern version of a house call by a physician.

Bottom line:  Based on the factors and conditions I mentioned above, I would be open to considering an online doctor “visit” in the future.

My Questions for You

Have you ever seen a doctor online?

If not, under what circumstances would you be open to it?

Do you share the view that doctors are essentially customer service providers?

Would You Accept Payment in Bitcoin?

alternative currencies

Would you accept this alternative currency?

Bitcoin has been in the news at an ever-increasing rate, it would seem.  From something that was a wild, crazy, and little known concept to most people a few years ago, it has shown some staying power.  Perhaps more than I realized.

A recent article in the WSJ blog MoneyBeat shared survey results that indicated the positive sentiment that people in one profession have toward Bitcoin.  It revealed that many people working in IT would actually be fine with getting paid in Bitcoin!

Apparently, just over 50% of respondents indicated that yes, they would absolutely be interested in getting paid for their work in Bitcoin.  Actually, it noted cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, but you get the idea.  Beyond that, just under 20% said maybe, depending on where Bitcoin is in a year or two.

Taken together, that’s around 70% of people that would at a minimum consider Bitcoin in a year or two or flat out accept it now.  Seems like positive sentiment to me, if I’m interpreting this right.

Personally, I do like to embrace newer technologies and look forward rather than backward.  Change is inevitable in many areas of life, including (and perhaps especially) business.  We might as well be ready and willing to adapt to big changes.

That being said, I’m not quite ready to embrace Bitcoin.   I’m not in the IT field, thus my perspective and outlook on new technologies might be a bit different than those surveyed.  Perhaps I’m a bit conservative on this.  Too conservative, maybe?

Admittedly, being an early adopter of products, technologies, and such can be a really good thing.  Particularly when it comes to entrepreneurial ventures that take advantage of changes.  Foresight and recognition can be valuable things to have.

I’m just not on board with Bitcoin yet, in terms of accepting any payment with it.  This falls under the “speculative” classification to me, at least for now. Actually, I don’t think I would even personally invest in it at this point, though I know many others might disagree.  Maybe a few years from now I could be looking back on this post and chuckling about how I didn’t accept the changes that were right there in front of us.  You never know, right?

For now,  I’ll take payment in my local currency: the U.S. dollar!  If I was a resident of Canada, I’m sure I’d say Canadian dollars would be my choice.  In the U.K., it would be the pound.  And so on.

What about you?

My Questions for You

Would you accept payment in Bitcoin? Or, do you take the approach that I have that this is speculative and not an established currency as of now?

Would you invest in Bitcoin?

Global Academic Rankings – We’re #36!

we're_36th“We’re #1!” sounds like the rallying cry of a successful team.  It’s great to be the best!

How about “We’re #36!” as a slogan?  Does that sound like something to get excited about?

Well, this is where the U.S. finished in a recent global academic exam, given to 15 and 16 year olds in 65 countries.   An article on CNN did a nice job of detailing what happened.  Essentially, out of the 65 countries involved, the U.S. finished in the bottom half in terms of scores.  As in, ranking 36 out of 65.

The exam apparently covered math, science, and reading.  Clearly, these are core subjects that one needs to excel at to be positioned for success in the future.  Yet the U.S. finished behind many other notable countries, such as:

  • China – 1st
  • South Korea – 5th
  • Japan – 7th
  • Finland – 12th
  • U.K. – 26th

I think that many people get this, but there are also probably many others that wouldn’t believe it or don’t see the significance.  One person I told this to, after I saw this, made the joking comment that “at least we’ll do better than 36th in the Olympics!”.

Not sure about you, but if I could have my country finish 1st in either the Olympics or 1st in a global academic exam, I’d choose the latter.  Of course I’d rather see top finishes in both, but you get the idea :)

How about seeing your home country finishing first in financial education?  That would be good too, though I’m guessing that would come as an outcome of finishing at or near the top of the academic exam.

What are your thoughts on this?  Do you see this as a sign of the U.S. needing to ramp up its educational system to continue to compete at a high level?  After all, the world is shrinking and getting more competitive.

Good Reading from Around the Personal Finance Blogosphere

Here are some recent posts that caught my eye, that I’d like to share:

Sep-IRAs; How to Increase Retirement Savings for the Self Employed at Barbara Friedberg Personal Finance

Soldier of Luxury at Mr. Money Mustache

When the Right Choice Isn’t Obvious at Get Rich Slowly

Has Holiday Gift Giving at the Office Gotten Out of Control at Frugal Rules

When It Doesn’t Pay to Buy Big-Ticket Items on Sale at Len Penzo

The Golden Rule of Student Loan Consolidation at The Student Loan Sherpa

Counting Stars at Debt Discipline

Don’t Let a Salary Raise Get in the Way of Hustling at My Personal Finance Journey

4 Ways to Stop Being a Serf at Frugal Portland

How to Beat Carnival Games at Blifaloo (indirectly a money-related post!)

