Transformative Medicine: Patient Visits Move Online

Should You Join a Virtual Physician Network?

Neil Chesanow

Disclosures

September 24, 2014

In This Article

The Debate Heats Up Over Virtual Visits

Remote patient visits via videoconferencing and other telehealth tools, such as telephone, secure email, and texting, are growing faster than physician organizations and state and federal regulators can keep up with and control them.

In August, Deloitte predicted that out of an average 600 million general practitioner appointments in the United States and Canada in 2014, up to 75 million could be electronic visits, including videoconferencing and remote consultations by telephone, texting, and secure email.[1]

That same month, research by Parks Associates forecast that patient visits via videoconferencing alone, the fastest-growing mode of telehealth, are about to triple -- from 5.7 million in 2014 to over 16 million in 2015, and will skyrocket to over 130 million in 2018.[2] Other surveys also forecast dramatic growth.[3,4]

Be that as it may, many patients who could benefit from virtual visits with physicians -- among them those who have uncontrolled chronic conditions, such as diabetes; who have homebound illnesses, from parkinsonism to depression; who are elderly and too fragile to travel; who lack social support; or who live in underserved areas -- still can't see a doctor without leaving home.

Lack of remote access to a physician may be due to state regulations governing which doctors can see which patients using which telehealth technologies for a virtual visit, or, in the case of Medicare patients, it may be due to limitations imposed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

Even if everyone who wanted to interact with a doctor remotely could do so, whether there will be enough physicians to meet the demand remains an open question, because some restrictions currently limit physician participation in virtual visits.

Not your problem? Don't be too sure. If you are contemplating quitting medicine -- not because you don't love it, but because you crave a normal life -- seeing some or even all of your patients online can enable you to cut down on office hours, work from home at your own pace, set your own schedule, and care for patients in a way that more and more of them are telling surveyors they want.

Conversely, if your practice isn't busy enough and you seek to increase revenue by seeing more patients, who are proving difficult to attract locally, offering virtual visits can significantly augment your income -- provided, of course, that you can see enough of them online to make it worth your while.

What are the restrictions limiting what many doctors and patients want? Are they legitimate? Should they be relaxed or rescinded? Let's take a look.

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