Telemedicine: A Way to Provide Care at All Hours

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Traditional healthcare delivery timeframes are long gone. Our 24-hour, always-on, technology-enabled culture has created a growing demand for answers to patient questions at all hours of the day or night. The resulting demands have driven a nationwide uptick in the use of HIPAA-compliant telemedicine.

Patients Want Virtual Healthcare

Increasingly, patients want to be able to consult with their healthcare providers on a variety of non-emergency conditions and treatments without having to make the time to visit the doctor’s office, a time commitment fewer patients than ever can easily indulge.

Some doctors are rolling with the sweeping changes. According to Robert L. Smith, a family doctor in Canandaigua, N.Y., and co-founder of telemedicine consulting firm NowDox, telemedicine can cost-effectively increase healthcare access. One must wonder if Dr. Smith believes that telemedicine is one way to offer care to all of the new patients who are entering the system with the expected implementation of the Affordable Care Act in January 2014.

The University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital conducted a national poll last month on children’s health. The poll found that 77 percent of parents surveyed would like to receive emailed advice for their children’s minor illnesses rather than bring the child into the doctor’s office. However, only 6 percent of those parents believe that they should be assessed a fee for the doctor’s emailed advice. Fortunately for patients and physicians, many large healthcare providers and some states do pay claims for virtual care. An increase in the number of reimbursements for virtual health care services would help ensure that patients get the care they need in a timely manner, as well as ensure that physicians are paid for their telemedicine services.

The Telemedicine Market Is Growing

The worldwide telemedicine market is projected to triple to a $27.3 billion industry by 2016 according to a BCC Research technical market research report in March 2012. The “Telehospitals” and clinics segment accounted for $8 billion in 2011 and is projected to increase with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16.8 percent to nearly $17.6 billion in 2016. “Telehome” health care accounted for $3.5 billion in 2011 and is expected to grow by 22.5 percent CAGR to reach $9.7 billion in 2016.

Medicare Reimbursements for Telemedicine Still Not Guaranteed

Even with all of this projected growth, telemedicine is not yet uniformly reimbursed or covered by Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance companies.

According to the Center For Telehealth and e-Health Law, “The absence of consistent, comprehensive reimbursement policies is often cited as one of the most serious obstacles to total integration of telehealth into healthcare practice. The lack of an overall telehealth reimbursement policy reflects the multiplicity of payment sources and policies within the current United States health care system.”

Sharing Information and Communicating with Patients

Primary care physicians can share a great deal of advice with their patients for free by using online information delivery. Follow-up information about medications, new treatments made available, vaccinations offered and other information can be shared online. Successful medical office policies for patient outreach start with recognizing the needs of patients and balancing the regulatory and business considerations with those needs. Picking the right tools and vendors goes a long way toward maintaining that balance.

NotifyMD Patient Outreach

NotifyMD offers services that fit the including Patient Outreach and Confidential Messaging. Many of these pre-packaged general services can add value and reduce the need for clinical staff to answer redundant questions. This stored information can also reduce a provider’s liability and reduce repeat office visits for clarifications of conditions or treatments.