Take Cash In Hand Instead of a Promise of Future Payment

Having cash in hand or a promise for future payment might be seen as similar outcomes.  Ultimately, you’re going to get your money. 

Right?

Well, not necessarily so easily anyway.

Recently, as most you probably know, the city of Detroit appears to be moving toward bankruptcy proceedings based on recent news.   The city has really suffered big problems, going from nearly 2 million people in the mid-20th century to around 700,000 now.  Think about that: the city has lost nearly 2/3 of its residents!

This was a city that was once a symbol of America’s industrial might.  A place that was a destination for so many people looking for an honest day’s work that would give their family a really good life.  Tons of people without college educations in a previous generation were able to live really nice middle class lives and get pensions to boot. 

Oh, about those pensions.   According to some reports, there are many people worried about what will happen to those payments.  This article from Forbes does a great job of discussing the bigger picture, and how people should take notice of what’s going on.  Just imagine working in a career for a long period of time, and having a pension promised to you as part of the whole employment deal.  You count on the pension for future income later in life when you’re old and can’t work anymore.

Then, suddenly, there is talk that they’re at risk.  Money that was supposed to be coming to you, that you counted on, doesn’t seem to be a 100% certainty anymore.  What will you get: the same amount, a reduced amount, or nothing?  Scary stuff for older folks, and heartbreaking to see.

My big takeaways from this are as follows:

  1. Take money in hand instead of a promise for money in the future.
  2. Don’t count on someone else to support you over the long run, whether another person or an entity
  3. Nobody has your back more than you
  4. Take individual responsibility for your own finances

The first 3 points, I think, should be evident.  Sometimes people get a bit confused with point #2, and think that a spouse is there to be a provider or money source, but really we are each individually responsible when it’s all said and done.

As for point #4, that gets a bit murky here because people could very well be incredibly responsible, mature people even if they count on a pension.  After all, those are supposed to be relied upon.

However, I think we need to go back to point #1: take the money now versus a promise for future payment!

This could take many forms, in different situations.  For example, you could be deciding between 2 jobs: one pays $10k less, but offers a potential $15k bonus.  Would you go with that job versus the alternative which pays a higher fixed salary with no bonus? All things being equal, of course.  I’d say the salary is more assured, while the bonus is simply a potential future payment that may or may not ever come your way.

It’s worth thinking about!

My Questions for You

In the example above, with the two jobs, which one would you be inclined to take? Again, all other things being exactly equal.

Do you ever think about the value of actually having money now versus having a promise to receive it in the future?

 

Making Money on Market Overreactions: The Twinkie Example

Remember when it was “big” news that Twinkies were supposedly going away? The iconic snack that kids of a generation ago grew up with, to which some where remarkably loyal, wasn’t going to be featured on store shelves anymore.

My reaction: oh well, no big deal. 

It’s not like Twinkies had the nutritional profile of so-called superfoods, and frankly there are so many snack options these days that this just seemed like a product from the old days to me.  Though admittedly, they were pretty good back in the day.

Clearly, not everyone had that casual, “it is what it is” type of reaction.  Actually, what was more interesting to me than Twinkies possibly going away was the near hysteria that some people got caught up in back then.  I wrote about this, talking about Twinkies brand loyalty and how people were actually bidding up these products.  Maybe the thought of never having one again seemed too overwhelming, because reports indicated that some were going for some pretty interesting amounts. 

Lo and behold, with some new ownership, Twinkies are apparently to be sold again per this article.  The same people who were feverishly bidding up these snack cakes before they went away might now be able to buy them again. 

As I alluded to in the prior post, this is a great example of the power of brand loyalty.  After seeing how these things are apparently to be back on store shelves, there is another lesson written about before that we can be reminded of: quite often, markets overreact.

Remember how the stock market declined in the midst of the credit rating downgrade a few years back? Well, it sure recovered nicely! After the tragic tsunami in Japan, the Nikkei recovered fairly quickly.  Instead of selling in a panic, the difference is that people bought Twinkies in a panic, thinking that they might never have them again.  I know…what a “crisis”, right?

Well, the sky isn’t falling. At least not yet, anyway.  It’s been up there for quite a while now.  When it comes to certain things, maybe it’s human nature to panic momentarily and behave irrationally.  When that happens, the opportunists can cash in.  Cha-ching!

My Questions for You:

Are you at all surprised to see a comeback of an iconic brand?

Have you noticed people overreacting to different events, whether relating to shopping or investing? 

 

Subscription Fees for Checked Bags and Extra Legroom: What Do You Think?

