Video Visits With Patients Can Now Boost Your Bottom Line

Neil Chesanow

Disclosures

August 06, 2013

In This Article

Can You Really Make Money With Telehealth?

A growing number of insurers either already offer or soon plan to offer their members the option of seeing a doctor immediately via online videoconference or waiting for an office visit.

In fact, many states now insist that physicians be reimbursed for video visits with patients the same as for office visits, and doctors can supplement their office hours at any times that are convenient for them.

"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 videoconferencing systems are in place, 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?

Telehealth is viewed as a way for physicians and other providers to see more patients more conveniently, inexpensively, and quickly, improving the quality of care while reducing healthcare costs. Videoconferencing and other telehealth tools can do this because they remove the need for every patient come into the office, regardless of the complaint, resulting in chronic scheduling backlogs, particularly in primary care.

The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) estimates that over 10 million Americans have directly benefited from some sort of telehealth service in the past year, which is thought to be double the usage from just 3 years ago.[1]

Not long ago, doctors who practiced in cities and suburbs and 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[2,3]; 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 in their legislatures.[3]

"We've already had a couple of legal cases," Jonathan D. Linkous, CEO of ATA, recalls with a hint of irony. "People have sued the hospital because they didn't use telemedicine. The claim was that this is now the standard of care."

*States mandating private coverage of telehealth services include Arizona (beginning January 1, 2015), Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi (beginning July 1, 2013), Missouri (beginning January 1, 2014), Montana (beginning January 1, 2014), New Hampshire, New Mexico (beginning June 2013), Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Vermont, and Virginia.

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