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Virtual Visits - Is It Time for Telemedicine?

Oct 27, 2016

Telemedicine is already a $17.8 billion industry. Behind those eye-popping numbers is a simple truth: Patients love it. In fact, an estimated 7 million patients are expected to be utilizing some form of telehealth services by 2018.

However, physicians are not always sure how to make telemedicine work – or if they even want to.

What It Is … and Isn’t

Telemedicine is not different medicine. Rather, it’s a different way of interacting with patients. There is a growing body of evidence regarding the effectiveness of video- and audio-based interventions for a variety of acute and chronic conditions seen in primary care, such as diabetes, asthma, heart failure and hypertension.

By definition, telemedicine can include any of the following:

  • Tele-consultation with patients and other physicians
  • Review of medical imaging (e.g., tele-radiology)
  • Remote monitoring of vital signs
  • At-home patient education
  • Tele-rehab (e.g., speech and physical therapy)

Reimbursement for telemedicine services has been steadily improving. In 30 states and the District of Columbia, private insurers are required to cover telehealth the same as they cover in-person services.

Medicare managed care plan beneficiaries can also take advantage of telehealth services as long as their provider offers the service. In addition, almost every state Medicaid plan specifically covers at least some telehealth services.

Give Me a Modem and a Mouse

From a patient perspective, there is really nothing not to love about telemedicine. Patients enjoy face time with their physician without the hassles of missing work or school. Travel time is zero and there are no stairs to climb (especially important to your elderly and mobility impaired patients).

The benefits of telemedicine are particularly pronounced in rural communities, where access to specialists and subspecialty providers is often severely limited.

Besides pleasing their patients, doctors should love telemedicine for a variety of bottom-line benefits, including these:

Reduction in no-shows. Telemedicine eliminates many of the barriers that keep patients from showing up in the first place. Fewer missed appointments equal more revenue-producing slots.

Enhanced patient management. The ability to easily interact with specialists and consulting physicians may allow physicians to manage a broader range of acutely ill or complex patients.

Improved workflow. With fewer in-person consultations, physicians may be able to see more patients. Queued up properly, tele-consults can result in a continuous, steady flow of appointments. Telemedicine also makes it easier for physicians to meet with patients during non-traditional times. These after-hours consultations can be billed like regular appointments.

New marketing opportunities. Telemedicine hits today’s healthcare consumers in their sweet spot: ready and convenient access to their providers. Adding telemedicine to the mix is a great way to attract new patients and build value with existing ones.

Can You Pull it Off?

Getting a telemedicine program up and running is fairly straightforward. No special credentialing is required, but physicians must follow state regulations and adhere to the Joint Commission standards for telemedicine. Be sure to give your malpractice insurer a heads up since an additional rider to your policy may be required.

The American Telemedicine Association ( is a good resource for keeping current on telemedicine-related licensure and regulatory matters. The group also provides practice guidelines, sample forms and access to telemedicine journals.

Technology requirements include a web camera and secure portal tied into electronic medical records. Software systems must be encrypted and HIPAA compliant. Telehealth vendors such as Medtronic, AMC Health and VirtuMedix can help you get going.

In the end, telemedicine may be the tool physicians need to meet increased demand for patient interaction as more Americans gain coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Healthcare Practice Strategies - Fall 2016

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