In recent years, it seems like airlines have been adding all kinds of fees.  The drive for additional revenue continues on!

In the past, we’ve seen different airlines start charging for fees.  We’ve even discussed how one airline offered early boarding privileges for a fee, which is something that doesn’t resonate with me though I realize it might work for others.  Now comes a plan by a different airline, United, which gives people the opportunity to subscribe to 2 different programs: a year of checked bags, and seats with more legroom

Well, it’s hard to blame them too much, especially those of us that suggest diversification of income in our own lives.  Getting income from different revenue streams isn’t a bad thing for people or businesses.  There must be a market for this, one would think.

Per this article on CNN Money the baggage subscription apparently allows for one checked bag per flight, for an annual fee of $349.  Two checked bags would be $399.  This would be good on trips through the mainland U.S. and Canada.  If it typically costs $25 to check one bag, that’s 14 flights to reach a break-even point.  In other words, 7 round trips.  If a person checks 2 bags, that would turn into a better deal – but I don’t know too many people who check two bags on a trip multiple times through the year! There are also provisions for additional travelers.

Still, I can see how this might be a good deal for some folks.  If a person does a lot of traveling, it might be worth it.  Or, if you’re not directly paying for this but somebody else is, it might be worth doing it! Of course, I inadvertently found a way to get a free checked bag on a flight years ago, so I’ve gotten someone else to pay in a different way :)

The legroom thing, I’m not so sure about.  This one is apparently $499 for an “Economy Plus” subscription, which gets you seats with more legroom.  Again, if someone else is paying and money’s no object, that’s one thing.  But on my own dime, I can deal with less legroom on a large number of flights instead of shelling out this kind of money.  I’m sure it might be worth it for some people though.

This is no rant on crazy airline fees, as these two seem purely optional.  I don’t find them to be a fit for me, but they could work for some others I’m sure.  What’s interesting is how airlines seem to be coming up with all these different ways to generate some revenue beyond just airfare.

Personally, I’m all about getting the lowest fare possible – as long as it doesn’t involve horrible fight times.  Being overly comfortable isn’t something worth paying for, at least for me.  I’d tolerate less legroom if it could save me money.  That $499, if invested and earning a good rate of return, could be worth a lot more years down the line!

My Questions for You

What are your thoughts on these programs?

Would you find it worthwhile to get extra legroom or a checked bag, for an annual fee?

It’s Time to Say Goodbye to Tip Jars!

tipsSo, I’m actually sitting at a local Starbucks as I type this, waiting for an appointment.  Since I had a little bit of time, I thought I would get a few things done.  Of course, I’m paying for the opportunity, based on my very non-frugal, nearly $5 purchase of a drink and a snack.

That’s $5 without a tip.  I have to add this comment because, you see, there is a tip jar here right at the place where you order and pay.  It was filled with a few dollars and quite a few coins when I noticed it was sitting there, so clearly there are people who feel compelled to spend more for their purchase.  Interestingly, soon after I noticed online that there was a story on CBS News regarding a controversy about tip jars at this very chain!

You can read the article itself to get details about that controversy.  Now, I don’t have an opinion on that particular issue.  But the idea that there is that story out there – along with my own observations about this and other tip jars I’ve seen at a wide range of different businesses – leads me to write this post unrelated to that specific issue.  My own topic I’d like to discuss the notion that tip jars are ridiculous!  I don’t see the need for businesses to have tip jars!

Really, I don’t recall them being so prevalent in days gone by.  It seemed as though tips were generally given at restaurants, where someone actually served food to you.  Or, perhaps at a bar.  But at a place where you ordered at the counter and picked up your own food, there wasn’t a tip.  You paid, got your food or drink, and went to sit down afterward.

It seems logical to me that for a job, there should be a set level of pay.  Why is there a tip jar at places where the people are simply doing their jobs?  It seems like quick-serve restaurants or coffee-shop type of places tend to have more of these, but here are some other places I’ve seen tip jars:

  • Ice cream shop
  • Shuttle bus
  • Bathroom (yes, there was an attendant)
  • Dry cleaners

What has changed, to make these jobs within the realm of tipping? Is the burden of paying their wages being indirectly shifted to the consumer?

I feel bad saying this, but I don’t want to contribute to tip jars anymore.  I’ve written about this before, discussing that how much you should tip in given situations has seemingly changed. As in, upward.

At restaurants, I’ve been tipping 15% to 20% these days.  I feel like that’s fair, and I realize that servers don’t have easy jobs and are getting paid very little.  I’m not jaded, despite my encounter with the crafty waitress some years ago! If their wages are set up in such a way that tips are really expected, then it’s only fair to comply.  But not every job warrants a tip, right?

My Questions for You

What are your thoughts on tip jars?

