April 23, 2014:
A growing number of insurers either already offer or soon plan to offer their members the option of seeing a doctor via online videoconference or waiting for an office visit. And many states now insist that physicians be reimbursed for video visits with patients the same as for office visits.
“Telehealth” or “telemedicine” refers to the use of videoconferencing, secure email, and other communication and monitoring tools to interact with patients remotely rather than in the office. It’s rapidly being embraced by federal health programs, as well as state legislatures, insurers, and employers nationwide.
As a result, many physicians are considering whether to see patients this way. Even though it’s a vastly different way of practicing medicine from what doctors are used to, it’s an important trend and could at some point become a standard option in medical practices.
The hours are flexible, and reimbursement is often the same as or similar to an office visit. Would this fit in with your practice and lifestyle? Let’s take a look.
A New Standard of Care?
The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) estimates that over 10 million Americans have had some sort of telehealth service in the past year, which is thought to be double the usage from just 3 years ago.
Not long ago, doctors who wanted to use videoconferencing to see patients remotely encountered reimbursement problems from insurers. That’s changing fast.
Twenty states* have now legislated mandates for private coverage of telehealth services; insurers operating in these states must now or soon will pay their providers the same reimbursement for videoconferencing with a patient online as for seeing that patient in the office.
In 10 additional states, legislation mandating telehealth coverage by commercial insurers has been proposed with bipartisan support.
*States mandating private coverage of telehealth services include Arizona (beginning Jan. 1, 2015), Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi (beginning July 1, 2013), Missouri (beginning January 1, 2014), Montana (beginning Jan. 1, 2014), New Hampshire, New Mexico (beginning June 2013), Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Vermont, and Virginia.
Insurers and employers are eager to offer telehealth services. One reason is patient demand. Once patients experience the convenience of getting an immediate videoconference with a physician online rather than having to wait a week or longer for the same appointment with an office-based physician (and having to take a half-day off from work and possibly paying a higher fee), it becomes a competitive advantage for an insurer, employer, or private physician to offer telemedicine services,. Once you can use an ATM, why would you go back to the old style of banking?
It isn’t just patients in rural areas, the traditional recipients of telehealth. Internet users in urban areas are nearly 3 times as likely as their rural counterparts to use videoconferencing to meet with their doctors, according to a study released last June by the Department of Commerce. It found that 11% of Internet users with household incomes of $100,000 or more use videoconferencing and other telehealth services for patient visits, compared with 4% of Internet users with household incomes below $25,000.
Source: Medscape: Business of Medicine