A recent study found that demand for telemedicine services worldwide will double over the next five years. Advances in technology and increased access to these technologies make telemedicine seem like a no-brainer for many practices. Another study suggested that telemedicine could save patients more than $100 per visit on average, and that in many cases, telemedicine offers patients a better balance between quality of care, convenience, and cost. It should come as no surprise then that demand for these services will increase in the future—especially in the area of urgent care and in under-served areas. While this exciting new way to deliver medical services could be a golden opportunity for some practices, there are serious issues to consider before offering telemedicine services.
Some states have enacted laws that make telemedicine very difficult to practice. For example, Texas and Arkansas require a patient to be seen in-person before telemedicine appointments can be arranged. For many patients, especially those in remote or under-served areas, this defeats the purpose of telemedicine. Another legal issue that has slowed the practice of telemedicine is that, in nearly 30 states, practices cannot be reimbursed for videoconferencing appointments. Despite support from the American Medical Association and several major insurance providers, states have been slow to change laws that would allow doctors to be reimbursed for providing medical care electronically. Some states, however, such as Massachusetts and Florida, have begun moving legislation that would allow for greater freedom in conducting telemedicine practices.
Quality of Care
Some physicians have questioned telemedicine’s ability to provide doctors with a complete picture. Some symptoms require in-person care to properly evaluate and diagnose the underlying cause. In many cases, these physicians are proponents of rules that would require an in-person meeting before further consults are allowed via teleconferencing. Additionally, Because telemedicine is in its infancy, many physicians are still perfecting their “webside” manner. This means that proper etiquette and behavior norms for teleconferencing have yet to be established on a widespread basis. In some cases, this can make for awkward or impersonal experiences for patients.
Whether your practice is ready to incorporate telemedicine services depends on several factors. First and foremost is ensuring your practice is in compliance with state regulations. Second is evaluating whether offering these services will be a winning business proposition; if you practice in a state that does not allow for reimbursement of videoconferencing services, it probably is not.
However, if you can move forward in compliance with the law, and your practice provides services conducive to telemedicine, now may be the time to consider implementing telemedicine services. These services can greatly improve the patient experience by allowing patients to receive care within the comfort of their own home at a reduced cost.
If you do move forward, start slow. Focus on providing one service at a time and make sure you are able to deliver the quality of care that you would in your brick-and-mortar practice. Most physicians know that how services are delivered is just as important as the service itself. Practice and be consistent—your patients will be rewarded with convenience and affordable medical care to which they may not have otherwise had access.