Eliminating the Need for Waiting Rooms with Telemedicine
Waiting room visits involve more than being seen by an actual doctor. There’s the drive to the office, which can be lengthened by slow-moving traffic, signal lights or even a detour or accident. Then there’s the wait: even if the waiting room isn’t at least half-full — and it usually is — the doctor never sees you right away.
Then there’s the anxiety. If it’s a simple check-up, it’s no big deal. If you’re being seen for something more serious, your nerves will work you like a speed bag. It’s no picnic for the doctor, either. Every appointment is a procedural affair: charts, labs, check-up, diagnosis, prescriptions. The doctor is tasked with delivering not-so-good news or reassuring his or her patient that everything will be just fine.
So why does no acceptable e-format exist to smooth out and shorten the duration between the trip to the visit and sign-off at the reception desk? People use the Internet for chat, email and work, so why can’t patients use it to meet with their doctors? The technology is already there: it exists with Skype and Yahoo. All that’s required is a fast connection and a quality webcam.
Concerns with Privacy and Security in Virtual Visits
So far, the virtual doctor’s office isn’t a widely accepted approach because there are concerns where doctor-patient confidentiality matters. Privacy is no longer a given with the Web. Also, physicians’ pay isn’t quite the same as with on-site visits. While WebMD is commonly used for accessible health research, actual doctors adhere to a stricter set of protocols. Phone and Internet interactions must be compliant with the rules set by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
A Web portal with a remarkably high encryption level must be ensured for meetings to happen. That is because the doctor’s office, clinic or hospital is held liable for any data leakage due to a faulty server or lax encryption. It is painfully easy for a third party to retrieve sensitive data meant for only two sets of ears and eyes. The medical profession is hesitant to commit to virtual interactions because those require a sizeable investment — one doctors fear they won’t recoup — to update their technologies and security.
New Incentives for Physicians
The Los Angeles Times recently published an article titled “The Doctor’s Inbox.” Journalist-reporter Lisa Zamosky wrote that fewer than five in every hundred doctors who communicate with their patients online are adequately reimbursed by their insurers. Medicare and most other major health insurance providers don’t pay doctors for virtual — teleconferenced or webchat — consultations. This may change.
Aetna, Signa and other major insurers are starting to compensate physicians for off-site virtual visits. The compensation is fairly low at thirty dollars per visit. Naturally, doctors prefer their $75-100 — minus additional procedures and measures — for an on-site appointment.
New payment incentives for doctors and virtual vsits are being shaped by government at the federal and state levels. Over ten states now have laws that require insurance providers to reimburse for teleservices. Telehealth incentives have gained more than six billion dollars in incentives as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). These initiatives are designed to recognize virtual doctor-patient interactions.
Optimism for regularly practiced online doctor visits is on the rise. Doing so eliminates travel and waiting times and it allows physicians to meet with more patients throughout their work day. Virtual visits entail a paradigm shift that incorporates hitherto unseen levels of convenience and loyalty for both physician and client.