Texas Gulf Coast Medical Group - Clear Lake, Texas

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Dr. Ralph Tharp

Your Online Doctor Saves You Time and Money

Patients of the Texas Gulf Coast Medical Group are now able to engage in “office visits” without leaving home with our online doctor.

Dr. Ralph Tharp, the founder of Texas Gulf Coast Medical Group, believes the practice is the first in the Houston area to offer virtual doctor’s office visits over the Internet.

The concept has been introduced in various parts of the country since the early 2000s, with major insurance companies getting on board with coverage in the last couple of years.

Dr. Tharp first heard of the idea through an electronic medical records software company.

He and his administrator, Janice Finney, researched the concept and visited a practice in the Indianapolis area using the same software the Webster group has chosen.

The software, developed by Raleigh, N.C.-based MedFusion, uses a secure Web portal and leads patients through a series of questions that meet medical protocols. If any answer does not satisfy the protocol, the patient is instructed to call in for an appointment or to seek emergency treatment.

Dr. Tharp, 74, enjoys online doctoring as the next phase of his 44-year medical career.

Convenience of an Online Doctor

A study by the Mayo Clinic found that very few patients who used the electronic service needed to be called in for an office visit or sent to an emergency room.

Dr. Ralph Tharp primarily handles the virtual patient visits and other physicians and specialists in the practice assist when needed. Virtual patients submit their medical concerns to the “eMD” site, and Dr. Tharp  responds to them electronically — individually and privately.

Patients need only a computer with an Internet connection but may choose to send electronic photos of rashes, wounds or other relevant graphics; the idea of online doctor’s visits has been received enthusiastically, say Dr. Tharp and Finney.

“If you have the flu or a sinus infection or you need a new prescription or lab results, you won’t have to come in. Patients love the idea because they won’t have to take off from work or get dressed and leave home when they are sick or get babysitters,” says Finney.

Because the Group sees 500 to 800 patients a day Online visits also decrease waiting time for those patients who do need to come in to the office.

Online Doctor Cost Benefits

Tharp saw 15 patients in person on a recent morning, and says at least five or six could have been handled through a virtual visit for a price of $50, compared to an average office visit cost of $117.

Aetna Inc. was one of the first major carriers to offer coverage of e-doctor visits in 2006 in California and Florida. The company expanded coverage nationally in 2008, and reports that 29 physicians in Texas currently are participating. The Aetna plan is operated by RelayHealth, an Atlanta, Ga.-based communications vendor for health care providers.

Other e-doctor visit insurers include Cigna HealthCare, Humana and United Healthcare. A study by the Palo Alto Medical Foundation conducted in 2007 found that for every $1 employers invested in virtual visit programs, they received a $4.50 return in reduced loss of productivity.

With the saved time and expense, practices offering the e-visit option stand to benefit as more insurance companies embrace the concept.

Virtual doctor visits “are on the verge of entering mainstream medicine,” Modern Physician magazine predicted in November 2007. Says Dr. Tharp: “It’s a new frontier.”

Click on the eMD2 virtual office visit link to create an account and get started with the online doctor.


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Hours of Operation

Monday 7:30am - 5:30pm

Tuesday 7:30am - 5:30pm

Wednesday 7:30am - 5:30pm

Thursday 7:30am - 7:00pm

Friday 7:30am - 5:30pm

Our Location

250 Blossom Ste 300 and 400
Webster, TX 77598

Phone: 281-604-1300

Email: contact@gulfcoastmed.com