Do you think that what’s become “tip-worthy” has changed in recent years?

The Crazy Cyprus Deposit Tax: Could it Happen Here?

The stereotypical ultra risk-averse move, in terms of handling savings, is to “stuff money under the mattress”.  It’s there, under your control, and not subject to anything crazy happening.  Of course, when people could simply put money in a federally insured bank account, why would anyone stuff money under the mattress?

While the rates today at banks aren’t exciting too many people, they’re at least a bit higher than keeping money in cash at home.  At least you’ll lose money relative to inflation at a slower rate!  Chalk one up for the banks versus the mattress.

However, based on what has been happening with the Cyprus deposit tax controversy, perhaps banks in some places might not offer better rates of return.  With potential deposit taxes having discussed as quite high for owners of high deposit amounts, it seems like that would be a low ROI situation.  Chalk one up for the mattress versus the banks.

Now, the idea of taxing deposits is one that may be alarming a lot of people across the globe.  Just thinking about the idea of hard-earned money just being taken from a bank in the form of a tax, to bail out a larger entity, is enough to cause great concern to many people.  Of course, those of us here in the U.S. (and Canada, I would think) aren’t likely to immediately view this as something that will happen here.  Rather, it just seems like a desperate attempt to help a desperate situation elsewhere across the world.

That being said, could it ever happen here? What are the chances?

Hard to say, and who knows what would ultimately happen there. Regardless, this turn of events overseas is one to pay a little bit of attention to.  Thinking about it, if money is needed for bailout purposes, what is to stop a percentage being taxed in this way? Or, in reality, taken away from the person who earned it?  It seems like a crazy and dangerous notion today might eventually seem more “normal”.  Maybe we just haven’t been sensitized to this yet.

So, if there are assets that are traceable and recorded, they could be taken away in this type of scenario.  It gets me thinking about whether or not hard assets such as gold and silver may maintain some extra importance in this type of future.  I’ve asked before if gold is overrated, and if silver is a good investment.  The thing is, the notion of a world where a member of the European Union was a part of deposit taxes wasn’t in mind the time I wrote those pieces

What Does This All Mean?  Well, there might not be any reason at all to overreact.  Perhaps it’s just something to be aware of, that tough circumstances can lead to bad things like this becoming possible. 

Oh, and maybe we can still laugh at the notion at stuffing money under the mattress – but just not laugh quite as much as we once did.

My Questions for You

What are your thoughts about the idea of a deposit tax?

Do you think this is something that could actually happen where you live?

Would this development at least get you to think about the possibility of defensive measures with money?

TV Commericals Glorifying Materialism

Have you ever seen any of the State Farm “Discount Double Check” ads on TV?  The one that might come to mind is the original one with the Green Bay quarterback seeing his signature move being used along with the discount double check.  He gets hazed a bit from some customers who don’t believe he’s a real quarterback in this one.  There have been subsequent commercials as well, with other Green Bay players, as well as him in a school.  Pretty good commercials, I think!

Then, I came across a commercial where the discount double check is mentioned again, but this time it’s in the context of two women shopping at some trendy clothing/accessories store.  A far cry from a pro quarterback, right?  Well, in this one, the women run over to a few attractive purses that they spotted by a window, clearly impressed by the bags.  One of the ladies says the usual “like a good neighbor…” line.  Lo and behold, POOF! - out of the blue and agent show up.

She then asks the agent how much her discount double check saved her, and the guy tells her $150.  Her next move – to immediately and enthusiastically say “Done!”, while prancing over to the cashier to presumably buy the purse.  The message that some my get from this – save money on one expense, and then you’ll have more to spend on something fun!

Now, I’m all for having fun and getting things we want.  However, in this case the clear connection I made was that money saved was now available for a splurge.  I’m not linking to it here, but you can easily find it on YouTube to see what I mean. 

It reminds me of how some popular songs seem to glorify spending.  There was the song involving Katy Perry mentioning maxing out credit cards, and another artist bringing up music and money in the context of not paying rent.  Not exactly sending messages about the merits of frugality and personal finance!

I’d like to see a revised commercial, where the woman holding the purse drops it upon hearing about the $150 savings.  Then, maybe she could exclaim things along the lines of:

  • “Oooh…Emergency Fund!”
  • “Cha-ching! More for retirement!”
  • “Paying down that remaining debt, baby!”

You know, some excitement over having extra money – and how great it is to use it for personal finance goals!

I suppose that’s advertising that might not be such a hit with the masses.  But it would be a winner with me :)

My Questions for You

Have you seen this ad – or did you search for it to check it out? What are your thoughts?

What do you think of the notion of celebrating saving and financial responsibility, instead of materialism?

What would you think about doing with $150 you just found out you saved on another purchase?